Our history

Childcare began at Portland State University in 1971 as the result of efforts of a small, yet strong and committed group of student mothers who staged a sit-down in the university President's office. A small program began with twenty children housed in the basement of Smith Memorial Center. The program moved to its current location in 1973 and gradually grew to its present enrollment capacity. In 1974 the Portland State Daycare Center was renamed the Helen Gordon Child Development Center, in honor of the late Helen Gordon, who was a strong advocate for the early childhood community and was instrumental in bringing childcare to PSU.

While there have been changes over the years in response to family needs and progress in the early childhood professional field, the program has maintained a strong presence on the University campus and within the Portland community. We are fortunate to have a spacious and home-like environment in a building constructed for children's programs in 1928 by the Fruit and Flower Mission. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. In 2003, the Center underwent a renovation and expansion of services to include infants and young toddlers as well as kindergarten programming. Housed on its third floor, the program has also grown to include a Master's specialization in early childhood education and a PSU Remida Center—a repository and learning center for material sustainability in education, the arts and architecture. Students from various departments on campus take academic courses on the third floor and come down to work in the laboratory school for ongoing course activities, research and practice. As PSU continues to grow more expansion of services are bound to add to Helen Gordon Center's longstanding history.

Helen Gordon

The woman behind the name

Celebrating Our Past, Building Our Future

Helen Gordon advocated for young children and their right to have quality child care and pre-school throughout her adult life. She directed early childhood programs throughout the region and was one of the founders of Head Start in the state of Oregon. She was dedicated to the establishment of day care and pre-school programs and lobbied at the state and national levels for public funding to support the inclusion of working families and the underprivileged. Helen's campaign included convincing Portland State of the need for childcare on the campus to allow mothers to attend school and have quality care while doing so.

With Helen Gordon's help, in the fall of 1969, work began to implement a center for the care of children to serve the students, faculty, and staff of Portland State College. The committee was formed following a "brief but enlightening" sit-in held at then-President Gregory Wolfe's office at which parents expressed the need for childcare on the campus. In 1971, with $1500 from the student fee committee, Portland State's first childcare opened on Southwest Harrison Street. It was licensed for 30 children, with 176 on the waiting list to get in. By 1973 the enrollment had increased to 78 and the historic Fruit and Flower building, in which the school still remains, was annexed by the college.

In the late 1970's, the mission of the renamed Helen Gordon Child Development Center (HGCDC) was focused on the original intent, providing both a first-rate on-campus child care facility and to serve as Portland State's laboratory pre-school. In this way, the needs of parents in the University community for quality childcare and the desire of the education community to explore child development and teacher training could be satisfied.

In 1986, HGCDC became the first early childhood center in Oregon to be accredited by the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs. That same year the Fruit and Flower building was placed on the National Historic Register. Helen Gordon Center currently enrolls 200 children from a culturally diverse population throughout the Portland metropolitan area. Members of the Helen Gordon family continue the dedication to children's education that Helen herself embodied. Our 2003 expansion and renovation of the historic building provided a much needed next step in a long history of creating a place on the Portland State University campus where families and educators can find common ground in the importance of providing a caring, quality environment for children and adults alike.