Fawn McKay Brodie (Fawn Brodie)

Fawn McKay Brodie

Author,  Historian. One of the founders of the genre of history known variously as “psychohistory” or “psychobiography”. Fawn McKay was born into a respected, though poor, Mormon family. She demonstrated academic prowess from an early age, attended Weber College for two years, and received her B.A. in English from the University of Utah in 1934. By this time she seriously questioned basic Mormon beliefs, encouraged by her mother who was a thorough, if closet, heretic. Fawn attended the University of Chicago, where she met and married Bernard Brodie, a secular Jew, earned her M.A. in English in 1936, and completely turned her back on Mormonism. While working at the library of the University of Chicago,  Brodie began work on a biography of Mormon founder Joseph Smith. Winning the Alfred A. Knopf literary prize in 1943, she moved to Washington, D.C. and continued her research at the Library of Congress;  by subterfuge she even managed to do some research at the secret Mormon archives in Utah. The result of all her work was the controversial “No Man Knows My History”, published in 1945.  The reviews were mixed and often dependent on the theological orientation of the reviewer; sales, however, were good. As a  result the Mormons excommunicated Brodie in 1946. Over the next several years she developed an interest in using Freudian psychoanalysis as a historical research tool. During this time, she was lecturer in history at the University of California, Los Angeles, and became one of the first female tenured professors in the department, despite having no degree in history, and no doctorate at all. Her most famous work was “Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History”, published in 1974. Though giving all the main facts of Jefferson’s life, the book was mainly a study of his “five loves”; it popularized the “Tom and Sally” story, about which dispute still rages. (Actually, Sally Hemings was old news, first publicized by “muckraker” James Callender in 1802).  Brodie contrived to have Merrill Peterson and Dumas Malone, probably the two foremost Jefferson scholars of all-time, excluded from reviewing the book (they both blasted it anyway), but sales were massive; it remains in print, and controversial. Brodie’s last work was an unfinished biography of Richard Nixon, cut short by her death from cancer. Despite severe critisism for a perceived lack of objectivity, it was the basis for the Oliver Stone movie “Nixon”. (bio by: Bob Hufford)  Family links:  Parents:  Thomas Evans McKay (1875 – 1958)  Fawn Robertson Brimhall McKay (1889 – 1960)  Siblings:  Flora Jeanette McKay Crawford (1913 – 2001)*  Fawn McKay Brodie (1915 – 1981)  Thomas Brimhall McKay (1917 – 2004)*  Barbara Fay McKay Smith (1920 – 2005)*  Marjorie Louise McKay Card (1925 – 2012)* *Calculated relationship


  • September, 15, 1915
  • USA


  • January, 01, 1981
  • USA


  • Cremated

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