Dorothy Thompson’s Vermont Journal: Public voice, private place

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(HOST) Journalist Dorothy Thompson was among the first to warn against the growing threat of Facism in Europe, thrusting her into a debate that was noisy, contentious and worldwide. According to commentator Cyndy Bittinger, Vermont offered Thompson a quiet refuge.

(BITTINGER) Vermont neighbor Dorothy Canfield Fisher characterized Dorothy Thompson’s work this way: “Day by day, with a clang like that of a powerfully swung hammer, she beat upon (the) general confusion of mind till the will to defend democracy was forged.”

In 1939, Thompson was on the air for fifteen consecutive days explaining European invasions by the Nazis to the American people.

We remember Edward R. Murrow. We should remember Dorothy Thompson.

In her time, magazine editors promoted her as the cartwheel girl, a cosmic force, global lady, Gods Angry Woman and the Blue Eyed Tornado. She was a contemporary – and a colleague – of Pearl S. Buck and Clare Boothe Luce. “Woman of the Year”, the 1942 hit movie with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy borrowed from her life for much of the script – depicting a tough, glamorous international journalist with the wildest of parties filled with international figures.

In 1938, Thompson wrote a political guide to explain modern totalitarian states growing in Europe and being possible threats to America. She wrote – quote – “All the political tendencies momentarily raging in our times are anti-liberal – away from freedom, toward order and organization; away from personal responsibility; toward discipline, obedience and acceptance. The result will be nations of slaves. All my life I have been a pacifist. All my life I have hated war and loved peace… But today I seriously question whether our ways of seeking peace are not playing directly into the hands of those who love war and intend to pursue it. We are saying, with our neutralist policy: break treaties, invade other nations, bomb cities, blockade ports, starve women and children, and we will take our ships off the seas and fold our hands. You can count on our doing nothing.”

End quote.

To Thompson, Hitler’s persecutions of Jews were an assault on the very foundation of American democracy. When she arrived to report on an American rally for Nazis in New York City, she was forcibly removed from the hall. She took Charles Lindbergh and Father Coughlin, the radio priest, to task for their Nazis sympathies. During the London Blitz when German planes blasted the city almost every night, Thompson flew there to visit bomb shelters, war hospitals, munitions factories, and orphanages. She addressed the House of Commons, broadcast speeches over the BBC and met with naval commanders, Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth.

But back in Vermont, she rested.

In 1940, she wrote her then-husband, Sinclair Lewis, “Give me Vermont. I want to watch the lilac hedge grow tall and the elm trees form, and the roses on the gray wall thicken, and the yellow apples hang on the young trees, and the sumac redden on the hills, and friends come… (and) feel at home.”

Cyndy Bittinger is executive director of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation. Tomorrow we’ll hear about Dorothy Thompson’s efforts to protect the family farm.

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