The First Lady of Television News

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Dorothy Violet Snell Fuldheim was born June 26, 1893 in Passaic, New Jersey.

Her family was extremely poor. They moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where she spent her childhood. Her German-born father loved the English language and took her to courthouses to hear lawyers’ rhetoric. In 1912, she graduated from Milwaukee Normal College with a teacher’s
degree in English. Dorothy taught elementary school for two years and also acted in plays, another love of hers.

In the 1920’s she married Milton H.Fuldheim and they moved to Cleveland, Ohio,
where she continued her theater acting. In an anti-war play in Chicago, she attracted the
attention of the famous social worker, Jane Addams, who asked her to present a lecture
on social reform. Over the years, Dorothy gave 3500 lectures. To get material, she
began interviewing her subjects, including Adolf Hitler.

She started her broadcasting career in radio, hosting a biography program for WTAM, and later, the ABC Radio network, where she was the first female broadcaster. The theater and lecture experience imparted to her a new way to present the news other than the objective style of other newscasters.

She said, “If what you say is dramatically presented, the impact is far greater.” She was then approached by Scripps-Howardand “The Cleveland Press” to do journalism, and travelled around the world conducting interviews. 

At the age of 54 in 1947, she signed a 13-week contract to do a 15-minute evening news show with WEWS-TV, Channel 5 in Cleveland, also owned by Scripps-Howard. That program ran for 17 years. She kept up her travel schedule as well as presenting the news on TV, often inserting her own opinions/commentaries.

She was the first woman in the United States to anchor a television news broadcast and also to have her own television news analysis program, “Highlights of the News.” Over the years (15,000 interviews), she interviewed many worldly figures, including the Duke of Windsor; Helen Keller; Martin Luther King, Jr.; John, Robert and Ted Kennedy; James Hoffa; Winston Churchill; Albert Einstein; etc.; and every U.S. President from F.D.R. to Ronald Reagan.

In the 1960’s, she teamed up with Cleveland radio personality Bill Gordon to host “The One O’Clock Club” on WEWS. The station was loyal to her and she was to it, even refusing higher salaries from other companies.

In 1980, she was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame. Towards the end of her career she still travelled. She covered the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in London in
1981, and the funeral of assassinated Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.

Shortly after her 6pm news broadcast on July 27, 1984, she suffered a stroke, at age 91. She never fully recovered and after 37 years with WEWS she never returned to TV. That afternoon she had
also interviewed her last subject, via satellite– President Ronald Reagan.

After a second stroke, she died on November 3, 1989 (age 96) in Cleveland. Dorothy’s first husband Milton H. Fuldheim had died, and in 1952 Dorothy married William L. Ulmer. He died in 1971. Her only child, Dorothy Fuldheim-Urman, preceded her in death. She had only one grandchild, who was severely handicapped.

Written by Gay A. Christensen-Dean

Encyclopedia of Cleveland History,