Mrs. Gardner was born in Dover, Massachusetts and graduated from Bryn Mawr College. After graduation, Mrs. Gardner moved to Washington, D.C. to work for the OSS during World War II. There she met her first husband Carl McGowan. They moved to Chicago when Mr. McGowan accepted a teaching position at Northwestern Law School. He then worked for Governor Adlai Stevenson during which time the McGowans campaigned for the Governor when he ran for President. When the election was over, Carl McGowan returned to private practice in Chicago.
Several years later, he was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and the McGowans returned to Washington, D.C. Mrs. McGowan was an active volunteer for the Washington Hospice Home, Sibley Hospital, and the American Field Service.
The McGowans have four children and four grandchildren. After the death of her first husband, Mrs. McGowan married Warner Gardner. Jodie McGowan Gardner resides in Washington, D.C.