Gordon’s first book, Woman’s Body, Woman’s Right: The History of Birth Control in America (Viking/Penguin, 1976), published in 1976 and reissued in 1990, remains the definitive history of birth-control politics in the US. It was completely revised and re-published as The Moral Property of Women in 2002. In 1988 she published a historical study of how the U.S. has dealt with family violence, including child abuse, book, spousal violence and sexual abuse. Heroes of Their Own Lives: The History and Politics of Family Violence (Viking/Penguin, 1988) won the Joan Kelly prize of the American Historical Association. Gordon served on the Departments of Justice/Health and Human Services Advisory Council on Violence Against Women for the Clinton administration (a council abolished by the Bush administration). Her history of welfare, Pitied But Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the History of Welfare (Free Press, 1994), won the Berkshire Prize and the Gustavus Myers Human Rights Award.
Changing direction, Gordon turned to narrative as a way of bringing large-scale historical developments to life. Her 1999 book, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction, the story of a vigilante action against Mexican-Americans, won the Bancroft prize for best book in American history and the Beveridge prize for best book on the history of the Western Hemisphere. In the process of researching her most recent 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 in 2006, with introductory essays by herself and by historian Gary Okihiro, as Impounded: Dorothea Lange and Japanese Americans in World War II.