Story: Gordon, Annie Elizabeth

Page 1: Biography

Gordon, Annie Elizabeth

1873–1951

Salvation Army officer, rescue home matron, probation officer

This biography, written by C. R. Bradwell, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.

Annie Elizabeth Gordon was born at Timaru, New Zealand, on 20 July 1873, the daughter of Anna Eglington and her husband, George Granville Sutherland Gordon, a boatman. When Annie was two her father was accidentally killed when run over by a dray; her mother married George Edward Langrish, a seaman, soon afterwards. Relations between Annie and her stepfather were strained and at 13 she was forced to find employment, first at dressmaking and then as a domestic servant.

While in service in Masterton she made contact with the Salvation Army, and in March 1896, after undergoing a conversion experience, was enrolled as a soldier. In 1898 she was accepted for training as a Salvation Army officer at the Women's Training Home, Melbourne, and was commissioned as a lieutenant in September 1899. Her first appointment, rescue work for girls on the streets of Sydney, opened her eyes to the evils of opium dens, poverty and prostitution, and reinforced her resolve to devote her life to caring for women and girls. After several years of social work in various Australian cities (and in Auckland briefly in 1906), Annie Gordon was transferred back to New Zealand in August 1908, appointed matron of the women's rescue home and made officer in charge of police court work in Christchurch. Throughout her life Gordon was to receive grateful letters from the first girl placed under her care by the court in Christchurch.

In March 1911 Annie began her long association with Auckland, where she continued these dual responsibilities, accepting girls placed in her care by the courts and fostering them at the Parnell rescue home. She came to the conclusion that 'The more one knows of the work the less one blames the girls, and the more one blames the unhappy home environment'. Although compassionate, she could be 'cuttingly sharp in reproof' to the recidivist and 'the terror of the public official' who resisted her proposals for reform.

From 1917 Annie Gordon was the first Salvation Army Samaritan officer in Auckland, with responsibility for poor and needy families. The depression years were to greatly increase this work and she organised a food bank. In April 1921 she was appointed as the first women's probation officer for the city of Auckland under the Offenders Probation Act 1920. During the next 14 years over 400 women and girls officially passed through her hands, but hundreds more received the benefit of her care and counsel.

In February 1931 Gordon, by now a field major in the Army, was requested to chair a committee which arranged accommodation for refugee families from the Napier earthquake. She was promoted to major in January 1932, and when she retired in July 1935 the mayor and councillors of Auckland gave her a civic farewell. An illuminated address of appreciation was presented and seven speakers representing the courts, the legal profession and the churches praised Gordon for her service to the city throughout a quarter of a century.

In 1945 Annie Gordon became New Zealand's first woman recipient of the Salvation Army's highest honour, the Order of the Founder. She did not marry, and died in Auckland on 28 May 1951.

How to cite this page:

C. R. Bradwell. 'Gordon, Annie Elizabeth', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3g16/gordon-annie-elizabeth (accessed 9 December 2019)