New UA Collection Highlights Prominent Tucson Visitors

The UA's Special Collections has acquired Mary Jeffries Bruce's collection of Sunday Evening Forum scrapbooks, an important piece of Tucson history.
Oct. 5, 2010
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Special Collections at the University Libraries maintains collections of rare books and unique archival materials that make possible in-depth research on selected topics. The scope and diversity of Special Collections make it an important resource for the international academic community. Established in 1958 to house materials on Arizona, the Southwest and the U.S./Mexico Borderlands, Special Collections now includes rare books, manuscript collections, photographs and other materials in a wide variety of subject areas.

Mary Jeffries Bruce with then-U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy in 1958. (Photo courtesy of the University of Arizona Libraries, Special Collections)
Mary Jeffries Bruce with then-U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy in 1958. (Photo courtesy of the University of Arizona Libraries, Special Collections)

Photographs, letters, newspaper articles and personal scrapbooks chronicling publicity around a number of nationally and internationally prominent figures to have visited Tucson are now part of a University of Arizona collection.

The Special Collections at the UA's University Libraries has just acquired the material from the estate of Mary Jeffries Bruce, the founder and longtime director of the Tucson Sunday Evening Forum.

The Forum was a nationally recognized seasonal colloquium presented regularly in conjunction with the UA from 1947-84.

The collection also contains information detailing the history of Bruce's involvement with the Forum, a bound collection of letters written by previous guests to Bruce upon her retirement along with several handwritten notes of interest.

The collection, which is available to the public upon request, also includes personal correspondence and information regarding Bruce’s longtime work with the National Association for Mental Health.

John Jeffries, a UA alumnus, said his mother “had a great affinity for the school.” Bruce passed away Feb. 7, 1993. She was 89.

Throughout her tenure as director of the Sunday Evening Forum, she worked closely with members of the University, especially then-UA President John Schaefer who, upon Bruce’s retirement, declared her contribution to the Forum to have been critical to its success.

John Jeffries also said the "Forum was a labor of love,” adding that his mother would be proud to know that this record of her work resides in the UA’s Special Collections. 

As the Forum’s founder, Bruce was responsible for bringing to Tucson many of the most prominent political and cultural figures of the time, often before their heyday.

During her 34 years as director, guests of the Forum included future presidents John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Gerald Ford; political activists Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King, Ralph Nader, Margaret Sanger, and others.

Also, a number of luminaries from the fields of news and entertainment, notably anchorman Walter Cronkite and Hugh Downs, Bob Hope and Jackie Robinson, also visited. 

Recruiting internationally, the Forum also hosted dignitaries from around the world, including future Nobel Peace Prize winner Yitzhak Rabin.

Described as dynamic, aggressive and yet supremely thoughtful, Bruce recruited the Forum’s guests herself, often via personal correspondence. Many of these connections developed into lifelong friendships. 

Under the guidance of Bruce, the Sunday Evening Forum matured from a young adult discussion group with 50 members, to being the nation’s onetime largest community forum, with a peak seasonal attendance of 55,000.

Longtime NBC newscaster David Brinkley, who took the stage five times, declared the Forum “the best organized and best managed in the country.”

This collection reflects Bruce’s success at helping make Tucson a nationally recognized stage for the many dialogues of 20th century American politics, as well as a platform for rising political and cultural icons of the day.

For her success in adding to the political and cultural temper of the city, 1952 saw Jeffries Bruce named Tucson’s first “Woman of the Year.”