They came from Boston, New York, Milwaukee, and St. Louis; from San Francisco and points east. They left comfortable homes and safe sourroundings for combat-zone duty. They were women war correspondants, bringing to the battlefields of World War II a fresh perspective, reporting what they witnessed with a new sensiblity.
The women who wrote the war include world-famous photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White, the only Western photgrapher to cover the Nazi invasion of the USSR; writer Martha Gelhorn, wife of Ernest Heminghway and one of the first reporters to document the menace of fascism; Lee Miller, the legendary photographer who took a bath in Hitler's tub; and dozens more gutsy women whose devastating and heartwarming reports are captured in this seemless narrative that assures them, at last, their rightful place in history.
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In the early 1920s three American women, young then and unknown to each other, seized a chance at a reporter's life and never turned back. Each appreciated the rarity of her opportunity, her great luck, and gave back in kind. Their successes, both before and during the coming war, would prove pivotal in beckoning other women into the field.
The oldest child of an English-born Methodist clergyman, Dorothy Thompson grew up in small towns in western New York. Her mother died when she was eight, and she rebelled against her stepmother's conventionality. As a scholarship student at Syracuse University, she was remembered as unusually articulate in class discussions, but also for monopolizing conversation and for the intense attachments she formed with other women students. She was tall and slender, with clear blue eyes and early indications of what would become a commanding presence. After three years of work with the women's suffrage movement, Dorothy went to Paris as a publicity writer for the American Red Cross, and from there to Vienna, where she supplemented her Red Cross duties by becoming a stringer for the Philadelphia Public Ledger Freelance submissions were for women a time-honored means of entry into the newspaper world. Hearing that her firsthand account of an attempted coup by Emperor Franz Josef's grandnephew had impressed her editors, she applied for a salaried position, and rushed off to the paper's Paris office to present her case. In person Dorothy could he magnificent. She got the job.
In the spring of 192 1, now a bona fideforeign correspondent, Dorothy Thompson tentatively entered into the Viennese world of love, sex, and gossip. Gossip linked her with a handsome Hungarian writer, Josef Bard. Love was instantaneous; sex, her first, welcomed. Commitment was another story. "I am so scared of marriage," she confided to a friend, but marry him she did. Not long afterward the Curtis syndicate promoted her to the position of Central European bureau chief for the Ledger and the New York Evening Post -- in Berlin. Berlin was many hours by train from Vienna. If Thompson weighed the pros and cons of a long-distance marriage, if for a moment she considered not accepting the job, she left no evidence.
Born in Chicago to parents of Norwegian descent, Sigrid Schultz grew up with the outward demeanor of a china doll complemented by a razor-sharp mind. Her father was a portrait painter, and when she was eight, the family moved to Paris. Sigrid graduated from the Sorbonne in 1914, then joined her parents, who had settled in Berlin. When World War I broke out a few months later, they remained, secure in their American citizenship. Even after the United States entered the war and they had to report daily to the authorities, their lives were little disrupted.
Supporting herself by teaching English and French, Schultz turned to international law, where her fluency in those languages in addition to Dutch, German, and Polish stood her in good stead. In 1919 the Chicago Tribune Berlin office took her on as an interpreter. She watched for her chance, and before long she was reporting, seizing initiatives available to one with her command of German politics. She was not averse to a little flirtation either: there were few attractive young single women in Berlin's professional circles, and if getting the story required charming the German establishment, why not? Schultz would have years of success in that arena before the political situation hardened. Sure that a reporter's best approach was to inspire confidence and be a good listener, she maintained a low profile. By the mid-1920s prominent men in government including the chancellor and foreign minister were seen at the Tribune office in the Hotel Adlon, talking with the knowledgeable young woman on staff there.
In late 1925 the Tribune's Berlin bureau chief was reassigned to Rome, and Sigrid Schultz inherited his job.
That was the year that Dorothy Thompson was assigned to Berlin. Nothing at all like sleepy, romantic Vienna, the German capital was a bizarre metropolis, with its mix of stolid Weimar Republic officials and extravagantly garbed cabaret patrons of undetermined sex, its high culture of music and theater alongside pornography and drugs. The German nightmare of postwar inflation had waned; the mark stabilized, and with it the lives of the average Herrenvolk. An Austrian war veteran had recently been released from prison, where he had been detained for his part in an attempted coup d'état against the Munich city government; Adolf Hitler was still largely unknown.
On arrival in Berlin Thompson was warmly welcomed by the "news gang," Schultz said, even while she deplored Dorothy's "sketchy" grasp of languages and European history. They were friendly but never close, partly because Thompson shared a house facing the Tiergarten with Edgar Ansel Mowrer of the Chicago Daily News, the Tribune's competition. Her share was sufficiently spacious to accommodate her husband, but Josef Bard stayed in Vienna. As was customary for an unmarried European woman, Schultz lived with her widowed mother, in a large atelier apartment.
In their early thirties, Thompson and Schultz were natural reporters, willing to go to great lengths for a story. Berlin offered plenty of material. By day there were chancelleries to visit, press conferences to cover, dignitaries to interview, and by night, the lights and bustle of the concert hall, opera, and theater. The evening often ended in the bar at the Hotel Adlon, second home to the American correspondents. When Josef Bard did visit Berlin, he found his wife distracted and the apartment without the requisite quiet for a contemplative writer like himself. He preferred Vienna; before long he preferred another woman as well. Although she had thought herself a sophisticated, modem wife (and logic hinted that it was she who had left first), Dorothy found the rejection devastating. The first solution to her distress was work. "Good old work!" she noted gratefully, "it stood by me and doesn't let me down. Good old routine, good old head that functions automatically at the sight of a newspaper." The second solution was another man...