Fawn McKay Brodie photograph collection, undated

Overview of the Collection

Fawn McKay Brodie photograph collection
undated (inclusive)
3 photographic prints
Collection Number
Fawn Brodie was a prominent historian, professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, and author of such noteworthy books as No Man Knows My History and Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History. Her three photographs include a portrait of herself and pictures of an autograph party.
University of Utah Libraries, Special Collections
Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library
University of Utah
295 South 1500 East
Salt Lake City, UT

Telephone: 8015818863
Access Restrictions

Twenty-four hour advanced notice encouraged. Materials must be used on-site. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.


Historical NoteReturn to Top

Fawn M. Brodie was born September 15, 1915, in Ogden, Utah, and raised on the family farm in Huntsville, a small town fifteen miles east of Ogden. Hers was, by her own account, an idyllic childhood. Her father, Thomas E. McKay, was a "very devout Mormon", an assistant to the Twelve Apostles, and president of the European Mission. His brother was David O. McKay, who later became president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her mother, Fawn Brimhall McKay, was in her daughter's phrase a "quiet heretic". Fawn Brodie's maternal uncle, Dean Brimhall, was widely known as a free thinker and scholar. It was from her mother's family that Fawn Brodie took her course in life.

Fawn Brodie began her education in the Weber County School District. By the time she was eighteen, she had attended both Weber State College in Ogden and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and earned a B.A. in English literature from the latter. It was at the University of Utah she began to feel "a quiet kind of liberation" from "the parochialism of the Mormon community". She later described this feeling as "like taking off a hot coat in the summertime". By the time she entered the University of Chicago for graduate work in 1936, her break with the past was almost complete. It was there, while working in the cafeteria, that she met Bernard Brodie, a young Jewish student of political science. Despite the objections of both sets of parents, they were married on August 25, 1936. She received her M.A. in English literature on the same day.

In an effort to answer Bernard's questions on the Book of Mormon, Fawn Brodie began researching her own religious background in the university library where she worked. Her research convinced her that an objective biography of Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, was needed and her preliminary work on a biography led to her being awarded the Alfred A. Knopf Fellowship in Biography in 1943.

In the meantime Bernard Brodie accepted a teaching position at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. It was here their first child, Richard, was born in 1942. For a short time during World War II, Bernard worked for the Office of Strategic Services in Washington, D.C., but in 1945 he began teaching political science at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. While at New Haven, Fawn Brodie completed work on No Man Knows my History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet. It was published in November 1945 and instantly aroused a storm of controversy that has not yet subsided. The book and its author were denounced in the highest circles of the L.D.S. Church, and even now few people who are familiar with the work are ambivalent about it. As a direct result of the book, Fawn Brodie was excommunicated from the L.D.S. Church in June of 1946.

These vicissitudes notwithstanding, the years at Yale were happy ones for the Brodies. They built a house in Bethany, a small town near New Haven, that was featured in Your House and Home magazine in 1950. It was here their other two children were born, Bruce in 1946 and Pamela in 1950. Bernard Brodie had meanwhile joined the RAND Corporation, and after less than a year in Washington, D.C., was transferred to corporate headquarters in Santa Monica, California. There the Brodies lived in a small bungalow while building their next home in Pacific Palisades. This was to be their home for the rest of their lives.

Once settled in their home, Fawn Brodie turned again to writing. Her second book, Thaddeus Stevens, Scourge of the South, was published in 1959. In that same year, Bernard was awarded a grant by the Carnegie Foundation. The grant, a "Reflective Year Fellowship", allowed the family to spend a year in Paris. Out of this came Fawn and Bernard Brodie's first collaborative work, From Crossbow to H-Bomb.

In 1967 Fawn accepted a position as senior lecturer in history at the University of California, Los Angeles. In this same year, she finished her third book, The Devil Drives: A Life of Sir Richard Burton; her work as a historian and biographer now began to be recognized. She was named a Fellow of the Utah State Historical Society, and other awards and honors soon followed. In 1974 her fourth book, Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, was published. This book was second only to No Man Knows My History in terms of the controversy it produced. In her efforts to reveal Jefferson's "inner life", she presented detailed evidence of his long-term affair with a black slave, Sally Hemings. This roused the ire of the conservative "Jefferson establishment", which had long held such stories to be untrue.

Fawn Brodie began research on her fifth and final book, a biography of Richard Nixon, in 1976. Her husband, her publisher, and many of her friends tried to dissuade her from this project, but she persisted. This book was a radical change for her, as up to this point all of her biographies had been about men she greatly admired. Nixon, however, she "detested". About this time, Bernard Brodie was diagnosed as having cancer of the lymph system, and Fawn Brodie was increasingly concerned with her husband's health. After a period of remission, the disease prevailed and Bernard died in November of 1978. Fawn Brodie was devastated by his death and entered a state of depression from which she never fully recovered. She was reluctant to continue work on the Nixon biography--in a letter from this period she wrote that Nixon's life just seemed an "obscenity" --but it had been Bernard's final wish that she finish the book.

Soon after her sixty-fifth birthday, in September of 1980, Fawn Brodie too was found to be suffering from terminal cancer. She was just finishing the Nixon biography, and now raced against her impending death to complete the manuscript. It was finished in December of 1980; the final editing was done by her sons, Richard and Bruce, and Bruce's wife Janet. Fawn Brodie did not live to see Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character in print, for she died on January 10, 1981.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

Fawn Brodie was a prominent historian, professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, and author of such noteworthy books as No Man Knows My History and Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History. Her three photographs include a portrait of herself and pictures of an autograph party.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

The library does not claim to control copyright for all materials in the collection. An individual depicted in a reproduction has privacy rights as outlined in Title 45 CFR, part 46 (Protection of Human Subjects). For further information, please review the J. Willard Marriott Library's Use Agreement and Reproduction Request forms.

Preferred Citation

Collection Name, Collection Number, Box Number, Folder Number. Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Acquisition Information

Donated by Bruce, Pamela, Fawn, and Richard Brodie in 1985.

Related Materials

See also the Fawn McKay Brodie papers (MS 0360) located in the Manuscripts Division of Special Collections and the Fawn McKay Brodie audio-visual collection (A0026) located in the Multimedia Archives Division of Special Collections.

Forms part of the Aileen H. Clyde 20th Century Women's Legacy Archives.

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Container(s) Description
Box Folder
1 1 General Photographs
  • Number 1 and 2: Fawn at unidentified bookstore signing copies of Thomas Jefferson
  • Number 3: Portrait of Fawn Brodie

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Personal Names

  • Brodie, Fawn McKay, 1915-1981--Photographs

Form or Genre Terms

  • Portrait photographs
  • black-and-white photographs