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Dorothy Thompson Papers

An inventory of her papers at Syracuse University


Finding aid created by: SL, SD
Date: Oct 1966



Biographical History

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.


Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Dorothy Thompson Papers includes incoming correspondence, outgoing correspondence, family papers, subject files, Ladies Home Journal material, "On the Record" articles, manuscripts, notes and research material, manuscripts by others, and various oversized materials. Some of the oversized materials, such as the "On the Record" scrapbooks, have been microfilmed.

Incoming correspondence consists of the incoming correspondence to Dorothy Thompson for the period 1921-1961. Also included in this series are letters to Sinclair Lewis from notables. These papers are arranged alphabetically by the name of the organization or by the last name of the sender of the letter. Within each folder the letters are arranged in chronological order. The undated material from each sender is located at the end of their respective folders.

Outgoing correspondence consists of letters sent by Dorothy Thompson from 1918-1961. There are mostly carbon typescripts, but some original typescripts and a few holographs are included in this correspondence. These letters are arranged chronologically. The important and significant subjects, which are listed, do not necessarily pertain to the listed recipients, who are either well known or from whom there is incoming correspondence. The last box of this series contains correspondence written by and signed by Dorothy Thompson's various secretaries during Miss Thompson's absence.

Family papers consists of correspondence, manuscripts, financial and legal items, and materials pertaining to the work of those related to Dorothy Thompson. Included is material from Joseph Bard, her first husband; Maxim Kopf, her third husband; Michael Lewis, her son; Bernadette Nansé Lewis, her daughter-in-law; Sinclair Lewis, her second husband; Wells Lewis, her stepson; Margaret Grierson Thompson, her mother; Peter Thompson, her father; Willard Thompson, her brother; Pamela Wilson and Bob Reeves, her niece and her niece's husband; Margaret Thompson Wilson and Howard Wilson, her sister and brother-in-law; Katherine Wilson.

Subject file consists of the personal records of Miss Thompson. This material is divided into six groupings: Diaries and engagement pads, Financial and legal material, Photographs, Personal - miscellaneous, Articles written about Dorothy Thompson, and Christmas cards. The Diaries and engagement pads (1928-1960) are arranged in chronological order. The Financial and legal material is divided into bank books, bills and receipts, bank statements, checkbooks, estimates, lists of expenses, debts and assets, income tax returns, and lecture itineraries and earnings. This material is arranged by physical type. Photographs are arranged alphabetically by the subject of the photo. Photographs of the family have been separated from the general photographs and are arranged by the name of the person photographed. Personal - miscellaneous is subdivided into awards, family memorabilia, guest lists, passports, press releases, recipes, etc. Wherever possible, this material is in chronological order. Articles about Dorothy Thompson, published articles written by others about Dorothy Thompson, are arranged by the date of the article. Finally, Christmas cards includes incoming and outgoing Christmas cards and Miss Thompson's Christmas card mailing list.

Ladies Home Journal material contains articles written by Dorothy Thompson for the Ladies Home Journal. The typescript manuscripts are listed in alphabetical order by title. The published articles are arranged by date. Also included within this series is fan mail about the articles written by Dorothy Thompson for the Ladies Home Journal. This correspondence is arranged by either the subject discussed or by the title of the article.

"On The Record" articles contains the copies of a tri-weekly newspaper column, written by Dorothy Thompson, titled "On The Record." The typescripts of the column are arranged chronologically. The undated typescripts are arranged alphabetically by title. Published copies of this column are arranged by date.

Manuscripts is broken into six different groupings of manuscripts written by Dorothy Thompson: General articles, Newspaper articles, Speeches, Published speeches and published articles, Radio broadcast scripts, and Miscellaneous manuscripts. The General articles subseries consists of manuscripts of articles that Miss Thompson wrote for various publications. These are arranged alphabetically by title. Those manuscripts which are untitled are in alphabetical order by the subject with which the article deals. Newspaper articles are arranged alphabetically by title and by the subject. The Speeches subseries consists of manuscripts of speeches that are arranged alphabetically by the subject within a chronological series. The speeches in each subject folder are arranged chronologically. Published speeches and published articles are in folders by date. Radio broadcast scripts are arranged chronologically. The network over which the broadcasts were given are listed before the dates of the scripts. Lastly, the Miscellaneous manuscripts subseries contains manuscripts which are unrelated to the previously established groupings. These miscellaneous manuscripts include autobiographical, play and novel, fiction and non-fiction, and poetry. The manuscripts are all arranged alphabetically by title.

Notes and research material consists of notes and research material collected by Miss Thompson during her numerous trips. Included are newspaper clippings, holographic and typescript notes, translations, and some photographs. These items are arranged by date and by subject.

Manuscripts by others consists of manuscripts written by others but found with the Dorothy Thompson papers. The manuscripts are arranged into two groups, those dealing with many different subjects, and those unpublished manuscripts written about Dorothy Thompson. These manuscripts are arranged alphabetically by the last name of the author. Manuscripts whose authors are unknown are arranged alphabetically by the title of the manuscript.

Oversized material consists of honorary scrolls presented to Dorothy Thompson, as well as scrapbooks containing photographs of various individuals. Additionally, this series includes a subseries of Microform materials. Primarily microfrom copies of "On the Record" typescripts and published articles (1937-1958), the contents of this subseries were tranferred to microfilm in 1998.


Arrangement of the Collection

The collection is divided into 10 series: Incoming correspondence, Outgoing correspondence, Family papers, Subject file, Ladies Home Journal material, "On the Record" articles, Manuscripts, Notes and research material, Manuscripts by others, and Oversized material. Incoming correspondence is arranged alphabetically by sender, while Outgoing correspondence is arranged by date. Family papers is arranged alphabetically by each family member's name (e.g. Joseph Bard, Maxim Kopf). The Ladies Home Journal material and Manuscripts are organized alphabetically by title. Meanwhile, "On the Record" articles are arranged by date. The undated articles in this series are alphabetized by title. Manuscripts by others is arranged alphabetically by author or by title when the author is unknown.


Restrictions

Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.


Related Material

The Dorothy Thompson Collection, also located in the Special Collections Research Center, comprises a separate group of materials which relate chiefly to Dorothy Thompson's early career and her marriage to Josef Bard.


Subject Headings

Persons

Bard, Josef.
Baruch, Bernard M. (Bernard Mannes), 1870-1965.
Churchill, Winston, 1874-1965.
Cocteau, Jean, 1889-1963.
Culbertson, Ely, 1891-1955.
Flanders, Ralph E. (Ralph Edward), 1880-1970.
Frankfurter, Felix, 1882-1965.
Gaulle, Charles de, 1890-1970.
Gunther, John, 1901-1970.
Hull, Cordell, 1871-1955.
Irwin, Wallace.
Kopf, Maxim, 1892-1958.
Lane, Rose Wilder, 1886-1968.
Lewis, Sinclair, 1885-1951.
Lilienthal, Alfred M.
Luce, Clare Boothe, 1903-1987.
Mann, Thomas, 1875-1955.
Masaryk, Jan, 1886-1948.
Mowrer, Edgar Ansel, 1892-1977.
Nasser, Gamal Abdel, 1918-1970.
Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962.
Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945.
Sheean, Vincent, 1899-1975.
Thompson, Dorothy, 1893-1961.
Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972.
Urzidil, Johannes, 1896-1970.
West, Rebecca, 1892-1983.

Subjects

Broadcast journalism -- United States.
Communism -- Soviet Union.
Family -- Press coverage.
Jews -- Germany -- History -- 1933-1945.
Journalism -- United States.
Journalists -- Biography.
Journalists -- Correspondence.
Radio journalists -- United States.
War correspondents.
Women and journalism.
Women authors, American.
Women broadcasters -- United States.
Women in radio broadcasting -- United States.
Women intellectuals -- United States.
Women journalists -- United States.
World War, 1939-1945 -- Journalists.
Zionism.

Places

Europe -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
Germany -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
United States -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
United States -- Politics and government -- 20th century.

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)
Correspondence.
Diaries.
Drafts (documents)
Manuscripts for publication.
Photographs.
Scrapbooks.

Occupations

Authors.
Journalists.
Radio journalists.
War correspondents.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Dorothy Thompson Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Dorothy Thompson.


Table of Contents

Incoming correspondence

Outgoing correspondence

Family papers

Subject file

Ladies Home Journal material

"On the Record" articles

Manuscripts

Notes and research material

Manuscripts by others

Oversized material


Inventory