Dorothy Fuldheim: Cleveland’s Television Treasure

Ralph DiMatteo Culture History

Dorothy Fuldheim

If you ask pretty much any group of lifelong Clevelanders to name what they feel are the five things or people that represent Cleveland best, you are likely to get a wide range of answers.  

What we are willing to bet is that one name probably will not appear on most lists, and that is who we are going to tell you a little bit about today: Cleveland journalist and television icon Dorothy Fuldheim.

If you are asking yourself who Dorothy Fuldheim is, don’t feel bad; her career was not about self-promotion or the limelight - it was about getting the story right, good or bad.

Born June 26, 1893 in Passiac, New Jersey, Dorothy Violet Snell spent her childhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Before being introduced to public speaking on social and foreign policy issues by Jane Addams, she was an elementary school teacher.

Fuldheim entered Cleveland broadcasting on a weekly basis for the first time on the radio station WTAM in December of 1929. Taking on any and all controversial issues of the day earned her nicknames such as the American H.G. Wells and militant Cleveland lecturer.

International travel prior to World War II was also a staple in her career. While giving countless speeches and lectures, she also conducted interviews all over Europe and even conducted one with Adolf Hitler in 1932 just before his rise to power. She famously told him to his face after the interview that she disagreed with everything he had to say.

Hired away from WJW radio by WEWS radio, she moved quickly over to the brand new WEWS TV when they signed on air for the first time in December of 1947. Signed to a 13-week contract, Fuldheim was only supposed to be on air until a “suitable” male on-air anchor could be found. Never expecting her time on air to last, she even poked fun at herself saying that television was supposed to be for the young and beautiful.

Despite all the obstacles of the time, here is what even the most native of Clevelanders most likely do not know about Dorothy Fuldheim. She is widely recognized as the first female on-air newscaster in the United States, which was no small accomplishment, as television was in its infancy.

There is so much more to this amazing woman’s career. Just a few of the highlights include a controversial interview with '60s activist Jerry Rubin, traveling to London to cover the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, the funeral of Anwar Sadat and even traveling to Northern Ireland to interview the family of hunger striker Bobby Sands.

Her truly amazing career at WEWS lasted form the station's initial sign-on in 1947 to 1984 when, sadly, she suffered a stroke at age 91. She died five years later at the age of 96. Her last interview was with President Reagan, done via satellite.

We haven’t touched the surface on this trailblazer’s wide-raging and almost impossible to believe career. Please do yourself a favor and become acquainted for yourself with her many accomplishments. Truth be told, all schools in the area would do well to add the story of Dorothy Fuldheim to their curriculums. What a wonderful and inspiring story to share that demonstrates there are never any obstacles too great to overcome in life to accomplish what you truly believe in.

Older Post Newer Post