Jean Gordon had two successful careers in her lifetime, as a founder of the Advance Pattern Company and as the owner and publisher of Dance Magazine.
Born Sadie Jean Gordon in New York City on November 1, 1903, to Sarah (Goldstein) and Hyman Gordon, she was one of seven children, three boys and four girls, though one sister died young. Her mother, who was born in the United States, died in 1910, when Jean was seven years old. Her father, who had come to the United States from Vilna in 1888, utilized his entrepreneurial skill to acquire and train horses. He maintained stables in the Bronx and provided horses for street peddlers as well as the New York City Police Department. Gordon was brought up in a fairly observant Jewish household; as an adult she continued to celebrate Jewish holidays but led a cosmopolitan life that was not compatible with active observance.
After graduating from high school, Jean Gordon began her first job at Pictorial Review. At that time the magazine was independent, though it later was bought by the Hearst Corporation and became the Sunday supplement to the Hearst newspapers. Jean Gordon married Morris Stern in 1927; he died in 1931, leaving her with an infant son, Robert. Using her husband’s life insurance as capital, Jean Gordon (as she continued to be known professionally, though within her family she was Syd or Sadie Stern) cofounded the Advance Pattern Company in 1932 with her former boss, Samuel R. Cohn. By 1940, the company had 350 employees, with offices in Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, and New York. J.C. Penney was their largest customer. When she left the company in 1950, she was executive vice president.
Jean Gordon’s retirement was short-lived; within weeks her second career was launched. Her close friend Rudolf Orthwine, who had recently acquired the ailing Dance Magazine, invited her to be associate publisher. Although she was not experienced with dance, her business acumen and high standards helped her lead Dance Magazine to financial stability and a prominent place in the dance world. Under her guidance, the magazine developed a broad and devoted dance following. After Orthwine’s death in 1970, Gordon owned and published the magazine and continued to be active there until her death on October 22, 1985, at age eighty-one.
During her tenure as publisher of Dance Magazine, Gordon established the Dance Magazine Awards, which annually recognize outstanding accomplishments in dance. She was responsible for creating two valuable references, The Dance Magazine College Guide and Stern’s Performing Arts Directory. Under her ownership, the magazine contributed to many scholarships, which led to the establishment of Dance Magazine Foundation’s Jean Gordon Stern Scholarship Fund.
Coming to dance as a businessperson, she nonetheless endeared herself to dancers through her generosity and advocacy. She was recognized in 1972 and 1979 by awards from Dance Masters of America (an organization of dance instructors) “in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the dance profession” and in 1975 from the City of New York, which cited her “keen judgment and knowledge of the myriad complexities of publishing.”
Contemporary Authors 117 (1986): 414; “Jean Gordon Stern, 81, Dance Magazine Head.” NYTimes, October 25, 1985, B14; “Obituaries.” Ballet News 7, no. 7 (January 1986): 27; Philp, Richard. “Jean Gordon Stern (1903–1985).” Dance Magazine (December 1985): 20; Stern, Robert. Telephone interviews with author, May and June 1996.
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Morgenroth, Joyce. "Jean Gordon." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 10, 2019) <https://qa.jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/gordon-jean>.