Ben Bradlee's early years
Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee was born into the old aristocracy of white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant Boston on Aug. 26, 1921. His father, Frederick Josiah Bradlee Jr., known as “B,” could trace his American ancestry back through 10 generations of Bradlees. B was an all-American football star at Harvard who became an investment banker in the booming 1920s. He married Josephine deGersdorff, daughter of a prominent New York lawyer and a New England aristocrat named Helen Crowninshield. Benjamin was the second of three children. At first, he was surrounded by domestic staff and other signs of wealth, but the stock market crash of 1929 ended all that. During the Great Depression, his father had to improvise a living for many years, keeping the books for various clubs and institutions and supervising the janitors at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (for $3,000 a year). The family had free use of a summer house in Beverly, Mass., whose owners couldn’t find a buyer for it. Rich relations paid the Bradlee children’s tuition to private schools.