Dorothy Fuldheim: An Exception to (All) The Rules

Women reporters faced a new kind of journalism after World War II. The long-standing prejudice against women newscasters in radio* was even more pronounced in the newly developing world of television—and would remain so for decades.**

There is always an exception.

Dorothy Fuldheim (1893-1989), a retired schoolteacher who was born the same year as Sigrid Schultz, broke all the rules about women on television.  After several years of working on air for a local radio station she  became the first news anchor on Cleveland’s first commercial television station WEWS in 1947 at the age of 54. Ten years later, she handed over the anchor job to others and became the host of a popular afternoon interview program. Her guests included John, Robert and Ted Kennedy, the Duke of Windsor, historian Arnold Toynbee, Madame Chaing Kai-Shek, Willy Brand, Helen Keller and Muhammad Ali. WEWS also used her as a roving foreign correspondent. She won an award from the National Overseas Press Club for an interview she did with in Hong Kong with two American prisoners released by Communist China in 1955.

Fuldheim found herself at the center of controversy in 1971 when she denounced the Kent State shootings as murder on the air. “ And who gave the National Guard the bullets?” she demanded, tears streaming down her face. “ Who ordered the use of them? Since when do we shoot our own children?” The station received hundreds of calls and thousands of letters from listeners who thought the Guard action was right. Fuldheim offered to resign. WEWS kept her on the air.

Fuldheim finally gave up the show when she suffered the first of two strokes at the age of 91. Speaking after Fuldheim’s death in 1989, Barbara Walters called her “the first woman to be taken seriously doing the news.”


*Network officials believed Americans had no objection to hearing women read ads or discuss“women’s issues.” (By which they meant recipes, housework, fashion, and childcare, not the barriers to entry that limited women’s access to education, jobs, and political office.) Those same officials were sure audiences did not want to hear a female voice deliver the news. Because. Stayed tuned in coming weeks for the stories of women who made it on the air despite those objections.

**If you’re interested in the history of women on television, I strongly recommend Cynthia Bemis Abrams’ podcast/blog Advanced TV Herstory

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