I love reading about influential women who were way ahead of their time. At the same time, I’m rather frustrated that so many seem to become lost to history. Dorothy Thompson, for example, used to be as well known as Eleanor Roosevelt. When Katharine Hepburn made the movie Woman of the Year in 1942, people at the time instantly figured out that her character was based on that of Thompson. And yet I just read about her for the first time today.
After she graduated from Syracuse University in 1914, Thompson felt that she had an obligation for fight for women’s suffrage, as there were so few educated women to do so at the time. She did that through 1920, when the 19th amendment passed. Then she went to Europe to pursue journalism. In fact, she is considered the First Lady of American Journalism by some.
In 1928 she married Nobel Prizewinner Sinclair Lewis and they later had a son. During that time Thompson continued to go to Europe to write hard-hitting articles. She was also appointed the head of various news bureaus, which was quite unusual for a woman at the time. In 1931, she interviewed Adolf Hitler and then wrote a book entitled I Saw Hitler, which was a dire warning of what could happen if he won power in Germany. Their marriage inspired Lewis to write a dystopian novel entitled It Can’t Happen Here. That is definitely on my to-read list.
Because of her harsh criticism of Hitler, she was expelled from Germany in 1934. She was the first American journalist that the Nazis kicked out. Dictators don’t like journalists who criticize them. Fake news! It was ever thus.
She then wrote a New York Times syndicated news column that got over 10 million readers, and NBC hired her as a news commentator and her broadcasts were some of the most popular in the United States. This gave her a successful speaking career. She made the cover of Time Magazine in 1939.
Thompson never stopped criticizing Hitler and fascism. She even famously walked into a Nazi rally in New York’s Madison Square Garden and shouted down a pro-Nazi audience that was 20,000 strong. Needless to say, she was roughly escorted out.
In an eye-opening and highly recommended (by me) article entitled “Who Goes Nazi?” published in Harper’s in 1941, she says that people don’t choose fascism based on class, race or profession. She said it was those people who are full of fear, resentment, insecurity, or self-loathing that make that dangerous choice every time. When I read that, it sent chills up my spine.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.