During World War II masses of American women went to work across this great nation, many entering the workforce for the first time. Women took on new roles and sometimes assumed those of their husbands, and they didn’t always receive the same recognition, job title, or salary as their male counterparts. At the Brooklyn Museum, both Isabella S. Roberts, acting Director from 1943-1946, and Caroline Keck, Advising Conservator from 1943-1945*, successfully stepped into their husband’s roles at the Museum during World War II, breaking the glass ceiling so to speak.
With my background in race and gender in 19th and 20th century America, I am fascinated by these women and their story. What I find most interesting, is that in June 1943, the Museum’s Governing Committee voted to pay Sheldon Keck half his salary while he was away from the Museum in World War II. In January 1944 Isabella Roberts recommended that this portion of the salary be paid to Carolina Keck instead. In addition, it was decided that the salary Sheldon Keck was being paid would be discontinued. Although Caroline Keck was not paid the full salary, it’s significant that Isabella Roberts went up to bat for Caroline Keck. Would the same decision have been made if the acting Director was not a woman? One can only speculate!
*Caroline Keck held numerous positions at Brooklyn Museum until 1964:
- Advisor, 1943-1951 (Sheldon Keck noted as “In the Armed Forces” from 1943-1945)
- Conservator, 1952-1953
- Consultant Restorer, 1953-1956
- Consultant Conservator, 1956-1960
- Conservator, 1960-1963
- Consultant Conservator, 1963-1964