Her father was a lawyer, but he left the Bar for the Stage, and became the manager of the Richmond Theatre, where Jean made her first professional appearance, in 1837, as Little Pickle in The Manager's Daughter — a piece that is also known as The Spoiled Child, and, in Dion Boucicault's version, as The Young Actress.
She also played in King Richard the Third, being the first representative of that play seen in Richmond Theatre since the death of the great actor Edmund Kean. She played in other cities prior to coming to America in 1838.
Her first appearance in America occurred at the National Theatre, New York, under the management of James William Wallack, the Elder. Afterward she played star engagements in other cities. In 1842 she returned to Europe and traveled in Italy and France. Her education, at that time, was conducted by private tutors.
In Paris, she studied Music under the tuition of García, but decided to pursue a career in Drama. In 1846 she went to the Netherlands, taking an English company, with which she acted at Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague, and, in Germany, at Hamburg and Hanover, receiving adulation, acclamation and adoration. That tour occupied two years and was remunerative. In England in 1848 she made her appearance as a public reader, being one of the first females to give readings from Shakespeare since Mrs. Siddons, who died in 1831.
Her second visit to America was made in 1849, and she determined to make it her home. Her father died at Cincinnati, Ohio on July 5, 1851, and, in the following year, she went once more to England, there to settle the affairs of her parent's estate and to study for the next dramatic season.
In 1853, she returned to her adopted country, then made her first visit to California in 1855 and again traveled to England a few times (1856–1859). She then afterwards, in San Francisco, became the wife of transcontinental explorer and civil engineer Frederick W. Lander on October 12, 1860. Her married life was happy, but brief; her husband, by then a brigadier general during the Civil War, died of a brain disease possibly caused by injuries on March 3, 1862. For two years, Jean Lander subsequently served as a supervisor in charge of the nurses working in the Union Army hospitals at Beaufort, South Carolina.
On February 5, 1865, Jean Davenport Lander reappeared, acting at Niblo's Garden Theatre, New York, in a drama called Mésalliance. The arrival of Adelaide Ristori to America brought a new set of characters into vogue — Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary Stuart, Queen Marie Antoinette, etc. — and Mrs. Lander availed herself of that new predilection of popular taste. Her performance of Queen Elizabeth was first seen at the National Theatre, Washington, in April 1867.
She was the original representative, in America, of Marguerite Gauthier, a part which she named Camille, — acting it in a play that she had adapted from La Dame aux Camélias, by Alexandre Dumas, fils; her adaptation was "edited" by John Wilkin, an English journalist, and it was first presented to her in Philadelphia.
She was the original representative in America of Legouvé's Medée, in English, and of Colombe; she also acted in Robert Browning's Colombe's Birthday; Peg Woffington; in Charles Reade's Masks and Faces, and as Hester Prynne, in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.
Her last appearance was made at the Boston Theatre, January 1, 1877, in The Scarlet Letter.
The later years of her life were passed in retirement, at Washington, where she died, August 3, 1903, aged 74.