Grace Morley, 1900-1985

  • Grace-Morley-First-director-of-the-museum-of-modern-art-in-SF-WWP

Woman Category: ArtsWoman Tags: Museologist and SF Bay Area Women

  • HerStory

    The first director of San Francisco Museum of Art, contributing to the Bay Area diverse modern art scene.

    Grace Louise McCann Morley was born in Berkeley and grew up in St. Helena. She received her MA in French from the University of California, Berkeley. Thanks to a scholarship, she lived three years in Paris – working on her PhD from the Sorbonne. It is in France where she earned a deeper understanding of the arts. When she returned, she found a job teaching French at Goucher College in Baltimore. Her career took a shift thanks to a summer course at Harvard, which was intended to introduce museum studies to teachers.
    Her first curatorial position was at the Cincinnati Museum of Art. From there she moved back to California and took on the role of director of the San Francisco Museum of Art (which is currently called San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). In her role she was considered very progressive in engaging her community: she offered educational activities, kept the museum open until ten in the evening, presented up to 100 exhibitions a year, supporting local artists and artists of color. Morley gave unprecedented attention to women in the program, with dozens of solo shows to female artists such as Ruth Armer, Julia Codesido, Aline Liebman, Henrietta Shore, and Susi Singer.
    She then continued to serve as the first head of the Museum Division of UNESCO, helped to organize the International Council of Museums and founded the publication “Museum.” When she was sixty years old, she was offered to become the director of the National Museum of New Delhi. After six years in her role, she stayed in India until her death in 1985.

    “If art of today is today overlooked, or misunderstood, the loss is serious”

    “If art of today is today overlooked, or misunderstood, the loss is serious”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She first went to school at the age of ten.
    • She was underpaid compared to her male peers, with her starting salary being $2,400 a year – less than a third of the MoMA director at the time.
  • More About Her Legacy

    * 1982 Padma Bhush award
    * A special award for lifelong service from the American Association of Museums

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • The museum of modern art. Photo credit - Pixabay.