(HOST) This week we’ve been reflecting on the life of Dorothy Thompson, world famous journalist and part-time Vermonter. Today, commentator Cyndy Bittinger brings our special series to a close with thoughts about her legacy.
(BITTINGER) Dorothy Thompson had courage. She was honest and she wasn’t afraid to take an unpopular stand. Her exhaustive research armed her with facts. And she reported on all the important stories of her time.
First came women’s suffrage because she was born in 1894 and came of age without the vote.
After World War I, she worked in Europe as a foreign correspondent. She once disguised herself as a Red Cross Nurse and drove through a dangerous war zone to get her story.
Her radio addresses before and during World War II made her famous. She interviewed Hitler, was thrown out of Germany and became a great champion of the Jewish people.
After the war, she learned that Arabs were being pressured to leave Palestine, so she became a voice for Arab refugees and warned of continuing conflict in the Middle East. She also criticized the division of Germany. This was too much for her publisher and she was dismissed from The New York Post and labeled anti-Semitic.
Thompson pressed on until the death of her husband Maxim Kopf. Then she began her memoirs, writing at Dartmouth’s Baker Library in Hanover, NH. But she never finished. After a fatal heart attack at 66, she was buried in Barnard.
Thompson’s friend and Vermont neighbor Lolo Sarnoff, considers her legacy this way:
(Sarnoff) “Well, you know there was a time when being a farmer was not considered the most wonderful thing. I mean you didn’t really say, “I’m working on a farm.” She turned it around. From then it was sort of looked at as being something wonderful – and how important it was to keep farms going well. And I think this is something very important, that she brought back that to be a farmer was a great thing. And, I think she put to be a journalist in the female domain, which I think is probably her greatest legacy. I’m sure some women thought about it before, but on the whole it was not – you know when you talk with your friends, “What do you think you want to do in life” did anybody say, “I want to become a journalist”? – which, I think is a great legacy to leave, that women have equal influence by writing about things. She really brought that.”
In one of her last lectures, Dorothy Thompson asked, “Is this a beautiful country, Ladies and Gentlemen? Is this not a miraculous country? Do you ever wake up in the morning and wonder – by what stroke of unearned good fortune you were privileged to be born in the United States of America?”
Thompson believed that great responsibility came with that privilege. Her ideas – and her example – live on in Vermont, and in the rest of the world.
Cyndy Bittinger is executive director of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation. To find all the commentaries in this series go to VPR.net.