Brodie, Fawn McKay, 1915-1981

Alternative names

Hide Profile

Fawn McKay Brodie was born in Ogden, Utah, on September 15, 1915. Her family were active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with her grandfather serving as president of Brigham Young University and uncle David O. McKay as the ninth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Brodie attended Weber College in Ogden from 1930-1932 before finishing a B.A. in English Literature at the University of Utah in 1934. She returned to Weber College to teach English after receiving her degree. Brodie earned an M.A. from the University of Chicago in 1936, the same year she married Bernard Brodie. By this time she had all but given up her faith in the Mormon Church, and undertook a critical study of the history of theBook of Mormon. Brodie completed a critical biography of Joseph Smith in 1944. It was condemned by the Mormon Church and Brodie was excommunicated in 1946. Brodie is also known for several other biographies, including those of Thomas Jefferson, Thaddeus Stevens, Sir Richard Burton, and Richard Nixon. Brodie was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1980 and died on January 10, 1981.

From the description of Letters about "No man knows my history : the life of Joseph Smith," 1947. (Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens). WorldCat record id: 496814884

American biographer.

From the description of Letter, 1946. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122553640

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.

From the guide to the Fawn McKay Brodie papers, 1932-1983, (J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Duberman, Martin B. Martin B. Duberman papers, 1917-1997. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Burton, Richard Francis, Sir, 1821-1890. Papers of Sir Richard Francis Burton, 1846-2003 (bulk 1846-1939) Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
referencedIn Erik H. and Joan M. Erikson papers, 1925-1985 (inclusive) 1960-1980 (bulk). Houghton Library.
creatorOf Williams family. Papers of the Williams family [manuscript], 1798-1987 (bulk 1802-1972). University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Chandler, Tertius. The Controversy Over Joseph Smith, by Tertius Chandler, 1 September 1952. Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
creatorOf Brodie, Fawn McKay, 1915-1981. Letters about "No man knows my history : the life of Joseph Smith," 1947. Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
creatorOf Purple, William D., 1802-1886. Joseph Smith, the originator of mormonism; Historical reminiscences of the town of Afton. May 3, 1877. Utah Division of State History, Utah Historical Society
referencedIn Jan Shipps papers, 1977-1979 J. Willard Marriott Library, University of UtahManuscripts Division
referencedIn McQuown, Madeline Reeder, 1906-1976. Papers, 1830-1973. Landmarks of Science Microform Service
creatorOf Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Records. Series VII., Other Department Files, 1916-1996 (bulk 1943-1969). Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Chandler, Tertius. The Controversy Over Joseph Smith, by Tertius Chandler, 1 September 1952. Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
referencedIn Marvin S. Hill papers, 1788-2006 J. Willard Marriott Library, University of UtahManuscripts Division
referencedIn Ogden Writer's Series. Records, 1986. Landmarks of Science Microform Service
creatorOf Brodie, Fawn McKay, 1915-1981. Correspondence. Utah Division of State History, Utah Historical Society
creatorOf Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Records. Series V., Editor Files, 1873-1984 (bulk 1960-1980). Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Tinney, Thomas Milton, 1941-. Fanny Alger, the first plural wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. : a preliminary genealogical report, after 1986. Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
creatorOf Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Records. : Series I., General Correspondence, 1922-1977 (bulk 1946-1966). Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Martin B. Duberman papers, 1917-1992 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
creatorOf Fawn McKay Brodie papers, 1932-1983 J. Willard Marriott Library, University of UtahManuscripts Division
referencedIn McQuown, Madeline Reeder, 1906-1976. Papers, 1830-1976. University of Utah, J. Willard Marriott Library
creatorOf Brodie, Fawn McKay, 1915-1981. Letter, 1946. American Primers
referencedIn Papers, 1921-2000 Harvard Law School Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn Martin B. Duberman papers, 1917-1992 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Brockbank, I. A. [A speech of Elder I. A. Brockbank delivered in Salt Lake City, April 26, 1946]. American Primers
referencedIn Pilling, Paula Louise. Comparison of two biographies on Joseph Smith. Utah Division of State History, Utah Historical Society
referencedIn Ogden Writers Series audio collection, 1985 September 12-November 21 J. Willard Marriott Library, University of UtahAudio Visual Archives
referencedIn Ernest H. Linford correspondence, 1955-1979 J. Willard Marriott Library, University of UtahManuscripts Division
referencedIn Malone, Dumas, 1892-1986. Papers of Dumas Malone [manuscript], 1913-1986. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Obetz, Francis H., Mrs. Papers. Ohio History Connection, Ohio Historical Society
referencedIn University of Virginia. Sesquicentennial Committee. Files of the University of Virginia Sesquicentennial Committee [manuscript], 1968-1970. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Malone, Dumas, 1892-1986. Papers of Dumas Malone [manuscript], 1913-1986. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Newell G. Bringhurst papers, 1869-2010 J. Willard Marriott Library, University of UtahManuscripts Division
referencedIn Flanders, Robert Bruce. Some reflections on the new Mormon history. 29 Sep 1973. Utah Division of State History, Utah Historical Society
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Berger, Raoul, 1901- person
associatedWith Brannan, Sam, 1819-1889. person
associatedWith Bringhurst, Newell G. person
associatedWith Brockbank, I. A. person
associatedWith Burton, Richard Francis, Sir, 1821-1890. person
associatedWith Chandler, Tertius. person
associatedWith Duberman, Martin B. person
correspondedWith Erikson, Erik H. (Erik Homburger), 1902-1994 person
associatedWith Flanders, Robert Bruce. person
associatedWith Hill, Marvin S. person
associatedWith Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826 person
correspondedWith Linford, Ernest H. person
associatedWith Malone, Dumas, 1892-1986. person
associatedWith McQuown, Madeline Reeder, 1906-1976. person
associatedWith Morgan, Dale Lowell, 1914-1971. person
associatedWith Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994 person
associatedWith Obetz, Francis H., Mrs. person
associatedWith Ogden Writer's Series. corporateBody
associatedWith Pilling, Paula Louise. person
associatedWith Purple, William D., 1802-1886. person
associatedWith Sadler, Richard person
correspondedWith Shipps, Jan, 1929- person
associatedWith Smith, Joseph, 1805-1844. person
associatedWith Stevens, Thaddeus, 1792-1868 person
associatedWith Tinney, Thomas Milton, 1941-. person
associatedWith University of Virginia. Sesquicentennial Committee. corporateBody
associatedWith Williams family. family
associatedWith Young, Brigham, 1801-1877. person
associatedWith Young, Gordon, 1886-1948. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
Utah
Subject
Petroglyphs
Mormons--Biography
Mormon Church--History
Women biographers--Correspondence
Women authors, American
Literature
Mormons--history
Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1915-09-15

Death 1981-01-10

Americans

English

Information

Permalink: http://n2t.net/ark:/99166/w60004pf

Ark ID: w60004pf

SNAC ID: 38230415