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Keen, A. Myra

Photo of A. Myra Keen holding a seashell from the shell exhibit

Professor Myra Keen with a specimen from the Department of Geology's shell collection.

Photo: Stanford News Service
Department: 
Paleontology
Oral History Project: 
Faculty
Interviewer: 
Davis, Margo
Interview Year: 
1977
Oral History Type: 
Audio

Born in 1905, Angeline Myra Keen (1931 AM Psychology) obtained a doctorate in psychology from U.C. Berkeley in 1934. Unable to find work during the depths of the Great Depression, she began serving as a volunteer at Stanford, helping to catalog the shells in the Department of Geology’s voluminous collections. She learned as she worked, and she soon became an expert in the field. After three years, she was given a part-time job with pay as curator of paleontology. When many male faculty members departed campus during World War II, Keen found herself teaching courses in paleontology “by proxy”—she did all the work but couldn’t sign the class list. She carried a full course load on a part-time salary. In 1954, she was promoted to assistant professor of paleontology. She achieved the rank of associate professor in 1960 and full professor in 1965.

In 1977, interviewer Margo Davis sat down with Keen to conduct an oral history that reveals not only one woman’s unusual path to tenure in the sciences but also valuable information on the efforts of female faculty members to support one another during the 1950s. Keen’s story provides insights into the lives of women in academia at that time: the importance of both networks and chance connections, the need for male allies, a tendency to work for less pay, and the importance of sheer devotion to one’s field.

In the interview excerpts below, Keen talks about her unusual path to tenure at Stanford, the impact of World War II on her career, and the Women of the Faculty--a group of female Stanford faculty members who, excluded from the Men’s Faculty Club, banded together in the 1950s to learn about one another’s work.  They had come to realize, recalls Keen, that “unless the women could speak up and speak with one voice, they wouldn’t be heard.”

View a list of speakers at the evening meetings of the Women of the Faculty.

Interview Excerpts

Coming to Stanford as a Volunteer and the Impact of WWII

A Strange Path to Promotion

Women of the Faculty

A Tale of Many Faculty Clubs

For the complete audio recordings, click here.