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Guide to the Brooklyn Navy Yard oral history collection ARC.003

Brooklyn Historical Society
128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn 11201

Brooklyn Historical Society

Collection processed by Amy Lau, Mary Mann, Aliki Caloyeras, and Margaret Fraser

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on  , September 3, 2020
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Container List

Oral History Interview with Helen David, May 7, 2010

Biographical / Historical

Helen Robertson David (1923- ) was born in Montreal, Canada and grew up in Brooklyn. Her father moved to Canada from South Africa and her mother was born in Lithuania in 1890 and came to New York around 1902. David's parents met in Montreal and were prevented from moving to the U.S. in 1925 because there was a cap on immigrants from South Africa [until 1935 a wife lost her American citizenship at that time if her husband was not US citizen]. They were able to move to the US in 1926 and settled in Brooklyn. David attended PS 161, PS 241 in Crown Heights, Junior High 210 and graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in 1939 when she was 16 years old. She attended Brooklyn College as a science major and graduated in 1943. David worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in the Sound and Optics Laboratory. She left because she decided to pursue a career in teaching. She got her Master's in education from Teacher's College at Columbia University. David met her husband while attending Brooklyn College. She eventually taught at Valley Stream High School on Long Island for 29 years and has lived in Arizona since 2005.

Scope and Contents

Among the many topics Helen Robertson David (1923- ) discusses during this interview are the work she did in the Sound and Optics Lab, memorable events in the Yard such as the building of the USS Missouri and another ship (the Bonhomme Richard), an explosion in the power station, and D-Day. She explains that people were not allowed to quit working in the Yard because it was war time and in order to leave to pursue a teaching career, she had to get permission from the Admiral. She remembers smelling the chocolate factory in the neighborhood while working at the Yard. David discusses gender relations within the Yard and the Lab, telling one story about keeping milk in the Lab's refrigerator; she and the other women would label their milk as if it contained bacteria cultures to keep the men from drinking it. She also talks about her life after the Navy Yard as a woman science teacher in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Valley Stream (Long Island). Davis is friends with two other interviewees in this collection: Eleanor Capson (2010.003.006) and Mimi (Mildred) Leipzig (2010.003.016). Interview conducted by Sady Sullivan.

Conditions Governing Access

This interview can be accessed onsite at Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online at the Oral History Portal.

Subject Organizations

  • New York Naval Shipyard
  • Brooklyn College
  • Columbia University
  • Bon Homme Richard (Aircraft carrier)
  • Missouri (Battleship : BB 63)

Subject Topics

  • Warships
  • Teaching
  • Laboratories
  • Accidents
  • Family life -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • World War, 1939-1945
  • Women -x Employment -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Teachers -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • United States -- Armed Forces -- Civilian employees

Subject Places

  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • United States |x Emigration and immigration