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University of Texas at Austin

Benjamin C. Bradlee:

An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Bradlee, Benjamin C., 1921-2014
Title: Benjamin C. Bradlee Papers
Dates: 1921-2013
Extent: 185 document boxes, 2 oversize boxes (osb) (77.7 linear feet), 1 galley file (gf), and 1,701 electronic files (3.1 GB)
Abstract: The Benjamin C. Bradlee Papers consist of memos, correspondence, manuscript drafts, desk diaries, transcripts of interviews and speeches, clippings, legal and financial documents, photographs, notes, awards and certificates, and printed materials. These professional and personal records document Bradlee’s career at Newsweek and The Washington Post, the composition of written works such as A Good Life and Conversations with Kennedy, and Bradlee’s post-retirement activities.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-05285
Language: English and French
Access: Open for research. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using archival materials. Some materials are restricted due to condition, but facsimiles are available to researchers. To request access to electronic files, please email Reference.
Restrictions on Use: Certain restrictions apply to the use of electronic files. Researchers must agree to the Materials Use Policy for Electronic Files before accessing them. Original computer disks and forensic disk images are restricted. Copying electronic files, including screenshots and printouts, is not permitted.

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Purchases, 2012 (12-05-003-D, 12-08-019-P) and Gift, 2015 (15-12-002-G)
Processed by: Ancelyn Krivak, 2016 Born digital materials processed, arranged, and described by Chance Adams and Brenna Edwards, 2015-2022.

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee was born in Boston on August 26, 1921, to Frederick Josiah Bradlee, Jr., an investment banker, and Josephine de Gersdorff Bradlee. A descendant of Boston’s Brahmin elite, Bradlee lived in an atmosphere of wealth and privilege as a young child, but after his father lost his position following the stock market crash of 1929, the family lived without servants as his father made ends meet through a series of odd jobs. Bradlee, his older brother, Frederic, and his younger sister, Constance, divided their time between the family’s Beacon Street house and a summer home in Beverly, Massachusetts, where they lived rent-free in exchange for maintaining the property. Wealthy relatives (including Bradlee’s great-uncle, Frank Crowninshield, founding editor of Vanity Fair) paid the children’s private school tuition. Bradlee attended St. Mark’s School in Southboro, Massachusetts, where he contracted polio in an epidemic that swept the school in 1936. After graduating from St. Mark’s, Bradlee attended Harvard University where he double majored in English and Greek. At Harvard, Bradlee was selected as one of 268 Harvard college sophomores from the classes of 1939–1944 to participate in a 75-year longitudinal research program called the Grant Study (now known as the Harvard Study of Adult Development). Bradlee graduated from Harvard one year early in 1942, receiving an ROTC commission to serve in the Navy during the Second World War. Following a hasty marriage to his first wife, Jean Saltonstall, Bradlee spent most of the war as a communications officer on board the destroyer USS Philip in the Pacific theater.
After the war, Bradlee and his St. Mark’s classmate, Blair Clark, moved to Manchester, New Hampshire to join a group of veterans who were starting a new newspaper, the New Hampshire Sunday News. Bradlee left the paper after it was sold in 1948 and was hired as a reporter at the Washington Post, where he stayed for three years, until he found a position as a press attaché for the United States Information Service in Paris. While in Paris, Bradlee met Antoinette ("Tony") Pinchot Pittman; the two fell in love, divorced their respective spouses, and married in 1956. By this time Bradlee had left his job at the State Department and was employed as Newsweek’s European correspondent. In 1957, he returned to the United States to work in the magazine’s Washington bureau. Bradlee purchased a house in Georgetown on the same block as Senator John F. Kennedy, and the two became friends. Their personal relationship evolved into a professional one when Bradlee was assigned to cover Kennedy’s presidential campaign for Newsweek. Bradlee maintained his friendship with, and access to, Kennedy throughout his presidency. After Kennedy’s assassination, Bradlee’s eulogy of the president written for Newsweek, "That Special Grace", was published as a book. A year later, Bradlee suffered a further tragedy when his sister-in-law, Mary Pinchot Meyer (who was later revealed to have had a romantic relationship with President Kennedy) was murdered while out for a walk in their Georgetown neighborhood.
In 1961, Bradlee persuaded Philip L. Graham, publisher of the Washington Post, to purchase Newsweek. The resulting deal changed Bradlee’s life: he was promoted to Washington bureau chief, received a finder’s fee and Washington Post stock, and in 1965 was recruited by Graham’s widow, Katharine, who became publisher after his death, to return to the newspaper as managing editor (he was named executive editor in 1968). In his early years at the Post, Bradlee tried to modernize the paper by hiring a fresh crop of young reporters and discontinuing the women’s page, replacing it with a Style section with more in-depth feature reporting and fewer household hints. His turning point as an editor occurred in 1971, however, when a federal court injunction prevented the New York Times from continuing to publish Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg offered the Papers to the Post, and Bradlee faced a dilemma: publish stories based on the documents and end up in federal court for divulging information related to national security, or decline and miss out on the biggest story of the last ten years. Bradlee ultimately received Katharine Graham’s approval to run the stories, which, as predicted, prompted further legal action from the Nixon Administration. The Post and the Times prevailed, however, when the Supreme Court upheld their right to publish the stories, setting an important legal precedent for freedom of the press.
The Pentagon Papers increased Ben Bradlee’s stature among journalists, but 1972’s Watergate affair made him into a household name. Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s investigation of the break-in at Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters implicated President Richard Nixon’s re-election committee in the DNC burglary and a variety of other campaign "dirty tricks". Bradlee encouraged Woodward and Bernstein to collect the evidence and interview the sources that would expose the truth, and endured public recrimination from members of Nixon’s administration and other prominent Republicans until a grand jury indicted seven of Nixon’s advisors and Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment. In 1973, the Post was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its coverage of Watergate. Bradlee’s appearance on the Dick Cavett Show to discuss Watergate and later, his portrayal on screen by Jason Robards in All the President’s Men, increased his public profile to a level above that of any other newspaper editor, and the fan mail and hate mail would pour into his office for years to come. After Watergate, Bradlee separated from his wife, Tony, and began a relationship with Sally Quinn, a reporter for the Post’s Style section, whom he married in 1978. He wrote his first full-length book, Conversations with Kennedy (1975), based on the notes he took during in-person and telephone conversations with the President while he was a reporter for Newsweek. Bradlee also purchased the Grey Gardens estate in East Hampton, New York, from Edie Beale in 1979 and rehabilitated the house and grounds into a summer vacation home and rental property.
Bradlee faced his greatest crisis as an editor in 1981 when a scandal ended the career of Janet Cooke, a young reporter at the Post. Cooke won the Pulitzer Prize for feature reporting for her story "Jimmy’s World", a portrait of an eight-year old heroin addict, but was later discovered to have fabricated the entire story, as well as the credentials on her resume. The Pulitzer was returned, Cooke resigned, and the Post’s ombudsman conducted an internal investigation to determine how her fraud had gone undetected, the results of which were featured on the front page of the newspaper. After the Cooke imbroglio, Bradlee and the Post eventually bounced back, as writers once again won prizes for local and international reporting and arts criticism, and the paper expanded to include additional sections featuring health, food, and home decorating.
In 1991 Bradlee retired from the Post, although he remained with the Washington Post Company as Vice-President at Large. After retirement, Bradlee composed his autobiography, A Good Life (1995), and compiled research materials for an unfinished book project called How to Read a Newspaper. He joined the International Advisory Board for the Dublin-based newspaper company Independent News & Media, and traveled to Ireland and South Africa to share his insights with editors and journalists in those countries. Bradlee purchased Porto Bello, a historic home in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, in 1990 and devoted much of his time after retirement to supporting the community of St. Mary’s, the oldest European settlement in Maryland, serving on both the Historic St. Mary’s City Commission and the Board of Trustees of St. Mary’s College. In 2007, France awarded Bradlee the Legion d’Honneur, and in 2013, President Obama presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor of the United States.
Ben Bradlee died on October 21, 2014. He was survived by his wife, Sally Quinn; his four children: Ben Bradlee Jr., Dominic ("Dino") Bradlee, Marina Murdock, and Quinn Bradlee; ten grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.


In addition to materials within the collection, the following sources were used:
Bradlee, Ben. A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures. New York: Touchstone, 1996.
Kaiser, Robert G. "Ben Bradlee, legendary Washington Post editor, dies at 93." Washington Post, October 21, 2014.

Scope and Contents

The papers of Benjamin C. Bradlee consist of memos, correspondence, manuscript drafts, desk diaries, transcripts of interviews and speeches, clippings, legal and financial documents, photographs, notes, awards and certificates, and printed materials. The professional and personal papers document Bradlee’s career at Newsweek and The Washington Post, the composition of written works such as A Good Life and Conversations with Kennedy, and Bradlee’s post-retirement activities.
The papers are organized into four series: I. Newsroom Files, 1936-2013; II. Correspondence, 1959-2012; III. Works, 1921-2011; and IV. Personal and Professional Papers, 1937-2012. The original order of Bradlee’s files has been maintained and Bradlee’s original folder titles were used when available. Selected correspondence from the papers is indexed at the end of this finding aid. In general, fan mail and other correspondence from the general public, as well as interoffice memos found throughout Bradlee’s newsroom files, are not indexed.
Series I. Newsroom Files is divided in two subseries: Subseries A. Newsweek and Subseries B. Washington Post. Subseries A. primarily consists of Bradlee’s files from his work at Newsweek’s Washington bureau (1957-1965). The files are arranged chronologically and contain memos, drafts of copy for stories (often annotated with revisions and additions in Bradlee’s hand), and some original correspondence. Materials pertaining to Kennedy’s nomination, campaign, and election to the presidency are filed separately from other materials generated by Bradlee during that time period. Documents in this series are on brittle paper; therefore, all original materials have been replaced with photocopies and the originals restricted.
Bradlee’s files related to his employment at The Washington Post (1965-1991) comprise Subseries B. Arranged alphabetically by subject, the Washington Post files include memos, legal documents related to lawsuits against the Post, complaints from the public, memos from the Post’s ombudsmen, files related to the Post’s annual retreat, Pugwash, and documents related to the Pentagon Papers and Watergate stories. The Pentagon Papers files comprise affidavits, briefs, and other legal documents, notes, memos, correspondence, interview and television transcripts, and clippings. Materials related to the Watergate scandal include memos, clippings, drafts of legal affidavits, a draft screenplay for All the President’s Men with Bradlee’s annotations, and a large volume of correspondence from Bradlee’s colleagues, friends, and members of the general public. Other files in this subseries document Bradlee’s restructuring of the newspaper to include more feature reporting in the Style, Book World, Health, and Home sections; his efforts to adapt to changing times which demanded greater inclusion of women and minorities in the newsroom; his struggles to balance the public’s need to know with the imperative to protect national security interests; and the Janet Cooke scandal, among many other topics.
Series II. Correspondence contains Bradlee’s correspondence files. The original order of Bradlee’s files was preserved; occasionally copies of the same piece of correspondence are located in multiple files. Correspondence filed alphabetically by correspondent (or, rarely, by the subject of the correspondence) is broken broadly into date spans (i.e., the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s-2000s), followed by incoming and outgoing correspondence filed by date, and finally copies of outgoing correspondence filed by date. Most of Bradlee’s outgoing correspondence was written on Washington Post letterhead; however, much of the correspondence in this series pertains to personal matters, with only a small amount related to Bradlee’s work at The Washington Post. Notable correspondents include Katharine Graham, publisher of The Washington Post, and his close friends Art Buchwald of The Washington Post, attorney Edward Bennett Williams, Tom Winship of The Boston Globe, James Russell Wiggins of The Washington Post and Ellsworth American, Blair Clark of The Nation, television producer Norman Lear, politician Barry Goldwater, American Film Institute director George Stevens, Jr., and Motion Picture Association of America president Jack Valenti. Third-party correspondence addressed to Katharine Graham and Donald Graham is present in this series and in Series I. Subseries B. Washington Post.
Series III. Works consists of drafts, correspondence, publicity materials, and research files related to Bradlee’s published books and articles and unfinished book projects, arranged alphabetically by title. Manuscript drafts of Bradlee’s published works, Conversations with Kennedy and A Good Life, document revisions to the text and comments from editors and other readers. Bradlee’s research files for A Good Life and the unfinished book project How to Read a Newspaper are particularly extensive and contain a large volume of clippings and correspondence related to Bradlee’s personal history and to various topics in journalism. Some materials collected for How to Read a Newspaper (referred to in the finding aid as "Media files") may also have been used for the Reading the Newspaper class Bradlee taught at Georgetown University in 1997.
The wide variety of materials in Series IV. Personal and Professional Papers include Bradlee’s desk diaries for the years 1965-2008, transcripts of speeches, awards and certificates, photographs, biographical and genealogical information, and materials related to Bradlee’s post-retirement activities, such as his Reading the Newspaper class at Georgetown University and his service on the International Advisory Board of Independent News & Media, the Historic St. Mary’s City Commission, and the Board of Trustees of St. Mary’s College. Also in this series are subject files containing clippings, correspondence and printed materials related to a wide variety of individuals and topics. Files on Art Buchwald, Katharine Graham, John F. Kennedy, the unsolved murder of his sister-in-law Mary Pinchot Meyer, and the Harvard Grant Study are particularly extensive. Additional materials related to the Harvard Grant Study are filed in Series III. with Bradlee’s research materials for A Good Life. This series concludes with a selection of party-planning files kept by Bradlee’s wife, Sally Quinn, and files created by writer Jeff Himmelman as he conducted research for his book Yours in Truth (predominantly containing materials that were culled from other files in Bradlee’s papers).

Related Material

The Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein Watergate Papers at the Harry Ransom Center contain correspondence with Ben Bradlee and additional materials related to the Washington Post’s Watergate investigation. A small Watergate Collection at the Center contains additional materials related to Watergate.

Separated Material

One hundred and three non-commercial audio cassettes and microcassettes, predominantly radio interviews with Bradlee and recordings of interviews conducted for his autobiography, A Good Life, were transferred to the Ransom Center Sound Recordings Collection.
Fourteen 3.5” disks, likely containing drafts of Bradlee’s autobiography A Good Life, and ten 5.25” disks, possibly containing files related to A Good Life and How to Read a Newspaper, were transferred to the Ransom Center’s Digital Collections Services Department.
Three commercial audio cassettes and four commercial video cassettes were transferred to the Ransom Center Library.
Twenty-seven published books and serials were transferred to the Ransom Center Library.

Index Terms


Bradlee, Benjamin C.
Buchwald, Art.
Graham, Katharine, 1917-2001.
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963.


Historic St. Mary's City Commission.
Independent News & Media (Firm).
Newsweek, inc.
St. Mary's College of Maryland.
Washington Post Company.


Harvard Study of Adult Development.
Journalism -- United States.
Journalists -- United States.
Newspapers--Washington (D.C.).
Pentagon Papers.
Philip (Destroyer: DD-498).
Press and politics -- United States.
Pulitzer Prizes.
Watergate Affair, 1972-1974.


Saint Marys City (Md.).

Document Types

Appointment books.
Business records.
Electronic documents.
Galley proofs.
Legal documents.

Container List