218: The Self-Empowered Woman: Dorothy Thompson

Dear Followers,

As man of you know, I’m in the middle of a month-long national competition for a handicapped-accessible van. The more votes I can get the better, and I’m competing against a number of people who have large organizations (i.e., big voting blocs) behind them. This is a shameless request for three minutes of your time today to vote on my behalf, and then one minute each day until voting end on May 8th. The link–is below–and if you answer the daily question correctly, I’ll get two votes!

Thank you so much for your support–and if you can think of any friends, Facebook members, or anyone else who could join the cause that would be terrific! Here’s the link http://www.mobilityawarenessmonth.com/entrant/marilyn-willison-west-palm-beach-fl/

Now, let me introduce you to another amazing American woman…

As a journalist, I should have been aware of Dorothy Thompson’s work, but I just learned about her last week. Born on January 9th, 1893 in Lancaster, New York, she is widely considered to be the “First Lady of American Journalism.”

Her father (Peter Thompson) was a Methodist preacher (3: Belief in the Unbelievable), and her mother (Margaret Thompson) died when she was seven years old. Her father quickly remarried, but Dorothy and her stepmother did not get along. When she was 14, her father sent her to Chicago to live with his two sisters (1: No Paternal Safety Net). She graduated from Syracuse University (where she majored in politics and economics) in 1914, and was acutely aware that she–unlike most women at that time–had been fortunate to receive a quality higher education. This awareness prompted her to work on behalf of women’s suffrage, which later developed into a life-long passion for political justice (7: Magnificent Obsession).

In 1920, she moved to Europe (14: Selective Disassociation) to pursue a career in journalism. That same year, while in Ireland, she became the last person to interview Sinn Fein leader Terence MacSwiney before his arrest, imprisonment, and death. The Philadelphia Public Ledger appointed her as their Vienna correspondent, and she worked diligently to become fluent in German (10: The Critic Within). Five years later, her newspaper promoted her to Chief of the Central European Service, which was an amazing development in the male-dominated newspaper world of the 1920s.

A few short years later, The New York Post made her the head of its Berlin bureau in Germany, where she witnessed the rise of the Nazi party (11: Risk Addiction). During this time, according to her biographer (Peter Kurth), she was “The undisputed queen of the overseas press corps, the first woman to head a foreign news bureau of any importance” (13: More Than Meets The Eye). She wrote a book about the dangers of Nazism  (I Saw Hitler), and in August 1934, the National Socialists expelled her from Germany (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest). She was the first journalist–male or female–to be kicked out of the country.

Back in America, in 1936, she began writing “On the Record,” which became an incredibly successful national newspaper column. It was read by over 10 million people, and appeared in over 170 papers. She also wrote (for 24 years!) a monthly column for the Lady’s Home Journal, Additionally, NBC hired Thompson to become a news commentator with a program called “On the Record.” The wide popularity of her radio program made her one of the most successful public speakers of her time. Being expelled from Germany catapulted her career into a new level (8: Turning No into Yes).

Thompson’s life was full of risk-taking, but one event in particular caught the public by surprise. After writing a column about how hard it was to find flattering clothes, she accepted a challenge from Vogue magazine to do a makeover. And since she was a size 20 (when the average woman of that era was a size 12), the whole experience was out of her comfort zone (6: Life Is Not A Beauty Contest).

Naturally, her private life was unconventional. She was married three times (15: Forget About Prince Charming), and in 1930, had a son, Michael, with her second husband, Sinclair Lewis. It was a well known fact that she adored her only child (16: Intensive Motherhood). In 1939, Time Magazine reported that she was the second most influential woman in America after Eleanor Roosevelt.

The 1942 hit movie, Woman of the Year, which starred Katharine Hepburn, was based on Thompson’s life. The author of 18 books, she died on January 30th, 1961, in Lisbon, Portugal.

Looking forward to your comments…

About Marilyn Murray Willison

The author of six non-fiction books, Willison worked as Health and Fitness Editor at the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, and wrote book reviews, health, beauty, fashion, and travel articles on a regular basis for the Los Angeles Times. Her byline has appeared in a wide variety of American newspapers and magazines.