Dorothy Thompson, the daughter of Peter Thompson, a Methodist preacher, was born in Lancaster, New York, on 9th July, 1893. According to her biographer, Marion K. Sanders, when Dorothy was eight her mother died from blood poisoning after a bungled abortion performed by Dorothy's maternal grandmother."
Dorothy rebelled after her mother's death and her father's remarriage and she was sent to Chicago to live with her aunt. While studying politics and economics at Syracuse University she became a suffragist and was involved in the campaign to obtain the vote for women. After the First World War Thompson went to Europe to become a freelance writer.
In 1920 she persuaded the International News Service to let her cover a Zionist conference in Vienna. This work resulted in her being employed as a European correspondent for the Philadelphia Public Ledger. Later she acquired a similar post with the New York Post and in 1925 she was appointed as head of its Berlin bureau in Germany.
During this period she became friends with Raymond Gram Swing and John Gunther while working in Germany. Ken Cuthbertson, the author of Inside: The Biography of John Gunther (1992), has pointed out: "Thompson, who was taken with John Gunther, befriended him both as a young man and a pupil. Theirs was an intimate, albeit platonic (as far as is known), relationship which endured through good times and bad."
When she moved to Moscow in 1926 she became friends with fellow journalists, Hubert Knickerbocker, Walter Duranty, Louis Fischer, Vincent Sheean and William Henry Chamberlin. According to Sally J. Taylor, the author of Stalin's Apologist: Walter Duranty (1990): "Her presence in Moscow was the occasion for a good deal of socializing, which included meeting other reporters in the Soviet capital." Thompson met Sinclair Lewis at one of Duranty's parties. Taylor points out: "Lewis and his wife were the guests of honor at a dinner given at Duranty's apartment. Always known for his outrageous behaviour. Lewis discoursed wisely on this occasion, did a brilliant reading of his own work, and then, dead drunk, fell asleep on Duranty's couch. Finally, not knowing what else to do, everybody just went home. Duranty always held it against Lewis, believing that Lewis had behaved deplorably."
Thompson met Lewis again in Berlin in June, 1927, when she went to tea with Gustav Stresemann. The following month she invited Lewis to her thirty-fourth birthday party. Susan Hertog, the author of Dangerous Ambition (2011) has pointed out: "Lewis, newly arrived from Paris, was in the midst of a drunken sprawl through Europe in search of distraction and oblivion. His wife, Grace Hegger, was in love with another man, and his newly published novel, Elmer Gantry, an expose of orgiastic moral corroption among the clergy, had been targeted by the church... It wasn't Lewis's literary reputation that intrigued Dorothy, although that might have sufficed; it was his ineffable sadness, and what she would call the Christ-like weight of his visceral suffering."
On 14th May 1928 Thompson married Sinclair Lewis. After interviewing Adolf Hitler in 1931 she wrote about the dangers of him winning power in Germany. A strong opponent of Hitler and his government, in 1934 Thompson became the first American correspondent to be expelled from Nazi Germany. A fellow journalist, Raymond Gram Swing, compared her writing with Freda Kirchwey: "I wish to say that she (Kirchwey) was one of the best and most likable journalists with whom I ever worked. I am tempted to call her the best woman journalist I ever encountered, but hesitate to rank her ahead of Dorothy Thompson, who was a better writer."
On her return to the United States Thompson joined the New York Tribune and in 1936 began writing a newspaper column, On the Record . The following year she began broadcasting for the NBC. Thompson also wrote for the Ladies' Home Journal and developed such a large following that Time Magazine called her the second most popular woman in America, after Eleanor Roosevelt. Books by Thompson included New Russia, (1928), I Saw Hitler! (1932), Anarchy or Organization (1938) and Let the Record Speak (1939).
Jennet Conant, the author of The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington (2008) argues that Ernest Cuneo, who worked for British Security Coordination, was "empowered to feed select British intelligence items about Nazi sympathizers and subversives" to friendly journalists such as Thompson, Walter Winchell, Drew Pearson, Walter Lippmann, Raymond Gram Swing, Edward Murrow, Vincent Sheean, Eric Sevareid, Edmond Taylor, Rex Stout, Edgar Ansel Mowrer and Whitelaw Reid, who "were stealth operatives in their campaign against Britain's enemies in America".
Thomas E. Mahl, the author of Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939-44 (1998) has argued: "During this period... Dorothy Thompson exhibited an amazing to reflect the British propaganda line of the day. This is one of the few useful conclusions to be gained from reading the hundreds of pages in her FBI file. Thompson's diary, kept for only a dozen entries in early 1942, also illustrates her close ties to the intelligence community."