This week half the universities and colleges in the U. S. were bestowing honorary degrees on such personages as William Lyon Phelps, Evangeline Booth and Major Bowes (see p. 58), without honoring Dorothy Thompson. This week Foreign Correspondent Anne O'Hare McCormick was introduced at the New York World's Fair as the Woman of 1939, a distinction which might have gone to Dorothy Thompson. Seven million, five hundred and fifty-five thousand readers of 196 newspapers scanned them in vain for the column called On The Record, whose author is Dorothy Thompson. Five and a half million radio listeners who on Monday nights at 9 o'clock hear Dorothy Thompson discuss politics had to get along with Commentator Gabriel Heatter. This week, after three years of one of the most phenomenally successful careers in U. S. journalism, Dorothy Thompson knocked off work for a month and hopped a plane for California, turning down all proffered honors and showed a plump pair of legs to the millions of women who think of her as something between a Cassandra and a Joan of Arc.
When Dorothy Thompson was about ten her stepmother used to call her and her younger brother and sister into the parlor and make them bow and curtsey to visitors. One day Dorothy came in doing a cartwheel, displaying her panties to six ladies of the Methodist Church. That habit has persisted and is one reason why mercurial Miss Thompson will never be the first woman President, although she and Eleanor Roosevelt are undoubtedly the most influential women in the U. S.
Dorothy Thompson is the U. S. clubwoman's woman. She is read, believed and quoted by millions of women who used to get their political opinions from their husbands, who got them from Walter Lippmann. Besides her columns she has written six books, ranging from her famous 100%-wrong guess on Germany in 1932 (I Saw Hitler) to her most recent effort to educate the U. S. electorate (Dorothy Thompson's Political Guide). Her opinion is valued by Congressional committees. She has been given the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters by six universities, including Columbia, and has received a dozen medals and special awards for achievement. She is the only woman ever to have addressed the Union League Club, the Harvard Club of New York, the National Association of Manufacturers and the U. S. Chamber of Commerce. She is prodigiously informed, self-confident and inconsistent.
Three years ago Dorothy Thompson had won some fame as a foreign correspondent, most of it confined to her professional colleagues. Her book on Hitler was best known for its flat statement that he would never come to power ("Oh, Adolf! Adolf! You will be out of luck"), and her book on Russia was best known as the inspiration for Sinclair Lewis's renowned brawl with Theodore Dreiser, whom he accused of plagiarizing it. She had written a few articles for The Saturday Evening Post and was considered an intelligent journalist, but she was a reporter and no pundit. Then, in March 1936, Mrs. Ogden Reid, super-clubwoman vice president of the New York Herald Tribune, hired her to write a column. It was to run on the same page as Lippmann's Today and Tomorrow, three times a week, and it was expected to present the woman's point of view toward such public matters as women could be expected to grapple with.