Linda Gordon was born in Chicago but considers Portland, Oregon, her home town. Her early ambition was to become a professional dancer but when she found she wasn’t good enough, she packed that in and went to college at Swarthmore. Then she did graduate study in Russian History at Yale, receiving a Ph.D. in 1970. She published her dissertation on the origins of the Zaporogian (Ukrainian) cossacks, but soon left that region behind to become one of a pioneering generation of historians of the US examining women and gender. An active participant in the women’s-liberation movement of the late 1960s and 1970s, she and her long-time collaborator Rosalyn Baxandall edited two books providing crucial views of that movement’s contributions: America’s Working Women and Dear Sisters: Dispatches from Women’s Liberation.
Her biography of photographer Dorothea Lange, Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits, published by W.W.Norton in 2009, won many prizes: the Bancroft prize for best book in US history (making Gordon one of a very few ever to win this award twice); the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography; and the National Arts Club prize for best arts writing, to name a few. In the process of researching that book, she discovered an important group of Lange photographs long unnoticed and never published: photographs of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, commissioned by the US Army but then impounded because they were too critical of the internment policy. Gordon selected 119 of this images and published them, with introductory essays by herself and by historian Gary Okihiro, as Impounded: Dorothea Lange and Japanese Americans in World War II.