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Dorothy Thompson's Vermont Journal: Birthdays at Twin Farms

07/09/07 12:00AM By Cyndy Bittinger
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(HOST) Dorothy Thompson was a larger-than-life public figure, one of the most famous women of the 1930s and 40s and a part-time Vermonter. She was born on this date in1893, and all this week on Morning Edition, commentator Cyndy Bittinger will consider the life and times of Dorothy Thompson.

(BITTINGER) "During the 1930's and 40's, Dorothy Thompson's birthday, July 9th, was always an excuse for a rousing party at Twin Farms, her large estate in Barnard, Vermont. Over fifty people would descend that day for tennis and swimming at nearby Silver Lake to be capped off in the evening by a heavy Viennese meal and strong spirits until everyone collapsed. Of course light sleepers might hear Thompson's typewriter in the wee hours of the morning."

"Who would be at the party? Not the Roosevelts and the other politicians whom she cultivated. Probably many of the European refugees she had rescued. She had been a correspondent in Europe from 1920 to 1934 and spoke German fluently. Carl Zuckmayer was a successful German playwright who met Thompson in 1925 and in 1939 fled Germany with his wife and daughter first living in Thompson's New York apartment, then living in Barnard in a house she rented for them - his family would have been there."

"Amongst the group would have been the Baron and Baroness de Rothschild from Ellis Farm in East Barnard. The baron was an international banker imprisoned by the Gestapo in Vienna and released for twenty million dollars in cash!"

"Partygoers could have included friends of Sinclair Lewis, Thompson's famous husband. In 1928, he had bought the Connett Place with 300 acres and adjacent Chase Farm and named the property, Twin Farms. He was the first American to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1930, and even stored his medal at the Vermont Historical Society for a while!"

"Dorothy Canfield Fisher was probably there. She was famous in Vermont for her books of fiction and praised Thompson to the heavens describing her as "of the first rank in journalism and the most widely known living American woman next to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt."

"Vermont biographer Peter Kurth, in his book American Cassandra, describes the multi- tasking of the famous journalist tending her gardens, house, and columns almost all at once."

"Thompson hired Vermont farmers, but she, herself, was the major force in developing an egg and poultry business, a dairy farm, and raising fruit and vegetables for her visitors and neighbors."

"She also wanted to settle down for serious writing in Vermont that she could not find time for on deadline in New York, but manuscripts were often drafted and abandoned. Vermont was too much fun."

"As much as these parties were joyous occasions to celebrate in the clean, wholesome air of Vermont, Thompson kept up a drumbeat to awaken the nation to the evils of the Nazi regime and the major refugee crisis in Europe."

"Here she is, describing Germany's invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939."

(Thompson) "The speech that Adolph Hitler made before the Reichstag began with an announcer saying, "On this fateful day for the German people, we transmit this speech of the Fuehrer over the radio networks of the world... We have hurried here from all areas of the Reich... to await the decision that Adolph Hitler has made"... that Adolph Hitler has made... one man made... one man decided to take his nation to war against the vast part of the whole world."

Cyndy Bittinger is Executive Director of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation.
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