Dorothy Fuldheim becomes television’s first female news anchor

December 17, 1947
by Emily Gordon

When Dorothy Fuldheim began her legendary news career, she was already in her 50s. Retiring from teaching but not the workforce, she entered the field via radio, heading a local history program on WTAM and a weekly editorial on ABC. When Channel 5 WEWS-TV, Cleveland’s first commercial television station, asked her to be its nightly newscaster, Fuldheim, on December 17, 1947, became television’s first female news anchor and possibly the first female television news commentator. A broadcast journalist trailblazer known for her opinionated and passionate personality and fiery red hair, Fuldheim stayed with the news program for 37 years. Fellow broadcast journalism pioneer Barbara Walters described Fuldheim as “the first woman to be taken seriously doing the news.”

Born Dorothy Violet Snell on June 26, 1893, in Passaic, New Jersey, to German Jewish immigrant parents, Fuldheim grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she attended Milwaukee College and became a country school teacher. After marrying her first husband, Milton H. Fuldheim, she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, in the 1920s and turned to lecturing on social issues. To inform her lecture topics, Fuldheim traveled the world interviewing figures such as Mussolini and Hitler prior to World War II, attracting the attention of WEWS.

After anchoring at WEWS for ten years, she co-hosted “The One O’Clock Club” afternoon show. Fuldheim also worked overseas as a field reporter on assignments from Israel to Northern Ireland. Among her famous interviewees were Helen Keller, Bob Hope, Jimmy Hoffa, Albert Einstein, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Madame Chiang Kai-shek, the Duke of Windsor, and each US president from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan. Her most famous broadcasts included throwing Youth International Party leader Jerry Rubin off of her show for being “vulgar” and condemning the May 4, 1970 Kent State shootings. After members of the Ohio National Guard shot and killed four students during an anti-war protest, Fuldheim cried on air and asked, “And who gave the National Guard the bullets? Who ordered the use of them? Since when do we shoot our own children?” Furious viewers who disagreed with her assessment of the event called the station and sent hate mail, prompting Fuldheim to offer her resignation. However, the channel stood by her and she remained in her role.

Fuldheim won many awards for her journalism and was named one of "America's Most Admired Women'' by a Gallup Poll. She wrote memoirs I Laughed, I Cried, I Loved: A News Analyst’s Love Affair with the World in 1966, A Thousand Friends in 1974, Three and a Half Husbands in 1976, and The House I Live In in 1981. She also authored Where Were the Arabs about the Israeli-Arab conflict following the Six-Day War and wrote book reviews.

Fuldheim’s only child, Dorothy Fuldheim-Urman, a Russian professor at Case Western Reserve University, preceded her in death in 1980. Fuldheim was still working at 91 years old when she suffered a stroke on air after interviewing President Ronald Reagan. This event forced her retirement from her groundbreaking broadcast career. Following a second stroke, Fuldheim died at 96 years old on November 3, 1989, in Cleveland.

This entry was created for This Week in History as part of a course on the history of American Jews and Social Justice taught by Karla Goldman at the University of Michigan, Winter 2021.

Sources: Case Western Reserve University. (n.d.). Fuldheim, Dorothy. Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. https://case.edu/ech/articles/f/fuldheim-dorothy; Cleveland Arts Prize. (n.d.). Dorothy Fuldheim, News Commentator and Author, 1893–1989. Cleveland Arts Prize. http://clevelandartsprize.org/awardees/dorothy_fuldheim.html; O'Dell, C. (1997). Women Pioneers in Television: Biographies of Fifteen Industry Leaders. Jefferson, N.C. McFarland & Company. https://archive.org/details/womenpioneersint00odel/page/108/mode/2up?q=dorothy+fuldheim; Seifullah, A. A.A., & Strassmeyer, M. (1989, November 4). Dorothy Fuldheim, TV News Legend: Life Stories Revisited. Cleveland Plain Dealer; WikiTree. (2011). Dorothy Violet (Schnell) Fuldheim (1893 - 1989). WikiTree Where Genealogists Collaborate. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Schnell-77

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Dorothy Fuldheim, 1977. Public Domain

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Jewish Women's Archive. "Dorothy Fuldheim becomes television’s first female news anchor." (Viewed on September 19, 2021) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/dec/17/1947/dorothy-fuldheim-becomes-televisions-first-female-news-anchor>.

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