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Hedley Donovan, alumnus, journalist

By February 24, 2017November 21st, 2023No Comments

Hedley Donovan, University of Minnesota alumnus, ’34, was a prominent and successful journalist. While attending the University, Donovan was editorial chairman of the student newspaper, The Minnesota Daily, chairman of the Student’s Forum and the Arts College Intermediary Board, and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Delta Upsilon fraternities. From 1934-1937 Donovan attended Hertford College at Oxford in England as a Rhodes Scholar.

Hedley Donovan (1914-1990)

In his many positions as a journalist spanning four decades, Donovan was in the position to write and publish about every facet of public affairs. His career started as a reporter in 1937 for the Washington Post. Later he was editor of Fortune magazine, after serving as a Lieutenant Naval Commander during World War II. He moved on to become editorial director of Time, Inc., and subsequently, named Editor-in-Chief upon the retirement of Henry Luce. As Editor-in-Chief, he oversaw the publication of Time, Fortune, Money, Life, Sports Illustrated, and People magazines, as well as the other divisions within the corporation from 1964-1978. During his career, Donovan critiqued the policies and actions of nine Presidents, Roosevelt to Reagan, and wrote a book about it with that very title.

Hedley Donovan, undated

One can expect to find many materials in the collection of Donovan’s papers at the University of Minnesota Archives, such as article drafts, company reports, and speech scripts. The collection also includes many photographs of him conducting interviews with prominent figures and meeting with world leaders.

Donovan pictured with United States presidents Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan.

Donovan also kept up with the politicians from his home state of Minnesota (He was born in Brainerd in 1914 and was raised in Minneapolis).

Donovan pictured with Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale

But the Donovan papers also include unexpected materials. One example: Donovan’s childhood diaries. Each entry reveals the life of a teenager growing up in Minneapolis in the late 1920s. 

Hedley Donovan

In 1926, at the age of 12, Donovan’s days were filled with schoolwork at Jefferson Junior High, completing his paper route, earning merit badges in Boy Scouts, collecting stamps, and challenging his siblings and friends to tennis matches.

On March 27, 1926, Donovan recalled a “swell” scouting adventure:

“Beginning of Easter vacation. Went on my first scout hike to Glenwood Park under the leadership of Johnny Bracket, assistant Scout Master. Swell. Trailed, climbed, etc., eats purtickulerly good.”

March 27, 1926

He recorded his visit to the 1926 Minnesota State Fair:

“Sept. 4. Started for the fair. Went to Women’s Building. Saw dandy Swedish paintings. Saw Cousin Theodore’s prize painting. Saw agriculture and horticulture buildings. Ate lunch. Went on the “old mill” and merry-go-ground. Came home after a keen time. Route.”

September 4, 1926

Boy scouts in Minneapolis could serve as ushers during Gopher football games in Memorial Stadium. In October of 1926, Donovan recorded the play-by-play of a game against Wisconsin with illustrations of critical moments.


Quite heavy ushering, 60,000 attended. Kick off at 2 p.m. Minn made a touchdown after about 8 minutes of play and kicked the goal. In the second quarter a Wis man interrupted a pass on the 50 yd. line and ran for a touchdown. End of first half Minn-7, Wis. 7. The beginning of the fourth quarter brought Minn another touchdown Wis. Let loose some of their keen passing but they didn’t quite make it. Final score: Minn 13, Wis 7”

October 29, 1926

In 1927, Donovan included only an illustration on the day he took a trip to the dentist.

March 25, 1927

On April 9, 1927, Donovan recounted his efforts to obtain a Boy Scout merit badge in birding:

“I went over to the Zoological building at the U and passed the bird study M.B. The first required M.B. I have gotten since last summer. That makes 24 and leaves 3 for Eagle. The examiner had a lot of stuffed birds in drawers which I had to identify.”

April 9, 1927

On August 30, 1929 Donovan went downtown to run errands and stumbled upon a ceremony.

“Went downtown. Returned an insect book and consulted Mrs. Wiley about the merit badge. Went to the Hollinbech Stamp Co. and traded in my first day casers and odds and ends for some Canadian and Congo stamps. Foshay tower being dedicated with Sousa’s band.”

August 30, 1929

On October 20, 1929, Donovan described a milestone in a young boy’s life.

“Played tennis and football at the Arnold. In the p.m. I had my first experience conducting a horseless carriage. I drove Matilda around the block a couple of times in second! Wow!”

October 20, 1929

As expected, the materials contained within Donovan’s papers document how he became a prominent and successful journalist. Unexpectedly, the materials reveal a clever and creative child who enjoyed growing up in Minneapolis and documented each day as a separate adventure.

On behalf of the University of Minnesota, the University Libraries is grateful to Hedley Donovan’s family for sharing these materials so that they can be preserved and made available for research and study at the University of Minnesota Archives. To learn more about the clever, creative, prominent, and successful Hedley Donovan, review the collection guide to the Hedley Donovan papers.

Rebecca Toov is the University Archives Collections Archivist. To learn more about the University of Minnesota Archives, please visit

Rebecca Toov

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