Jean Gordon was an advocate of social-welfare reform and a proponent of woman suffrage. As a member of the Equal Rights Association (ERA Club), she was a leader of child labor reform efforts in Louisiana. Her work led to the passage of the Child Labor Act of 1906, which provided for female factory inspectors; placed age restrictions on children engaged in manufacturing; provided for a sixty-hour workweek; and mandated safe stairways, the provision of bathroom facilities, and seating for female employees. Gordon became the state’s first female factory inspector, serving from 1906 through 1911.

In 1908 she helped to secure the passage of an act that prohibited the employment of children under fourteen. The following year she worked with Eleanor McMain to create the New Orleans Day Nursery at Kingsley House, which provided low-cost day care for many of the working mothers she encountered as a factory inspector.

Her work in the factories also led her to recognize the needs of children she classified as "feeble-minded." In 1919 she spearheaded the transformation of a local orphanage, the Alexander Milne Asylum for Destitute Orphan Girls, into an institution devoted specifically to girls with mental disabilities. At the newly named Alexander Milne Home School for Girls, disabled girls were provided housing, education, and job training through work at the small farm the home operated. Gordon served as the president of the home’s board as well as the superintendent, living on site at the Gentilly Road facility from 1925 until her death.

Her approach to disability was not without controversy. A follower of the eugenics movement, she firmly believed in preventing the home’s residents from reproducing and was an active promoter of sterilization laws, which never came to fruition. For her work at the Milne Home School and her advocacy for the underprivileged, she was awarded the 1921 Times-Picayune Loving Cup. In 1958 a public elementary school was named in her honor. 

Jean Gordon
1924; gelatin silver print
The Historic New Orleans Collection, gift of Alexander Milne Home School for Girls, 97-44-L.1

Residents and administrators of the Alexander Milne Home School for Girls
1923; gelatin silver print
The Historic New Orleans Collection, gift of Alexander Milne Home School for Girls, 97-44-L.3

Group of workers in Lane Cotton Mill, New Orleans
1913; gelatin silver print
by Lewis Hine
The Historic New Orleans Collection, 2001.92.2

Jean Gordon served as the first female factory inspector in Louisiana, and her advocacy on behalf of child laborers led to the passage of laws that regulated the minimum age and working conditions of children such as those employed by the Lane Cotton Mill.