She briefly studied at University College, London, with William Matthew Flinders Petrie, the pioneering archaeologist. She joined Margaret Benson in 1896 in her second season of excavation at the Mut Complex in Karnak, Thebes, in Egypt. She became Margaret's lifelong companion.
- Benson, Margaret and Gourlay, Janet. The Temple of Mut in Asher: An account of the excavation of the temple and of the religious representations and objects found therein, as illustrating the history of Egypt and the main religious ideas of the Egyptians, London, John Murray, 1899