The year was 1947 and television was in it’s infancy. Cleveland, Ohio was the home of the first TV station between New York and (Chicago). She saw informing others as her calling; be it as a teacher, lecturer, or newsperson. She was given 13 weeks on TV – tops; she remained for 37 years. She is Cleveland icon, Drunk History subject and the OG of television newswomen; Dorothy Fuldheim.
Born in New Jersey in 1893, Dorothy grew up in Milwaukee in a family of modest means. Dorothy’s first love was reading, and she could be found daily at the library after school, reading books and newspapers. Her father shared her love of language, and took his daughter to the public courthouse to watch lawyers argue their cases. Dorothy definitely developed an appreciation for a fantastic turn of a phrase and put that to good use throughout her life.
Dorothy put herself through college by working in a local department store. After graduation, she taught elementary school, then joined the Milwaukee Little Theater. During a performance of an anti-war play in Chicago, she met social activist Jane Addams, (first American woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize) who recruited her to become a lecturer on social causes.
Not long after this, Dorothy, her husband, and daughter moved to Cleveland, Ohio. Dorothy travelled giving book reviews and became a lecturer. She did very well at this, growing her reputation throughout the region. As evidence of her dedication to her lectures, Dorothy would travel to Europe to experience the culture and the unstable political and social climate first-hand.
Two of my all-time favorite stories come from “Dorothy Fuldheim: The First First Lady of Televison News” by Patricia M. Mote. While in Germany in 1932, Dorothy met up with an unemployed tutor who in turn, took her to a Hitler rally. Dorothy was fascinated and repulsed by what she heard. She travelled to Munich in the hopes of getting an interview with him. While negotiating with his staff for an interview, the Fuhrer himself came out. Dorothy was able to get his attention, and got a 15 minute impromptu interview, which she conducted in German. She neglected to mention to him that she was Jewish.
Two years later on a trip to Italy, she met Mussolini at a party. He asked her if she was enjoying shopping; she retorted that she was observing his rule in Italy and how it would affect Europe.
Stints on radio and working for a newspaper followed before joining fledgling WEWS at the age of 54. She was free to craft her own position; given the new medium She was a news anchorwoman, show host, interviewer and finally a news commentator. Dorothy worked for 37 years up until she had a stroke in 1984. She had just conducted an interview with then-President Reagan the day prior.
Dorothy’s reputation as a news commentator grew nationwide. She appeared on several national talk shows including Frontline, Donahue and The Tonight Show. Her interview subjects were diverse; her commentary was thought-provoking. She was Cleveland’s Grand Dame and she made her voice heard.
Written by Teri Fumic (she/her) from Cleveland. OH. This project, Tales from Wo-Fan’s Land, is a series of stories written by Frank Turner fans, inspired by his new album No Man’s Land.