AUSTIN, Texas — The archive of Ben Bradlee (1921-2014), former editor of The Washington Post, has been donated to the Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin.
With many of the materials spanning the era of Bradlee’s editorial tenure at the Post from 1965 to 1991, the archive documents the career of Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee, whom former San Francisco Chronicle Editor Phil Bronstein identified as the “last of the lion-king newspaper editors.”
Bradlee presided over the Post — first as managing editor and then as executive editor — and led the paper through the publication of the Pentagon Papers and coverage of the Watergate scandal. Under his leadership, the Post earned 17 Pulitzer Prizes and a reputation for excellence in investigative reporting.
“Ben often quoted Philip Graham, husband of Katharine Graham and a former publisher of The Washington Post, saying that ‘journalism is the first rough draft of history,’ ” said Sally Quinn, Bradlee’s wife. “This is why he wanted his papers to go to the Ransom Center along with those of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Historians can now take these rough drafts and enlarge the record for posterity. I am thrilled that they are now residing in the perfect place for that to happen.”
Vast in volume and content, the archive contains Bradlee’s professional correspondence with journalists, elected officials, cultural figures and corporate executives; internal memoranda documenting the workings of the Post; newsroom files and calendars; files from Bradlee’s Newsweek tenure from 1957 to 1965; materials relating to his books “Conversations with Kennedy” (1975) and “A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures” (1995); desk diaries and personal items.
The archive includes extensive original incoming correspondence along with carbons or photocopies of Bradlee’s outgoing letters, many documenting high points of American journalism and some of the 20th century’s most prominent news stories.
In a December 1963 letter after the assassination of her husband, Jacqueline Kennedy wrote, “I consider that my life is over and I will spend the rest of it waiting for it really to be over.” In response to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, author Lillian Hellman wrote, “I guess it’s time for me to say you have become my hero. And I ain’t had many.” Presidents of the United States also corresponded with Bradlee, including Jimmy Carter, who separately noted the publication of a February 1977 story about the CIA as “irresponsible” while a March 1977 editorial on the Middle East was “completely responsible.”
Significant material relating to the Watergate scandal is in the archive, ranging from staff memoranda tracing the newspaper’s response to events to versions of Bradlee’s affidavit regarding confidentiality of sources.
Bradlee placed his papers at the Ransom Center in 2012, pledging to donate them upon his death. The archive will reside alongside and complement the Woodward and Bernstein Watergate papers.
“We are delighted that the Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin has acquired Ben Bradlee’s extensive archive,” said Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in a joint statement. “He was the most significant newspaper editor of his time — a golden journalistic era spanning the second half of the 20th century, during which he set the highest standard of fearless and aggressive but fair inquiry; and re-invented the modern newspaper through the news and feature coverage of The Washington Post. The Ransom Center stores, catalogues and displays its documents and related historical material brilliantly, making its holdings easily accessible to researchers and the public. Ben, as his archive will show, is a history, political and journalism lesson all by himself.”
In 2013 the Ben Bradlee Fellowship in Journalism endowment was created to support scholarly research in journalism and related collections at the Ransom Center. Since 1990, the Center has awarded fellowships to more than 900 scholars from around the world to visit and conduct on-site research in its collections, supporting scholarship in all areas of the humanities.
“We are honored Ben Bradlee wished his archive to be housed at the Harry Ransom Center where students and scholars will study for years to come a tumultuous era in our national life,” said Ransom Center Director Stephen Enniss.
Bradlee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, at a White House ceremony in 2013.
Materials from the Bradlee archive will be accessible once processed and cataloged. High-resolution press images are available.