Keen, A. Myra (Angeline Myra), 1905-1986 interviewee Search this
1 audiotape (Reference copy).
The Smithsonian Institution Archives began its Oral History Program in 1973. The purpose of the program is to supplement the written documentation of the Archives'
record and manuscript collections with an Oral History Collection, focusing on the history of the Institution, research by its scholars, and contributions of its staff. Program
staff conduct interviews with current and retired Smithsonian staff and others who have made significant contributions to the Institution. There are also interviews conducted
by researchers or student on topics related to the history of the Smithsonian or the holdings of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
The Keen interview was donated to the Oral History Collection because of her long career and many contributions to the field of American malacology.
Keen was interviewed by Eugene V. Coan, malacologist and former student of Keen's, because of her long career and many contributions to the field of American malacology.
The interview includes her reminiscences about her education, research interests, fieldwork, colleagues, and students. The interview complements the A. Myra Keen papers, also
located in the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Angeline Myra Keen (1905-1986), an invertebrate paleontologist and malacologist, was an international expert on the systematics of marine mollusks. She influenced her
profession as a researcher and fieldworker, teacher and advisor, curator and exhibitor, author and public speaker. Her work was of interest both to academic scholars and to
Raised in Colorado, Keen became an amateur naturalist and photographer in her teens, and pursued her research interests in birds and insects at Colorado College, graduating
with an A.B. in 1930. She earned an M.A. in psychology from Stanford University the following year, and then a doctorate in psychology from the University of California at
Berkeley. Finding herself with no employment prospects, graduating in the depression year of 1934, she volunteered to help identify shells in the Stanford geology department's
collection. This was the beginning of Keen's serious study of shells and her thirty-eight year association with Stanford. She had some coursework in biology, geology, and
statistics, but was self-taught in malacology.
In 1936 Keen was appointed Curator of paleontology in the department of geology, and began teaching there during the Second World War. She was appointed Assistant Professor
of paleontology in 1954 and Curator of malacology in 1957. Despite her stature, Keen waited until 1960 for appointment as a tenured Associate Professor and until 1965 for
a full professorship, becoming one of three women professors in the sciences at Stanford. Upon her retirement in 1970, she was made Professor of Paleontology Emeritus and
Curator of Malacology Emeritus, and taught two more years.
Keen's research focused on molluscan systematics, but ranged widely within the field to include recent marine mollusk fauna of the Panamic Province and marine molluscan
Cenozoic paleontology, neontology, and zoogeography of western North America. Keen was particularly interested in bivalve systematics and nomenclature. She spent many years
adding to, cataloging, and systematically arranging the Cenozoic mollusk collection at Stanford. She also wrote fourteen books and sixty-four papers in the field of malacology.
Keen was the primary teacher of students in malacology at Stanford, advising advanced degree candidates in geology and biology. She also taught courses in advanced paleontology,
biological oceanography, and curatorial methods.
Keen's professional honors included Phi Beta Kappa, a 1964 Guggenheim Fellowship, and appointment as Fellow of the Geological Society of America and as fellow of the Paleontological
Society. She received the Fellows Medal from the California Academy of Sciences in 1979, becoming the first woman to do so. She served as President of both the American Malacological
Union and the Western Society for Malacology, and chaired the Committee on Nomenclature of the Society of Systematic Zoology.
13.69 cu. ft. (13 record storage boxes) (1 16x20 box)
circa 1918-1985 and undated, with family material dating from 1839
This finding aid was digitized with funds generously provided by the Smithsonian Institution Women's Committee.
This collection documents the professional career of Angeline Myra Keen, mostly her years on the faculty of Stanford University. A paleontologist and malacologist,
Keen's interests were diverse and included marine molluscan Cenozoic paleontology; neontology and zoogeography of western North America; and, especially, problems in systematics
and nomenclature. Keen was also active in professional organizations and wrote extensively.
The greater part of the collection consists of professional correspondence and writing, and records of field trips undertaken to pursue her research. The collection also
contains family correspondence and other material documenting her childhood, education, and genealogical interests, as well as philosophical and religious reflections on the
Angeline Myra Keen (1905-1986) was a long-time member of the faculty of Stanford University. Although her academic training was in psychology, she became an expert
in paleontology, and more particularly in malacology, the branch of zoology that deals with mollusks. She produced a large body of popular and scholarly work, taught many
students, and was widely respected in her field.
After graduating from Colorado College (1930), Myra Keen and her mother moved to Stanford, where Keen took her M.A. in 1931, and then to the University of California at
Berkeley, from which she received her doctorate in 1934. There were few jobs available in her field, so she took a volunteer job working on shells at Stanford. There the paleontologist
Hubert Gregory Schenck encouraged her to study in that field, especially malacology. Keen spent the remainder of her career at Stanford. She belatedly became an assistant
professor in 1954, an associate professor in 1960 and, in 1965, a full professor. At that time she was one of only three women so employed in the scientific disciplines at
Keen undertook extensive field work on the west coast of America, as far south as Peru. She published her finest work in 1958, The Shells of Tropical West America: Marine
Mollusks from Lower California to Colombia.
Professor Keen was active in many professional societies. She served as president of the American Malacological Union in 1948; in 1949, as a member of the Paleontological
Society and chairman of the Pacific Coast Section. In 1970 she was chairman of the Western Malacological Union. She also served as chairman of the Committee on Nomenclature
of the Society of Systematic Zoology.
Myra Keen received many honors in recognition of her accomplishments. She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa; was made a Guggenheim Fellow in 1964; and, in 1979, became the
first woman to receive the Fellows' Medal of the California Academy of Sciences. In 1975 Emperor Hirohito of Japan, himself a noted student of shells, asked to meet Keen on
his visit to the United States, and they discussed the molluscan faunas of Japan and northwestern North America.
Professor Keen was an individual of quiet temper but strong convictions. A devoted pacifist, she joined the Religious Society of Friends in 1964. She retired from Stanford
in 1972 but continued her interest in scholarship and in the work of her students and colleagues until her death.