Thompson, Dorothy, 1893-1961

Variant names
Birth 1893-07-09
Death 1961-01-30
English, German,

Biographical notes:

American journalist.

From the description of Letter, 1936 July 22, South Pomfret, Vermont, to Perry Walton, Boston. (Boston Athenaeum). WorldCat record id: 184904428


From the description of Dorothy Thompson typed letter signed, 1957. (Maine Historical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 74986046

Thompson and Sinclair Lewis married in 1928 and divorced in 1942. In 1943 Thompson married the Austrian artist Maxim Kopf (1892-1958). In her memoir Mein Leben, Alma Mahler recounts an evening that she and Franz Werfel spent with Lewis and Thompson sometime in the 1930s, and mentions that the two couples would visit each other. Auersperg was Thompson's secretary.

From the description of Correspondence to Alma Mahler, ca. 1937-1958. (University of Pennsylvania Library). WorldCat record id: 155864608

American journalist and author.

From the description of Dorothy Thompson miscellaneous papers, 1938-1947. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 754871801

Dorothy Thompson was born in Lancaster, New York, on July 9, 1893. She graduated from Syracuse University in 1914, then went to work for the women's suffrage movement. In 1917, she moved to New York and began a long and successful career as a journalist and political commentator. She headed the Berlin bureau of the New York Post and the Public Ledger from 1925 until 1934, when she was expelled from Germany because of her vocal opposition to 1930s fascism and to the rise of Adolf Hitler. Beginning in 1936, she wrote "On the Record", a syndicated column which appeared in newspapers across the country while also working as a lecturer and NBC radio commentator. She was married three times, most notably to Nobel Prize-winning novelist Sinclair Lewis from 1928 to 1942. Dorothy Thompson died in Portugal in 1961.

From the description of Dorothy Thompson collection, 1913-1953. (Millersville University Library). WorldCat record id: 59670540

Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961) was an American broadcast and print journalist, best known for her work as a foreign correspondent and her column "On the Record" that appeared in the New York Herald Tribune from 1936-1941. For a more detailed biography, see the Dorothy Thompson Papers at this repository.

From the guide to the Dorothy Thompson Collection, circa 1935-1985, (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries)

Dorothy Thompson was an American journalist, broadcaster, and activist. An instinctive reporter, she was distinguished by her curiosity, intelligence, nose for news, and disregard for personal safety when following a story. Her second husband was Sinclair Lewis. She became president and co-founder of the American Friends of the Middle East in 1951.

From the description of Dorothy Thompson letters, 1951, n.d. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 50152872

Dorothy Thompson, journalist, author, wife of Sinclair Lewis.

Emily Balch, enconomist, author, poet, 1946 Nobel Peace Prize winner (with John R. Mott), professor at Wellesley College.

From the description of Letter to Miss Balch, 1945 November 5. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 55102664

Biographical/Historical Note

American journalist and author.

From the guide to the Dorothy Thompson miscellaneous papers, 1938-1947, (Hoover Institution Archives)

Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961) was an American broadcast and print journalist, best known for her work as a foreign correspondent and her column "On the Record" that appeared in the New York Herald Tribune from 1936-1941.

[Following biographical sketch by Lisa Sergio]

If the word "journalist" means a writer who records public events, then Dorothy Thompson was a journalist in the fullest sense of the definition. Her column, On the Record, published for more than twenty consecutive years in scores of newspapers bears witness to this fact. The international fame she achieved and the political influence she wielded, however, were due less to her skillful recording of events than to her extraordinary percipience in analyzing them. A sound knowledge of history, a well-trained memory, and a surprisingly wide range of personal contacts with the great and near-great, many of which became enduring friendships, enabled her to measure any situation against its background as well as to assess its consequences and foresee new situations likely to derive from it.

To find the starting point, one may well go back to the unhappiness of a sensitive little girl of twelve whose mother had died and whose adored father, an English-born Methodist preacher, soon married the church organist. Neither love nor understanding prevailed between Dorothy and her step-mother and the girl was sent to Chicago to live with an aunt. She left no significant marks either at public school or at the Lewis Institute. Only when she worked her way through college, at Syracuse University, did Dorothy truly discover the world of the intellect. Even so she was better remembered as an embracer of causes than as a student of note. Her interest was politics and economics and when she failed in grammar and could not be a teacher, she joined the suffrage movement, making powerful speeches for it all over New York State. This was her first crusade.

By the time America entered the first World War, Dorothy Thompson's effort to be sent overseas having failed like her grammar, a deep concern for the needs of humanity drew her into social work. But this was not her calling, and saving enough from the pittance earned she sailed to Europe the moment the guns were silenced. A group of Zionists on the same boat, traveling to a convention, attracted her interest and she secured her first journalistic assignment by reporting their meetings for the International News Service. This first bite of the reportorial apple produced growing hunger for more and soon she was traveling all over Europe on the trail of every uprising or budding revolution and selling stories to whatever newspaper would buy them. Then it was that the makings of her later successes began to take shape; she set no limit to the time and effort invested in the story at hand; she considered no person or detail too insignificant to be pursued; she never discounted intuition; yet spared herself no work in tracking down the facts which would give validity to her hunches. Whatever knowledge she already possessed about any given situation, she never stopped looking for more, allowing little or no margin for error in facts or in reasoning. These forms of self-discipline added to the sharpness of her mind and the beauty of her face, with its sparkling blue eyes, fair skin and generous smile, pushed open many a door which other and more seasoned reporters found forbiddingly closed.

Concentrating finally on Central Europe, she acquired an excellent command of the German language and some of its dialects and soon became Vienna correspondent for the Philadelphia Public Ledger . Her marriage in 1921 to Josef Bard, a Hungarian writer, gave her unusual insights into much of Central Europe. By 1925, she had been appointed Chief of the Central European Service for the Ledger as well as for the New York Evening News, both then owned by the Curtis Publishing Company. Much personal unhappiness and a divorce already lay behind her when she went to Russia in 1927 to report on the tenth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. While the articles on Russia appeared in book form in America, Dorothy Thompson resigned as Bureau chief and took a well-earned vacation in Italy. Sinclair Lewis met her in Berlin, proposed instantly, and pursued her wherever she went. By May of 1928, she married Lewis in a London ceremony that added more fame to her reputation.

When they both returned to the United States, the life of leisure that she might have led held no appeal for Mrs. Sinclair Lewis who, only at first and very briefly, used her new name to sign articles. In 1929, a series of articles on Canada and another on prohibition sparked the beginning of her reputation as a lecturer as well as writer. Her only child, a son, was born in 1930 and for a while Dorothy gave herself up to the full enjoyment of motherhood.

The following year, however, she returned to Europe for an extensive interview with Adolf Hitler, then leader of the National Socialist Party of Germany. The interview was expanded into the book I Saw Hitler . Readers who were inclined to believe the author said it was prophetic, but most of the American public let it go by unheeded or perhaps unread. Dorothy Thompson started writing on foreign affairs for the Saturday Evening Post and during the next four or five years her coverage-in-depth of international developments proved important to the thoughtful readers she increasingly acquired.

She went again to Germany in 1934. Hitler had risen to power and she suddenly found herself expelled from his country in a matter of hours, a measure without precedent at that time. The expulsion suddenly catapulted Dorothy Thompson into fame and, ironically enough, contributed vastly to her rise in political journalism. In 1936, she became a columnist for the New York Herald Tribune with wide syndication and complete freedom to write about whatever caught her fancy. The column appeared three times a week alternating with that of Walter Lippmann. Her approach to the subjects was as varied as the material itself: witty or acid; convincing when she pleaded for higher moral standards or better legislation; infuriating on some strictly political issue; devastatingly amiable if the occasion so required; and deeply moving when her own heart was moved. Much work went into her columns, but the stylistic ease never revealed the strain or effort that had gone into the writing. On the platform she was too often explosive, vehement or irritatingly asserting, but rarely, if ever, in her writing.

Nonetheless, Dorothy Thompson was as intrepid with her pen as she was with her lips and, as the Nazi menace grew, the drive of her denunciations and warnings grew likewise. The dedication to human freedom and self-respect which had motivated her strongly in school, now spurred her into a one-woman crusade, which also became a phenomenon of its kind. She was determined to awaken America and the Western world to the real and present menace of Nazism and of the fearful conflagration that might be required to prevent the conquest of the entire West. In the chain of crises which preceded Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939, she managed to reach the scene of each of them on time, her dual skill as reporter and analyst making resultant columns doubly effective. At this time, many Americans came to look upon her as an oracle, while others hated her for disturbing the security they thought they had found. She sparked many a controversy and whoever tangled with her was inevitably compelled to think quickly and with facts at hand.

In the thirties, the apathy of Americans towards international affairs filled her with increasing dismay. She knew what was at stake if Hitler carried out the plans he had so brashly set forth in the book, Mein Kampf, which few in the United States had bothered to read. Americans had to be awakened before the first deadly blows struck at Western civilization. The successive crises of that period which weakened Europe helped her crusade to enlist supporters at home.

The disastrous events in Europe during 1935-1941 were a tragic vindication of Dorothy Thompson's words, yet the core of Americans who believed that the United States should and could stay out of any European entanglement was still unyielding. But on December 7, 1941, when Japan struck at Pearl Harbor, the American people, stunned as they were, rallied more swiftly, united more tightly, acted more determinedly because, consciously or otherwise, Dorothy Thompson's crusading had, in some measure, prepared them for the ordeal.

In the war years, donning a correspondent's uniform, she was again as the woman of twenty years earlier following her hunches and being on the spot wherever the news was breaking. In or out of the country the network of her unique contacts became thicker and vaster than ever before. Such men in positions of command as Winston Churchill sought her counsel and tapped her experience and knowledge. Her power to influence American public opinion was still soaring. She was not always right, as she well knew, and often too vehement in her public expression to suit her listeners, but despite these drawbacks and despite the forces of good and of evil which whirled around her, she preserved intact her integrity as a writer, her dedication to the quest for truth and--remarkable in any human being--her total lack of vanity. In a Europe darkened by the horrors of Nazi occupation, patriots by the thousands knew Dorothy Thompson by name while the clandestine radios quoted her words as proof that America was determined to restore freedom to the world.

The marriage with Sinclair Lewis had inevitably gone on the rocks, and a divorce had set them free in 1940. For Dorothy Thompson, despite her ever-present preoccupation with public affairs and with the danger that freedom might be lost, despite the recognition she received and the honors which came to her, the failure of her second marriage scarred her deeply and left a trail of self-reproach and pain.

In 1943, while engrossed in aiding the refugees who were finding their way across the Atlantic, Dorothy found a new sort of happiness laced with a serenity she had never thought existed. This appeared in the person of Maxim Kopf, a Czechoslovak artist whom she married in 1943 and of whom she often said: "He is the man I should have married in the first place." The war was still far from being won and her crusade was not yet at an end. She remained very much in the limelight and her power had not waned. But in herself there was a new quality which seemed to cut down her vehemence.

Once the war was over the nature of the problems changed. She became involved in the struggle between Israel and the Arab countries in addition to a continuing concern with the plight of all refugees. The cold war against Communism had little in common with the war against Hitler and the Nazis and the American people were inclined to rest on their laurels. Dorothy Thompson did not lay down her pen nor step off completely from the platform, but times had changed and so had the mood of the public. There was no need for a crusade now, at least not the same kind of a crusade, and some of the fire and spark began to go out of her writing. Dorothy was happy at home and gave more thought to broader issues.

Dorothy wrote a monthly article for the Ladies' Home Journal for twenty-four years, the last piece appearing shortly after her death in 1961. In this magazine she dealt mostly with domestic and personal matters of particular interest to women. The subjects might be as removed from politics as gardening, the wisdom of believing in fairy tales, the disciplining of children, the importance of loving animals, the necessity of voting or the superb artistry of Arturo Toscanini. These pieces appealed to millions of readers, mostly women, who might otherwise have felt that Dorothy Thompson, the foreign affairs expert, was over their heads. The shifting of her tone from authoritative on public affairs, to warm, friendly, and often humble in human affairs, and the enormous range of her appeal gave her the extraordinary power over public opinion of which every political figure in America eventually became very fully aware.

Dorothy Thompson knew America in depth through its history, laws, Constitution, government, literature, social problems and the arts. She knew its strength and its weakness and loved all of them with a sincerity that startled those who had never seen this side of her many-faceted personality. Yet this love of country--a patriotism that disliked flag-waving but would accept any challenge--was at the root of her ability to influence the thinking of her countrymen for the better part of a quarter-century.

When she gave up her newspaper column in 1958, she intended to devote herself to writing an autobiography, but her health began to fail and the task was barely started when it was brought to an end. Her two grandchildren, the sons of her only son, Michael, were in Portugal and at Christmas time, 1960, she flew over to spend the holidays with them and her daughter-in-law. She only lived through one month of the new year and died in Lisbon.

From the guide to the Dorothy Thompson Papers, 1914-1961, 1940-1961, (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries)

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