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

Brooklyn Historical Society
128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn 11201
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library@brooklynhistory.org


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

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Oral History Interview with Helen Gagliardi, August 11, 2010

Biographical / Historical

Helen Sullivan Gagliardi (1925- ) grew up in Brooklyn. She was given her mother's last name (Sullivan) because her mother returned to her maiden name after getting a divorce because it was easier for unmarried women to find work during the Depression. Gagliardi attended PS203 in Brooklyn and then Saint Brendan's (Midwood, Brooklyn) for high school. She studied Chemistry at Brooklyn College where she earned a Master's and PhD, finishing all but her dissertation. She worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard's chemistry lab from 1944-1945 when the war ended. After marrying, Gagliardi went on to teach science at PS208, an elementary school with a program for gifted students, from the 1960s until she retired in 1984. Upon retiring, she moved to California, near San Diego, where one of her two daughters lives. The Brooklyn Historical Society connected with Gagliardi because her other daughter, who lives in Boston, took her on the Brooklyn Navy Yard tour lead by Urban Oyster.

Scope and Contents

In her interview, Helen Sullivan Gagliardi (1925- ) talks about her parents' marriage (Catholic - Protestant) and how both her mother and grandmother were strong, independent women who raised children on their own. She discusses the often limited opportunities available for women when she was in college, especially in her field of chemistry. She describes in great detail her work environment at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, including her coworkers and the lab in which she worked. The lab was trying to discover a method for creating synthetic rubber, which was much needed during WWII. When the war was over, the Navy discontinued the project, but private industry went on to use similar techniques to eventually discover hard and soft plastics that are abundant today. Gagliardi also discusses her recent experience visiting the Navy Yard, comparing the congestion of workers in the 1940s with the emptiness and open space she saw in her recent visit. She also recounts her experiences as a science teacher at PS208 in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. 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

Subject Topics

  • Chemistry
  • Chemistry
  • Family life -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Navy-yards and naval stations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Warships
  • Religion and ethics
  • Sex role
  • Sexism
  • Shipyards -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Shipbuilding -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Women -x Employment -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Long Island (N.Y.)