Marvin Breckinridge

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Mary Marvin "Bric" Patterson (Breckinridge)

Birthdate: (97)
Death: 2002 (97)
Immediate Family:

Daughter of John C. Breckinridge and Isabelle Mervin Breckinridge

Managed by: Gene Daniell
Last Updated:

About Marvin Breckinridge

Mary Marvin Breckinridge Patterson (October 2, 1905 – December 11, 2002) (Marvin Breckinridge Patterson, or Marvin Breckinridge), was an American photojournalist, cinematographer, and philanthropist. She used her middle name, Marvin, both professionally and personally to distinguish herself from her cousin Mary Breckenridge (founder of the Frontier Nursing Service) and to avoid the prejudice against women prevalent at the time.

Family history and early life

She was born Mary Marvin Breckinridge October 2, 1905 in New York City, to John C. Breckinridge, of the prominent Kentucky Breckinridge family, and Isabella Goodrich Breckinridge, daughter of B. F. Goodrich. Her great-grandfather, John C. Breckinridge, was Vice President of the United States under James Buchanan, a Confederate general and Confederate Secretary of War. Her godmother and cousin was Isabella Selmes Greenway, Arizona's first Congresswoman.

While a student at Vassar College, she helped found the National Student Federation of America, which was how she made an acquaintance with Edward R. Murrow.

In 1929 she became the first female pilot licensed in Maine.


Marvin Breckinridge began her career making the acclaimed black and white silent film The Forgotten Frontier (1930), which tells the story of the Frontier Nursing Service, a nurse and midwifery health service founded by her cousin Mary Breckinridge in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky. She traveled extensively and published photographs from her world travels in magazines such as Vogue, National Geographic, Look, Life, Town & Country, and Harper's Bazaar, especially a 1932 Africa trip from Cape Town to Cairo.

During World War II she was hired by Edward R. Murrow as the first female news broadcaster for the CBS Radio Network. She reported 50 times, from seven European countries, including reports from Berlin, Germany. She became the first woman among the original generation of the CBS reporting staff known as Murrow's Boys.

As a woman, Breckinridge was generally assigned to apolitical stories relating to lifestyle and culture. However, she still found ways to venture into more serious issues. One of her most famous broadcasts involved Breckinridge describing the official Nazi newspaper Voelkische Beobachter:

“The motto of this important official paper is Freedom and Bread. There is still bread.”

The subtle implication that Germany was no longer free went over the heads of her German censors, and the comment was permitted to be broadcast.

Her career ended when she married U.S. diplomat Jefferson Patterson in June 1940. Patterson was the son of Frank Jefferson Patterson, a founder of the National Cash Register Company. She willingly resigned from CBS, hoping to resume her original career in photojournalism, but was barred from publication by the United States State Department, who claimed that her activities would compromise her husband's work in Berlin. After marriage she served with her husband who had foreign service assignments in Berlin, Belgium, Egypt, the U.N. Special Committee on the Balkans, Greece, and in Uruguay, where he served as United States ambassador.


After her husband’s death in 1977, she devoted her energies to philanthropy. She served on the boards of several institutions including the Frontier Nursing Service, the Textile Museum, National Symphony Orchestra, Meridian House International, International Student House, the Women’s Committees of the Smithsonian Institution, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the International Committee of the Folger Shakespeare Library. She was a major financial supporter and donor of art and her photography work to these organizations and to the Library of Congress, American News Women’s Club, Dayton Art Institute, English-Speaking Union, IONA Senior Services, Kennedy Center, St. Albans School, Society of Woman Geographers, U.S. Capitol Historical Society, University of Kentucky, Vassar College, WETA-TV, several pro-choice organizations and many other organizations. In 1985 she created The MARPAT Foundation which continues to make grants to museums, galleries, environmental and historical organizations, and cultural and social service groups within the greater Washington Metropolitan area.

In 1974 she donated her family estate in York, Maine to Bowdoin College for use as the Breckinridge Public Affairs Center. In 1983 she donated her and her husband’s 550-acre (2.2 km2) farm in Maryland, thus creating the Patterson's Archeological District, which includes extensive Native American and American colonial sites.

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Marvin Breckinridge's Timeline

Age 97