3 Women Shape Pre-WW2 Thought: the Dorothys – M. Ruth Myers

3 Women Shape Pre-WW2 Thought: the Dorothys

In the years just before World War II and through the anxious years until it ended, the writings of three women influenced American politics and social issues, were quoted for their razor-sharp wit, and kept mystery lovers up reading past their bedtime. They were all named Dorothy.

“The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.”

Dorothy Parker
Best known for her ability to turn a phrase that was simultaneously funny and piercing, Dorothy Parker was widely celebrated as a poet, short story writer and playwright. She was also a literary critic and screenwriter. Parker was a founder of the legendary Algonquin Round Table and a member of the board of editors of The New Yorker when it debuted in 1925.

“Beauty is only skin deep
But ugly goes clean to the bone.”

In the 1930s and 1940s Parker became an ardent advocate for civil rights and civil liberties. Yet even among those who disagreed with her politics, her writing had wide appeal. When America entered World War II, Viking Press published an anthology of her work for servicemen overseas. It contained more than two dozen of her short stories plus numerous poems and in 1944 was published for U.S. readers under the title The Portable Dorothy Parker. After the war, she became one of many writers blacklisted in Hollywood.

“Constant use will not wear ragged the fabric of friendship.”

Dorothy Thompson
If Parker was the wit, Dorothy Thompson was the brilliant, brainy journalist whose words were followed by more than 10 million readers across the country and respected by those in power. In 1939 Time magazine named her the second most influential woman in America. (The top spot went to first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.)

Dorothy Thompson

journalist Dorothy Thompson

Thompson wrote a newspaper column as well as a monthly column in Ladies Home Journal. She had a weekly radio program on NBC, making her one of the few women broadcast news commentators of that era. As Berlin bureau chief for The New York Post, she had witnessed first-hand the rise of the Nazi party. She interviewed Adolph Hitler, and her resulting book led to her be the first journalist kicked out of Germany. In September of 1939 Thompson testified before a Senate committee, urging them to sell arms to Great Britain and France.

“It is not the fact of liberty but the way in which liberty is exercised that ultimately determines whether liberty itself survives.”

Dorothy B. Hughes
One of the most noted, and popular, mystery novelists of the 1940s was Dorothy B. Hughes. Her stories were filled with clandestine operatives and strong women characters. They are classics of the noir and hardboiled styles, and broke new ground in crime fiction with their deep explorations of character and motivation. Several were made into movies.

Hughes’ first novel, The So Blue Marble, was published in 1940. Others followed, one or two a year, until 1947, after which they became more widely spaced. Hughes also was a respected book critic. In 1951 the Mystery Writers of America awarded her an Edgar for Outstanding Mystery Criticism. In 1978 she received the MWA’s Grand Master award.

“She carried her head like a lady and her body like a snake.”

If you’re not acquainted with the writing of these three ladies, you’re in for a treat.


Tough Cookie, second book in the Maggie Sullivan mysteries, is just 99c through 2/28.  As the 1930s end, private eye Maggie Sullivan is hired to find the man behind a deadly swindle that made fools — and enemies — of some of the city’s top businessmen.  On Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo.

Tough Cookie a Maggie Sullivan mystery