Dorothy Thompson was a renowned foreign correspondent, newspaper columnist and radio broadcaster. During the 1930s, she was hugely instrumental in drawing the world’s attention to the dangers posed by Hitler and the Nazi Party.
Dorothy Celene Thompson was born in New York in 1893. Her mother died when she was just a child and, as a teenager, she moved to Chicago to live with her aunt. There she studied politics and economics at Syracuse University.
Following her graduation in 1914, Thompson moved to Buffalo, New York. Committed to the right of women to have the vote, she campaigned for the New York Woman Suffrage Party. She also worked in advertising to help fund her two younger siblings’ college education, and she wrote articles occasionally for the New York papers.
In 1920, Thompson moved to Europe to pursue her career in journalism. A combination of exceptional talent and breath-taking daring resulted in a number of enviable scoops. While visiting relatives in Ireland, she interviewed prominent Sinn Féin leader Terence MacSwiney. It was the last interview he would ever give; he died on hunger strike in prison only months later. Thompson also managed to swing an exclusive interview with the deposed Hapsburg King Karl I by posing as a Red Cross nurse in order to gain access to his home.
Thompson was appointed as the Vienna correspondent to the Philadelphia Public Ledger and was then promoted to the Chief of the Central European Service just a few years later. In 1925 she began working for the New York Post as head of its Berlin bureau in Germany. Her biographer, Peter Kurth, described her as, “The undisputed queen of the overseas press corps, the first woman to head a foreign news bureau of any importance”.
Throughout this time, Thompson kept a watchful eye on the political situation in Germany, documenting the rise of the Nazi Party in insightful and often prophetic articles. In 1931, she was granted an interview with Adolph Hitler who was then less than two years away from becoming Germany’s Chancellor. The interview was strictly controlled, and she could only ask three questions but, when it was published, Thompson added her own scathing commentary. This interview formed the basis of her 1932 book, I Saw Hitler, in which she issued a stark warning about him being allowed to take power in Germany.
Her ridiculing of the future dictator meant that, in the summer of 1934, the Nazi Party ordered Thompson to leave Germany. She was the first American journalist to be expelled from the country.
Back in the USA Thompson wrote a thrice-weekly newspaper column, “On the Record”, for The New York Tribune. The column, which she wrote for 20 years, was syndicated in over 170 papers, and it reached around 10 million readers. She also became a hugely popular and sought-after radio commentator and was employed by NBC during the latter half of the 1930s.
Thompson dedicated herself to opposing and exposing Hitler and the Nazi Party. She denounced them frequently and vociferously in her newspaper columns, during her radio broadcasts, and at the many public speaking appearances she made throughout the country. In 1939 she disrupted a 20,000 strong rally of American Nazi sympathizers, the German-American Bund, in Madison Square Garden. She was loudly ridiculing the speakers even as officials escorted her away.
In addition to her tireless work drawing attention to the evils of the Nazis, Thompson also championed refugees fleeing violence and persecution in Europe. In her 1938 book, Refugees: Anarchy or Organization?, she detailed the challenges faced by those escaping Nazi Germany and the Spanish Civil War. She urged Americans to understand that refugees would enrich and benefit the nation and that they should be welcomed within its borders.
Thompson was one of the most respected and influential women of her time. In 1939 she appeared on the cover of Time magazine; she was awarded honorary degrees from a variety of universities, and she was even immortalised on Hollywood’s silver screen. The 1942 comedy, Woman of the Year, featured a hugely successful and internationally renowned journalist played by Katharine Hepburn, a character instantly recognisable to film-goers.
Thompson was married three times and had one son, Michael Lewis, who was born in 1930. After the Second World War, she continued to write and publish but was less in the public eye. In 1958, she retired from her newspaper column with the intention of writing an autobiography. However, her failing health meant she was barely able to make a start on the book. She was spending time with her family in Portugal in 1961 when she died of a heart attack at just 67 years of age.
©The Heroine Collective 2020 – Present, All Rights Reserved. Every effort is made to ensure our articles are as accurate as they can possibly can be, but if you notice a factual error, please do be in touch. We only use images we believe are either in the public domain or images we believe we are able to use for illustrative, editorial and non-commercial purposes. If you believe one of our images is being used incorrectly, please be in touch. References include American Cassandra: Dorothy Thompson, the Journalist who Warned the World About Adolph Hitler by Kristen Hunt // The Life of Dorothy Thompson, Pluncket Lake Press 2019 // Dorothy Thompson Papers: An Inventory of Her Papers at Syracuse University.