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James Bruce papers

 Collection 0065-MDHC

James Bruce (1892-1980) spent most of his life in the world of business and banking, working in both New York and Baltimore. He served variously as president of the Baltimore Trust Company, director of American Airlines, and vice president of the National Dairy Products Corporation. He and his family also had ties to diplomacy and early in his life, just prior to enlistment for World War I, Bruce served as private secretary to his uncle, Thomas Nelson Page, U. S. Ambassador to Italy. Several years later, from 1947 to 1949, Bruce himself served as U. S. Ambassador to Argentina. He subsequently served as the director of the Foreign Military Assistance Program, forerunner of NATO, before returning to his career in business in 1950. The materials in this collection focus on the years 1910 to 1960 and treat a variety of subjects such as Bruce's years at Princeton; his military and diplomatic service; and a 1958 campaign for a U. S. Senate seat. News clippings, publications, by Bruce and others, audio-visual materials, and correspondence are included. Letters from numerous prominent individuals, including Juan and Eva Peron, John F. Kennedy, Harry S. Truman, and Dean Acheson, form a significant portion of the collection. Also included is substantial genealogical information relating to the Bruce family.


  • 1734-2002
  • Majority of material found within 1910-1960

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


16.75 Linear Feet (16.75 linear feet, 1,730 photographs, 96 negatives, 37 three-dimensional objects, and 3 microfilm reels)

16.75 Linear Feet

1730 Photographs (1,252 loose photographs, 463 slides, and 15 photograph albums)

96 Negatives (Photographs)

37 Items

3 microfilms

Scope and Content of Collection

The James Bruce papers cover the years 1734 to 2002, with the bulk of the material dating between 1910 and 1960. Document types represented in the collection include correspondence, interview transcriptions, manuscripts, publications, genealogical records, diplomas, newspaper clippings, photographs, diaries, paintings, and microfilm. The materials relate to a variety of topics, such as Bruce's years at Princeton University, his military service in World War I and his subsequent diplomatic service in Montenegro, his term as ambassador to Argentina, and his campaign in 1958 for a seat in the United States Senate.

The papers also contain a significant amount of documentation on the Bruce, Keyser, McHenry, and other related families. Materials pertaining to these prominent Maryland families include personal correspondence, genealogical information, memoirs, and scrapbooks containing letters, photographs, newspaper clippings, and memorabilia. Also included is information on the families' homes and properties, which include photographs of house exteriors and interiors.


A businessman, ambassador, and member of a prominent Maryland family, James Bruce was born on December 23, 1892 in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of lawyer, author, and U. S. Senator William Cabell Bruce and Louise Este (Fisher) Bruce.

After attending the Gilman School in Baltimore, Bruce entered Princeton University in 1910, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in literature in 1914. The following year, Bruce attended the training camp of the U. S. Army at Plattsburgh, New York. During 1916, he lived in Rome, working as private secretary to the U. S. Ambassador to Italy, his uncle Thomas Nelson Page. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Bruce enlisted in the U. S. Army, serving in France and Germany. In 1918, Bruce received a Bachelor of Law degree from the University of Maryland in Baltimore. In early 1919, Bruce served as assistant military attache to the American Embassy in Rome and went to the Balkans as a representative of the Paris Peace Conference to investigate the conflict between Albania and Montenegro.

Bruce returned to the United States in 1919 and married Ellen McHenry Keyser on May 24 of that year. In 1920, their daughter Ellen was born, followed in 1924 by a second daughter, Louise.

Upon his return to the United States in 1919, James Bruce embarked upon a career in banking, working for the Mercantile Trust Bank of Baltimore and for the Atlantic Trust Company. In 1926, Bruce left Baltimore for New York, where he worked for several banks, including Chase National, until he returned to Baltimore in 1931 to become president of the Baltimore Trust Company.

In 1933, Bruce was appointed financial advisor to the Homeowners Loan Corporation in Washington, D.C. He ended this government service one year later to become vice president of the National Dairy Products Corporation. In addition, Bruce became the director of a large number of companies and corporations, which, over the course of his life, included American Airlines, the Maryland Casualty Company, Republic Steel, the American Shipbuilding Company, and Loew's Theatres, to name only a few.

In 1947, James Bruce accepted an appointment as United States Ambassador to Argentina, making his acceptance dependent on President Truman's promise to appoint him Ambassador to Great Britain upon the resignation of the present ambassador in London. Bruce spent two years as Ambassador to Argentina, returning to the United States on occasion, once to lead a fundraising campaign for the reelection of President Truman. In 1949, Bruce resigned from his position in Argentina and returned to Washington expecting to be named the new Ambassador to Great Britain. Due to various political circumstances, including consideration of Bruce's brother David for the post of Ambassador to France and the impossibility of having relatives posted to two of the nation's most important diplomatic positions, President Truman withdrew his offer from Bruce. In subsequent years, Bruce blamed a conspiracy by Secretary of State Dean Acheson for the denial of the ambassadorship.

Bruce accepted an appointment as director of the Mutual Defense Assistance Program, a forerunner of NATO, in 1949, but resigned in 1950 to return to a career in business. He spent the remainder of his professional life in the business world, entering politics only in 1958 to run, unsuccessfully, for the United States Senate and to conduct fundraisers for Democratic candidates during election campaigns.

Aside from his business and political careers, James Bruce authored the books College Journalism (with James Forrestal), Those Perplexing Argentines, and Memoirs. He was also a member of many social and patriotic organizations, including the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Brook Club of New York.

James Bruce died on July 17, 1980, in New York, New York, five months after his wife, Ellen Keyser Bruce, who died on February 5, 1980.


The collection has been divided into ten series:

Series 1
Series 2
Personal and Professional
Series 3
Series 4
Louise Bruce Files
Series 5
Series 6
Series 7
Photographs. Slides, and Negatives
Series 8
Series 9
Series 10

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The James Bruce papers were donated to the University of Maryland Libraries in September of 1990 by Ms. Louise Este Bruce, daughter of James Bruce. Louise Bruce donated additional materials, including correspondence, informational files, and books, between 1991 and 2004 and continues to donate material on a periodic basis.

Existence and Location of Copies

Series 5: Clippings and Series 8: Scrapbooks are available on three reels of microfilm

Related Material

The papers of James Bruce's brother, David K. E. Bruce, and those of their mother, Louise Este (Fisher) Bruce, are housed at the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, Virginia. The papers of Bruce's father, William Cabell Bruce, are housed at the Special Collections and Manuscripts Department, Alderman Library, at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Processing Information

The collection was originally processed in April 1991, at which time paper clips and staples were removed; the collection was arranged into five series; and materials were placed in acid-free folders and boxes. Original folder headings and content were maintained wherever possible. Duplicate copies of newspaper clippings, photographs, correspondence, and other paper materials were matched with originals and discarded unless the original no longer existed or was in deteriorated physical condition. Scrapbooks and newspaper clippings were microfilmed. Photographs and microfilm were removed from the collection and transferred to the photograph and microfilm collections, respectively.

Between 2002 and 2004, the collection was reprocessed. Again, original folder headings and content were maintained where possible, additional staples and paper clips were removed, and documents were re-foldered and re-boxed in acid free materials. The following major changes occurred:

  1. Series 1, Correspondence, was previously arranged both alphabetically and chronologically. The series was rearranged alphabetically and chronologically therein. Also, family correspondence was moved out of this series and made Subseries 1, Series 3, Family Documents
  2. Series 2, Clippings, became Series 5
  3. Series 3, Publications, became Series 6
  4. Series 4, previously an audio-visual series that held photographs and microfilm, became Louise Bruce Files. Material Louise Bruce has donated since original processing that directly relates to the Bruce papers, most notably Keyser family correspondence, has been distributed among appropriate series.
  5. Series 5, originally Other Document Types, underwent numerous changes:
  6. Series 5, Subseries 1, Family and Personal Documents, became Series 3, Subseries 2, Family Documents
  7. Series 5, Subseries 2, Professional and Other Activities, became Series 2, Personal and Professional
  8. Series 7 was created for Photographs and Slides
  9. Series 8 was created for Scrapbooks
  10. Series 9 was created for Memorabilia
  11. Series 10 was created for Paintings

Other changes

  1. Loose photographs were removed from record center boxes, numbered, sleeved in Mylar, and placed in binder boxes. Where possible or necessary, photo albums were dismantled, pages sleeved in Mylar, and placed in album's original order in binder boxes. Other photograph albums were interleaved with acid free paper. Photographs and slides were given their own series.
  2. Oversized materials were unfolded and placed in new acid-free folders in a map case drawer. Separation sheets were created for oversized items.
  3. Memorabilia was originally housed with the collection, in folders. These items were removed from folders, numbered, placed in acid-free enclosures, and moved to the Memorabilia Collection. Separation sheets were created for memorabilia items.
  4. Publications were moved from record center boxes to archival boxes. The Curator of Marylandia and Rare Books selected a number of duplicate publications for those collections, respectively.
  5. Paintings were moved from a record center box to a flat box.
  6. Conservation work was performed on photograph albums, slides, and scrapbooks. Pages were removed from albums and scrapbooks and sleeved in Mylar. Folded photos and other objects were flattened, tape was removed, and loose items were re-adhered where necessary. Album and scrapbook pages were stored in flat acid-free boxes. Leather bindings on other albums were consolidated. Glass slides were removed from their original boxes and placed in acid-free envelopes. The original slide boxes were retained. A glass positive was placed in a sink mat, which in turn was placed in a protective wrapper.
Guide to the James Bruce papers
Processed by Birgit Prelle.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.
This collection was processed with finanical assistance from Louise Este Bruce, daughter of James Bruce.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742