William Edward Dodd (October 21, 1869 – February 9, 1940) was an American historian, author and diplomat. A liberal Democrat, he served as the United States Ambassador to Germany from 1933 to 1937 during the Nazi era. Initially a holder of the slightly Antisemitic notions of his times, he went to Germany with instructions from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to do what he could to protest Nazi treatment of Jews in Germany “unofficially,” while also attempting to follow official State Departmentinstructions to maintain cordial official diplomatic relations. Convinced from first hand observation that the Nazis were an increasing threat, he resigned over his inability to mobilize the Roosevelt administration, particularly the State Department, to counter the Nazis prior to the start of World War II.
Early and family life and education
“Willie” Dodd was born on October 21, 1869 on a farm near Clayton, Johnston County, North Carolina, the eldest of eight children born to farmer John Daniel Dodd (1848-1941) and his first wife, the former Evaline Creech (1848-1909). His paternal English or Scottish ancestors had lived in America since the 1740s when Daniel Dodd settled among the Highland Scots in the Cape Fear Valley. The family included four younger brothers: Rev. Walter Henley Dodd (1872-1950), Alonzo Lewis Dodd (1875-1952), John Ivan Dodd (1876-1971, and Eff David Dodd (1884-1966). Of his three sisters, only Martha “Mattie” (Martha Ella) Dodd (born 1878) survived long enough to marry.
After graduating from Clayton High School, Dodd attended Oak Ridge Military Academy to prepare for college. He was unable to secure an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy or at the University of North Carolina, and so taught at local schools until 1891, when he enrolled at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech). Dodd received his bachelor’s degree in 1895 and a master’s degree in 1897, by which time he had begun teaching undergraduates. On a colleagues’ advice, Dodd traveled to Germany and earned his Ph.D. at the University of Leipzig in 1900, based on a thesis (in German) concerning Thomas Jefferson’s return to politics in 1796. Shortly after returning to the United States and resuming his teaching career, Dodd married Martha Johns at her family’s home in nearby Wake County, North Carolina on December 25, 1901. They would have two children, a daughter, Martha (1908-1990), and a son, William E. Dodd Jr. (1905-1952)