Dorothy Thompson

Last updated

Dorothy Thompson
Dorothy Thompson 1930.jpg
Thompson in 1930
Dorothy Celene Thompson

July 9, 1893
Lancaster, New York, U.S.
DiedJanuary 30, 1961(1961-01-30) (aged 67)
Lisbon, Portugal
Education Lewis Institute
Syracuse University
(m. 1923;div. 1927)

(m. 1928;div. 1942)

Maxim Kopf
(m. 1945;died 1958)

Dorothy Celene Thompson (July 9, 1893 – January 30, 1961) was an American journalist and radio broadcaster. She was the first American journalist to be expelled from Nazi Germany in 1934 and was one of the few women news commentators on radio during the 1930s. [1] [2] Thompson is regarded by some as the "First Lady of American Journalism" [3] and was recognized by Time magazine in 1939 as equal in influence to Eleanor Roosevelt. [4]


Life and career

Thompson was born in Lancaster, New York, in 1893, one of three children of Peter and Margaret (Grierson) Thompson. Her siblings were Peter Willard Thompson and Margaret Thompson (later Mrs. Howard Wilson). Her mother died when Thompson was seven (in April 1901), leaving Peter, a Methodist preacher, to raise his children alone. Peter soon remarried, but Thompson did not get along with his new wife, Elizabeth Abbott Thompson. [5] In 1908, Peter sent Thompson to Chicago to live with his two sisters to avoid further conflict. Here, she attended Lewis Institute for two years before transferring to Syracuse University as a junior. At Syracuse, she studied politics and economics and graduated with a degree in 1914. Because she had the opportunity to be educated, unlike many women of the time, Thompson felt that she had a social obligation to fight for women's suffrage in the United States, which would become the base of her ardent political beliefs. Shortly after graduation, Thompson moved to Buffalo, New York and became involved in the women's suffrage campaign. She worked there until 1920, when she went abroad to pursue her journalism career. [6]

Journalism in Europe

Sinclair Lewis and Thompson during their honeymoon caravan trip in England, 1928 Sinclair Lewis with wife 4.jpg
Sinclair Lewis and Thompson during their honeymoon caravan trip in England, 1928

After working for women’s suffrage in the United States, Thompson relocated to Europe in 1920 to pursue her journalism career. She was interested in the early Zionist movement. Her big break occurred when she visited Ireland in 1920 and was the last to interview Terence MacSwiney, one of the major leaders of the Sinn Féin movement. It was the last interview MacSwiney gave before he was arrested days later and died two months after that. [6] Because of her success abroad, she was appointed Vienna correspondent for the Philadelphia Public Ledger. While working in Vienna, Thompson focused on becoming fluent in German. She met and worked alongside correspondents John Gunther and G. E. R. Gedye. In 1925, she was promoted to Chief of the Central European Service for the Public Ledger. [7] She resigned in 1927 and, not long after, the New York Post appointed her head of its Berlin bureau in Germany. [3] There she witnessed firsthand the rise of the National Socialist or Nazi party. According to her biographer, Peter Kurth, Thompson was "the undisputed queen of the overseas press corps, the first woman to head a foreign news bureau of any importance." [8]

During this time Thompson cultivated many literary friends, particularly among exiled German authors. Among her acquaintances from this period were Ödön von Horváth, Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, Stefan Zweig and Fritz Kortner. She developed a close friendship with author Carl Zuckmayer. In Berlin she even got involved in a lesbian affair with German author Christa Winsloe, while still married, claiming "the right to love". [9]

Thompson's most significant work abroad took place in Germany in the early 1930s. [2] While working in Munich, Thompson met and interviewed Adolf Hitler for the first time in 1931. This would be the basis for her subsequent book, I Saw Hitler, in which she wrote about the dangers of him winning power in Germany. [1] Thompson described Hitler in the following terms: "He is formless, almost faceless, a man whose countenance is a caricature, a man whose framework seems cartilaginous, without bones. He is inconsequent and voluble, ill poised and insecure. He is the very prototype of the little man." [10]

Later, when the full force of Nazism had crashed over Europe, Thompson was asked[ by whom? ] to defend her "Little Man" remarks; it seemed she had underestimated Hitler. [6] The Nazis considered both the book and her articles offensive and, in August 1934, Thompson was expelled from Germany. She was the first American journalist to be kicked out. [11]

At the New York Tribune

Dorothy Thompson House, New York City, New York Dorothy Thompson House, New York City, NY.jpg
Dorothy Thompson House, New York City, New York

In 1936 Thompson began writing "On the Record", a New York Herald Tribune newspaper column that was also syndicated nationwide. [2] It was read by over ten million people and carried by more than 170 papers. She also wrote a monthly column for the Ladies' Home Journal [2] [3] for 24 years (1937–1961); its topics were far removed from war and politics, focusing on gardening, children, art, and other domestic and women's-interest topics.

Radio and the Herschel Grynszpan affair

Around the same time as she started "On the Record", NBC hired Thompson as a news commentator. She began in 1936 and remained with NBC until 1938. Her radio broadcasts went on to become some of the most popular in the United States, making her one of the most sought after female public speakers of her time. [2] When Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Thompson went on the air for fifteen consecutive days and nights. [5]

In 1938, Thompson championed the cause of a Polish-German Jewish teenager, Herschel Grynszpan, whose assassination in Paris of a minor German diplomat, Ernst vom Rath, had been used as propaganda by the Nazis to trigger the events of Kristallnacht in Germany. Thompson's broadcast on NBC radio was heard by millions of listeners, and led to an outpouring of sympathy for the young assassin. Under the banner of the Journalists' Defense Fund, over $40,000 USD was collected, enabling famed European lawyer Vincent de Moro-Giafferi to take up Grynszpan's case.

Fame and controversy

In 1939, Thompson was featured on the cover of Time , with an accompanying picture of her speaking into an NBC radio microphone. The article was captioned "she rides in the smoking car" and it declared that "she and Eleanor Roosevelt are undoubtedly the most influential women in the U.S." She was one of the most respected women of her age. The article explained Thompson's influence: "Dorothy Thompson is the U.S. clubwoman's woman. She is read, believed and quoted by millions of women who used to get their political opinions from their husbands, who got them from Walter Lippmann." [4] In Woman of the Year (1942) Katharine Hepburn played Tess Harding, a character directly based on Thompson. The Broadway musical is based on Thompson as well, this time played by Lauren Bacall. [1]

During the 1936 presidential race, Thompson characterized Black voters as a bloc "notoriously venal. Ignorant and illiterate, the vast mass of Negroes are like the lower strata of the early industrial immigrants, and like them are 'bossed' and 'delivered' in blocs by venal leaders, white and black." [12]

In 1941, Thompson wrote "Who Goes Nazi?" for Harper's Magazine . [13] She was a keynote speaker at the Biltmore Conference, and by war's end was regarded as one of the most effective spokespersons for Zionism. Thompson switched her views round radically after a trip to Palestine in 1945, and ran into difficulties, including accusations of anti-Semitism, which she strongly rebuffed, after being warned that hostility toward Israel was, in the American press world, "almost a definition of professional suicide". [14] [15] She eventually concluded that Zionism was a recipe for perpetual war. [16]

Thompson died in 1961, aged 67, in Lisbon, Portugal and is buried in the Town cemetery of Barnard, Vermont. [17]

Family life

Thompson with Lewis and son in 1935 Sinclair Lewis with Dorothy Thompson and son 1935.jpg
Thompson with Lewis and son in 1935

She was married three times, most famously to second husband and Nobel Prize in literature winner Sinclair Lewis. [2] In 1923 she married her first husband, Hungarian Joseph Bard; they divorced in 1927. Thompson married Lewis in 1928 and acquired a house in Vermont. They had one son, Michael Lewis, born in 1930. [18] The couple divorced in 1942. [1] She married her third husband, artist Maxim Kopf, in 1945, and they were married until Kopf's death in 1958. [3]

Her marriage to Sinclair Lewis was the subject of Sherman Yellen's Broadway play Strangers, [19] where she was played by Lois Nettleton. The play opened on March 4, 1979 and closed after nine performances.

The Silencing of Dorothy Thompson

In 2014 the media company Alternate Focus was raising money for A 90-minute documentary entitled The Silencing of Dorothy Thompson. [20] The project had the backing of Alison Weir, the founder of If Americans Knew.


See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Kristallnacht</i> Pogrom against Jews throughout Nazi Germany on 9–10 November 1938

Kristallnacht or the Night of Broken Glass, also called the November pogrom(s), was a pogrom against Jews carried out by the Nazi Party's Sturmabteilung (SA) paramilitary forces along with civilians throughout Nazi Germany on 9–10 November 1938. The German authorities looked on without intervening. The name Kristallnacht comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings and synagogues were smashed. The pretext for the attacks was the assassination of the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old German-born Polish Jew living in Paris.

Herschel Grynszpan Polish Jew, confessed killer of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath

Herschel Feibel Grynszpan was a German-born Jew of Polish heritage. The Nazis used his assassination of the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath on 7 November 1938 in Paris as a pretext to launch Kristallnacht, the antisemitic pogrom of 9–10 November 1938. Grynszpan was seized by the Gestapo after the Fall of France and brought to Germany; his fate remains unknown. It is generally assumed that he did not survive World War II, and he was declared dead in 1960. A photograph of a man resembling Grynszpan was cited in 2016 as evidence to support the claim that he was still alive in Bamberg, Germany, on 3 July 1946. He is the subject of The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan, a book by Jonathan Kirsch and the novels Champion, by Stephen Deutsch and Everyone Has Their Reasons by Joseph Matthews.

Dorothy Dix

Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer, widely known by the pen name Dorothy Dix, was an American journalist and columnist. As the forerunner of today's popular advice columnists, Dix was America's highest paid and most widely read female journalist at the time of her death. Her advice on marriage was syndicated in newspapers around the world. With an estimated audience of 60 million readers, she became a popular and recognized figure on her travels abroad. In addition to her journalistic work, she joined in the campaign for woman suffrage and the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Christa Winsloe

Christa Winsloe, formerly Baroness Christa Hatvany de Hatvan, was a German-Hungarian novelist, playwright and sculptor, best known for her play Gestern und heute, filmed in 1931 as Mädchen in Uniform and the 1958 remake. Winsloe was the first to write a play on female homosexuality in the Weimar Republic, yet without a "radical critique of the social discrimination of lesbian women."

Ernst vom Rath German diplomat

Ernst Eduard vom Rath was a German diplomat. He is remembered for his assassination in Paris in 1938 by a Polish Jewish teenager, Herschel Grynszpan, which provided a pretext for the Kristallnacht, "The Night of Broken Glass".

Mildred Harnack American-German literary historian

Mildred "Mili" Elizabeth Fish-Harnack was an American literary historian, author, translator, and resistance fighter. After marrying Arvid Harnack, she moved with him to Germany, where she began her career as an academic. Fish-Harnack spent a year at the University of Jena and the University of Giessen working on her doctoral thesis. At Giessen, she witnessed the beginnings of Nazism. In 1930, the couple moved to Berlin and Fish-Harnack became an assistant lecturer in English and American literature at the University of Berlin. In the early 1930s, the couple became increasingly interested in the Soviet communist system. Harnack established a writers' group that studied the Soviet planned economy, and the couple were able to arrange a visit to the Soviet Union during August 1932 and by 1933 they were fully committed to Soviet ideology. Through contacts at the American embassy, Fish-Harnack became friends with Martha Dodd, who became a part of her salon where they discussed current affairs. In 1936, Fish-Harnack's translation of Irving Stone's biography of Vincent van Gogh, Lust for Life, was published.

Sigrid Schultz was a notable American reporter and war correspondent in an era when women were a rarity in both print and radio journalism. Working for the Chicago Tribune in the 1920s, she was the first female foreign bureau chief of a major U.S. newspaper.

Konrad Heiden German journalist and historian

Konrad Heiden was a German-American journalist and historian of the Weimar Republic and Nazi eras, most noted for the first influential biographies of Adolf Hitler. Often, he wrote under the pseudonym "Klaus Bredow."

Women in journalism

Women in journalism are individuals who participate in journalism. As journalism became a profession, women were restricted by custom from access to journalism occupations, and faced significant discrimination within the profession. Nevertheless, women operated as editors, reporters, sports analysts and journalists even before the 1890s in some countries as far back as the 18th-century.

Marion Klein Sanders was an American journalist, editor, and author.

Constance Drexel

Constance Drexel, a naturalized United States citizen, and groundbreaking feature writer for U.S. newspapers, was indicted for treason in World War II for radio broadcasts from Berlin that extolled Nazi virtues.

Relations between Nazi Germany and the Arab world Relationship between Nazi Germany (1933–1945) and the leadership of the Arab world

The relationship between Nazi Germany (1933–1945) and the leadership of the Arab world encompassed contempt, propaganda, collaboration, and in some instances emulation. Cooperative political and military relationships were founded on shared hostilities toward common enemies, such as the United Kingdom and the French Third Republic, along with communism, and Zionism. Another key foundation of this collaboration was the anti-Semitism of the Nazis and their hostility towards the United Kingdom and France, which was admired by some Arab and Muslim leaders, most notably the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini.

Women in Nazi Germany Nazi policies regarding the role of women in German society

Women in Nazi Germany were subject to doctrines of Nazism by the Nazi Party (NSDAP), which promoted exclusion of women from the political life of Germany as well as its executive body and executive committees. On the other hand, whether through sheer numbers, lack of local organization, or both, many German women did indeed become Nazi party members. In spite of this, the Nazi regime (officially) only permitted and encouraged women to fill the roles of mother and wife; women were excluded from all positions of responsibility, notably in the political and academic spheres.


Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power is a 2012 book by the journalist Andrew Nagorski.

Lord Haw-Haw Nickname applied to several Nazi propaganda broadcasters

Lord Haw-Haw was a nickname applied to William Joyce, who broadcast Nazi propaganda to the UK from Germany during the Second World War. The broadcasts opened with "Germany calling, Germany calling", spoken in an affected upper-class English accent.

Marcel Fodor

Marcel W. "Mike" Fodor, was a foreign correspondent for several British and American newspapers in Vienna during the years between the world wars, editor of the Berlin edition of Die Neue Zeitung and correspondent for Voice of America in Europe after World War II, and an author who specialized in the Balkans and Central Europe.

Wendy Lower

Wendy Lower is an American historian and a widely published author on the Holocaust and World War II. Since 2012, she holds the John K. Roth Chair at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California, and in 2014 was named the director of the Mgrublian Center for Human Rights at Claremont. As of 2016, she serves as the interim director of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.

<i>Mein Kampf</i> in English

Ever since the early 1930s, the history of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf in English has been complicated and has been the occasion for controversy. No fewer than four full translations were completed before 1945, as well as a number of extracts in newspapers, pamphlets, government documents and unpublished typescripts. Not all of these had official approval from his publishers, Eher Verlag. Since the war, the 1943 Ralph Manheim translation has been the most popular published translation, though other versions have continued to circulate.

Gertrude Sumner Ely American philanthropist

Gertrude Sumner Ely was an American philanthropist, based in Philadelphia. She was decorated for her bravery during World War I.

Fritz Thiel (resistance fighter) German resistance fighter who was part of the Rote Kapelle

Fritz Thiel was a German precision engineer and resistance fighter, who became part of a Berlin-based anti-fascist resistance group during World War II, that was later named the Red Orchestra by the Abwehr. Thiel along with his wife Hannelore were most notable for printing stickers using a child's toy rubber stamp kit, that they used to protest The Soviet Paradise exhibition in May 1942 in Berlin, that was held by the German regime to justify the war with the Soviet Union. The group found the exhibition both egregious and horrific. In one photograph, it showed a young woman and her children by hung, side by side. Thiel was executed for his resistance action.


  1. 1 2 3 4 Kurth, Peter (1990). All American Cassandra: The Life of Dorothy Thompson. Boston: Little Brown & Co.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Nancy, Cott (April 30, 2020). "A Good Journalist Understands That Fascism Can Happen Anywhere, Anytime: On the 1930s Antifascist Writing of Dorothy Thompson". Literary Hub. Literary Hub. Retrieved May 2, 2020.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Sanders, Marion K. (1973). Dorothy Thompson: A legend in her time. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
  4. 1 2 "The Press: Cartwheel Girl". Time . June 12, 1939. Retrieved January 25, 2019.
  5. 1 2 "Dorothy Thompson". Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project. Retrieved April 6, 2011.
  6. 1 2 3 Kurth, Peter. "She Made It: Dorothy Thompson". Museum of Television and Radio. Archived from the original on December 19, 2010. Retrieved April 1, 2011.
  7. Moritz, Cyndi (March 21, 2018). "Q&A: Karina von Tippelskirch on Journalist Dorothy Thompson". SU News. Retrieved March 17, 2021.
  8. Kurth, Peter (August 9, 2019). American Cassandra: The Life of Dorothy Thompson. Plunkett Lake Press.
  9. Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Dorothy Thompson Quotes." Women's History" 7 Mar 2010
  10. Thompson, Dorothy (December 1934). "Goodbye to Germany". Harper's Magazine.
  11. "Dorothy Thompson Expelled from Germany". History Unfolded.
  12. Gregory, James N. (2005). The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. p. 244. ISBN   0-8078-7685-2. OCLC   70273090.
  13. Thompson, Dorothy (August 1941). "Who Goes Nazi?". Harper's Magazine.
  14. Maguire, Gil (April 28, 2015), "Obama's role model to journalists – Dorothy Thompson – turned against Zionism and was silenced US Politics". Mondoweiss .
  15. Thompson, Dorothy (March 1, 1950). "Do Israeli Ties Conflict with U.S. Citizenship?: America Demands a Single Loyalty". Commentary
  16. Hertog, Susan (2011). Dangerous Ambition: Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson: New Women in Search of Love and Power. Random House, New York. p. 344.
  17. Wilson, Scott (2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Locations 46777–46778). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition. ISBN   1476625999
  18. "Michael Lewis, the actor, Sinclair's son, dies at 44", New York Times, March 7, 1975. Retrieved April 29, 2018.
  19. "Strangers" (play).
  20. Maguire, Gil (April 28, 2015). "Obama's role model to journalists — Dorothy Thompson — turned against Zionism and was silenced". Mondoweiss.

Further reading