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Gordon, Janet Isabel (Jean) (1913–2011)

by Malcolm Brown

The first female member of the Sydney Stock Exchange, Jean Gordon, had no idea when she set out in her working life as an ''office junior'' that she would create history.

The stock exchange had been going for 104 years without female participation. Gordon became only the second woman to become a member of a stock exchange in the country. Her professional impetus probably came with World War II, when she enlisted in Women's Australian National Service. She was then commissioned in the Women's Australian Auxiliary Air Force and served as a cipher officer at the RAAF navigation and flying school in Melbourne.

Having responsibilities and addressing them, she was more ambitious when she demobilised and decided to study accountancy. That led her into stockbroking, though she found herself a ''lone woman''. Her career path led her to membership of the exchange, where her ''feel'' for finance continued to help with her most memorable achievements.

Janet Isabel (''Jean'') Gordon was born on April 11, 1913, daughter of a school master, John Gordon, and Elizabeth (nee Hickson). With three children in the family, the parents moved where John's appointments took him. She started her schooling at Baw Baw, west of Goulburn. Each morning John would take her and her brother on a pushbike four kilometres along a dusty road to the school. The family moved to Collie, in the state's west, and later to Fassifern, near Lake Macquarie on the Central Coast. She went to Newcastle Domestic High School and at the age of 16, having been steered away from her early inclination towards graphic art, became an office worker with a wholesale meat supplier and exporter.

In her war service, Gordon got a special thrill one day when she deciphered a message others had found too hard to read. She found it was a personal message from Winston Churchill to General Douglas Macarthur, thanking him for his support in recent campaigns. The message was passed on to Macarthur.

Gordon qualified in accountancy in 1959 and became an associate of the Australian Society of Accountants. She also joined the Women's Accountants Group, serving as its chairperson.

She held a representative position on the NSW Council of the Australian Society of Accountants. Gordon became more oriented towards research investments analysis and from there it was only a small step towards stockbroking.

Gordon worked for stockbrokers Tonkin and Plasto, then William Tilley, Hudson, Evans and Co, and became office manager for John Tonkin. After a long time in office management, Gordon transferred to full-time research. She worked in the research department of Neil & Patridge, where her work entailed intense study of all aspects of sharemarket activity. She said later: ''To me, this was the very essence of stockbroking and my interest was insatiable.''

In 1967, she became associated with John Sweeney, when he opened his stockbroking firm. She was then Sydney's lone female stockbroker. In 1965, Gordon attended as the one-woman delegate from the business world at an Investment in Australia Symposium in Melbourne. In 1970, she was given a tour of the New York Stock Exchange by Merrill Lynch.

Gordon was aware of a bias against women. When John Sweeney Partners offered partnerships to ''two men half my age and not so qualified'', she felt enough was enough. ''I decided it was time I pressed for a similar opportunity,'' she said.

In 1973, Sweeneys gave her a partnership. In 1975, she bought a seat on the Sydney Stock Exchange. She was breaking through barriers. Eight years before, the London Stock Exchange had voted against admitting women members.

Gordon said the trading floor was ''a noisy, aggressive place. Not that a woman can't be aggressive and still not forget she is a woman. But my advice to a young woman in business is to forget she is a woman. You have a job and you set out to do it to the best of your ability. An efficient, strong and dependable character is necessary for any woman in business''. Gordon continued in her partnership with Sweeneys until 1980, when she became an individual member of the exchange. She remained in practice as a private client adviser in association with K. J. Polkinghorne and Co until 1984.

In retirement, Gordon attended the Art School of the NSW Royal Art Society. She made good progress and had the thrill of being adjudged champion in the artwork section of the Berry Show. Her paintings were exhibited and sold at several art shows and she donated many works to charities. She had other involvement with Zonta International, a service club similar to Rotary. Living in the southern highlands, she played the organ at St Andrews Presbyterian Church, Moss Vale. She was described as having a ''touch'' for music, a ''flair'' for art and a ''feel'' for finance.

Jean Gordon died on July 12 at Bundanoon. Having not married, Gordon took a great interest in her nieces and nephews and their children. She is survived by a nephew, Robert Gordon, and his wife, Julie, and niece Jan Finlayson and husband Tom, and great nephews and nieces and their families.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 September 2011

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Gordon, Janet Isabel (Jean) (1913–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/gordon-janet-isabel-jean-16822/text28716, accessed 23 September 2019.

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