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Object Lesson: JFK’s Lost Letter

A library specialist discovered a letter from then-Sen. John F. Kennedy in the rare-item vault.

A letter from John F. Kennedy

Object Lesson: JFK’s Lost Letter

A library specialist discovered a letter from then-Sen. John F. Kennedy in the rare-item vault.

TCU library specialist Lisa Peña was rummaging through a box of old papers in the Mary Couts Burnett Library’s rare-item vault in February when she discovered a typed letter with a handwritten addendum. Dated June 18, 1957, the letter was then-Sen. John F. Kennedy’s response to M.E. Sadler, who was then TCU’s President.

Kennedy wrote to decline Sadler’s invitation to appear on campus, explaining he needed to focus on his 1958 re-election campaign. In an almost-illegible scrawl continuing on the back of the page, Kennedy wrote: “I regret very much I cannot be with you. I have been a great admirer of your University for many years. I look forward to coming on another occasion.”

Kennedy never visited TCU, though he would stay in Fort Worth on Nov. 21, 1963, the final night of his life.

The invitation letter from Sadler disappeared long ago, but perhaps he was inviting Kennedy to speak at the Sadler Freedom Lecture, which he launched in 1956. The 1957 Sadler lecture featured Robert Storey, then-dean of the SMU School of Law, who spoke about an absence of real religious freedom in the Soviet Union.

Archivists indexed most of the papers and objects in TCU’s historical collection before library renovations began in late 2013. Peña said she was startled to come across the forgotten letter, which was stacked in a box that included two brown pages written in 1835 by William Jenkins Worth, for whom the city of Fort Worth was named.

– Caroline Collier