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The Sunday Evening Forum: An Important Piece of Tucson History

Mary Jeffries Bruce with John F. Kennedy, 1958
Mary Jeffries Bruce with John F. Kennedy, 1958

Date: September 29, 2010

Contact: Chrystal Carpenter


Special Collections acquires Mary Jeffries Bruce Collection of Sunday Evening Forum Scrapbooks

Special Collections at the University Libraries announces a new acquisition from the estate of Mary Jeffries Bruce, the founder and longtime director of the Tucson Sunday Evening Forum, a nationally-recognized seasonal colloquium presented regularly in conjunction with the University of Arizona (UA) from 1947-1984.

As the Forum’s founder, Mary Jeffries 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 including Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King, Ralph Nader, and Margaret Sanger; and a number of luminaries from the fields of news and entertainment, notably, anchorman Walter Cronkite and Hugh Downs, Bob Hope and Jackie Robinson.

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, Mary Jeffries Bruce recruited the Forum’s guests herself, often via personal correspondence.  Many of these connections developed into lifelong friendships. 

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

According to University of Arizona alumnus John Jeffries, his mother “had a great affinity for the school.”  Throughout her tenure as director of the Sunday Evening Forum, she worked closely with members of the university, especially President John Schaefer (1971-1982) who, upon Bruce’s retirement, declared her contribution to the Forum to have been critical to its success. “The Forum was a labor of love,” Jeffries concluded, and his mother would be proud to know that this record of her work resides in the University’s Special Collections.

The Mary Jeffries Bruce Collection includes correspondence, photos of Mary Jeffries Bruce with a number of the Forum’s guests, newspaper articles highlighting Bruce’s work with the Forum, and more than a dozen personal scrapbooks chronicling the publicity surrounding guests’ Sunday Evening appearances. The collection also contains a chapbook detailing the history of Bruce’s involvement with the Forum, a bound collection of letters written by previous guests to Bruce upon her retirement, and several handwritten notes of interest. The collection also includes personal correspondence and information regarding Bruce’s longtime work with the National Association for Mental Health.

This collection reflects Bruce’s success at making 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. The collection details the UA’s role as the Forum’s largest host institution. Its addition to the University Libraries’ Special Collections showcases the connection between the university and some of the most vital political and cultural movements of the last century. 

Mary Jeffries Bruce passed away on February 7, 1993. She was 89.

The Mary Jeffries Bruce collection is available to the public upon request.

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For more information, please visit http://speccoll.library.arizona.edu