First Journalist Expelled from Germany
Dorothy Celene Thompson was born on July 9, 1893, in Lancaster, N.Y. She was the daughter of a Methodist minister. Dorothy’s mother, Margaret, died in 1901, and her father, Peter, remarried two years later. This was not a joyous occasion for Dorothy. She and her stepmother, Elizabeth Abbot Thompson, did not get along and fought frequently. In 1908, exasperated, Dorothy’s father sent her to live with relatives in Chicago, where she attended the Lewis Institute. Later she moved to New York, where she graduated from Syracuse University in 1914. While in New York, Dorothy became an ardent crusader for woman’s suffrage.
After Dorothy graduated, she remained in New York and worked for the suffrage movement until 1917, when she embarked on a career in journalism.
In 1920, now a well-established journalist, Dorothy traveled to Europe as a foreign correspondent for the Philadelphia Public Ledger. By 1927 she headed The Berlin bureau of the New York Post and the Public Ledger, becoming the first woman to head a foreign news bureau for a major newspaper. She was ruthless in her reporting on Adolph Hitler and the growing rise of the Nazis. Dorothy became the doyenne of female foreign journalists.
About Hitler, Dorothy said: “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.… His movements are awkward. There is in his face no trace of any inner conflict or self-discipline.
And yet, he is not without a certain charm. But it is the soft almost feminine charm of the Austrian! When he talks it is with a broad Austrian dialect. The eyes alone are notable. Dark gray and hyperthyroidic, they have the peculiar shine which often distinguishes geniuses, alcoholics, and hysterics.”
Dorothy reported what she saw and felt. She first interviewed Adolf Hitler in 1931, then wrote a book, “I Met Hitler” (1932) claiming he would never come to power (Hitler became German Chancellor in January 1933).Her negative reporting raised Hitler’s ire, he did not forget her portrayal of him when he became Chancellor. In June 1933, he personally ordered her removal from his country when she next visited. In August 1934, within days of her arrival in Germany, the German Secret Police (the Gestapo) served her with an expulsion order to leave within 24 hours. She was the first American journalist to be expelled from Germany. Another first for Dorothy.
Back in the states, Dorothy began her column “On the Record.” Which ran three times a week, in The New York Herald Tribune and 196 newspapers, giving her a readership of 7,555,000 readers. She also wrote a column for the Ladies’ Home Journal, lectured, and worked as an NBC radio commentator, and had begun a lecture circuit.
Dorothy Thompson was now the most syndicated woman journalist in the country and one of the most famous women in the pre-World War II era in America. Time Magazine listed Eleanor Roosevelt and Dorothy Thompson as the most influential women of the day. Dorothy’s private life was also brilliant. She married Nobel Prize-winning novelist Sinclair Lewis in 1928. They divorced in 1942. Lewis and Dorothy had one son, Michael, born in 1930. (Dorothy married three times, Joseph Bard, an expatriate Hungarian writer, 1923-1927, Sinclair Lewis 1928-1942, and Maxim Kopf, a painter, 1943-1958.)
Dorothy’s crusade against the Nazi regime continued until America’s entry into World War II. Her intuitive, emotional style, and habit of reporting world events in black and white terms, was viewed as emotional and self-indulgent. Dorothy Thompson needed a new issue and audience when the war ended.
The Middle East called to Dorothy, where she had initially supported Zionism (a movement to establish a Jewish nation in Palestine) since 1920. She changed eventually changed her perspective and became anti-Zionist and pro-Arab. Her writing became more conservative. Dorothy supported nuclear disarmament and labeled the Cold War as a cultural and ideological battle, rather than a military struggle.
Dorothy was on the cover of Time Magazine on June 12, 1939. In August of that year, she covered the Nazi invasion of Poland. Her career in journalism continued until her death on January 30, 1961 in Lisbon, Portugal, at 66. Dorothy Thompson earned the title “First Lady of American Journalism.”