DR. WILLIAM EDWARD DODD 1869-1940 The Ambassador
The eldest son of John David Dodd, was named William Edward Dodd when born in Clayton, NC. on October 27, 1869. His early education was in Johnston and Wake Counties and the Oak Ridge Institute. Quite the scholar, he received a B. S. in 1895 and a M.S. in 1897 from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and a PhD in 1900 from the University of Leipzig. He taught at Randolph Macon College and the University of Chicago. He was regarded as an authority on Southern History and wrote biographies of Davis, Lincoln, Lee, and Wilson.
His wife, Martha Ida “Mattie” Johns was born March 10, 1876 in Auburn, NC (Wake County). She was one of ten children born to Thomas Jefferson Johns and Martha Ida Eccles Johns. Married in 1901, the couple had two children, Willian E. Dodd and Martha Eccles Dodd.
The Smithfield Herald touted the hometown man upon his appointment as Ambassador. “He had made frequent trips back to his home state and on a recent occasion was the chief speaker at a meeting of the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.” Noted as relatives were Charles W. Horne, Miss Melba McCullers and Dr. Herman Harrell Horne.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt chose William Edward Dodd to fill the role of Ambassador to Germany in 1933. When Dodd arrived in the country which he had known as a student for three years his appointment offered no experience in diplomacy. At first he was encouraged by his welcome from then-President Paul Von-Hindenburg but during his first six months in Berlin numerous cases arose when American citizens refused the Nazi salute. After four frustrating years of open criticism of the Nazis, the diplomatic corps, and suggestion of anti-Semite views, he resigned in 1937. He was never able to shake the political aftermath of this untimely departure.
The assignment was frought with innocent mistakes he made, criticism of his austere, no-nonsense lifestyle, and scorn from both Germans and Americans. Erik Larson’s “In the Garden of the Beasts” also credits the activities of his daughter, Martha, as involved in liaisons with Nazis and an affair with a Russian agent. Research in KGB archives recently document her connection with Boris Vinogradov (who disappeared in 1938) and her later activities with the Russians after returning to the United States. There is evidence that she recruited her brother and her husband Alfred Stern in support of communist activity.
Dr. Dodd did visit his father in Fuquay Springs. John David is quoted as saying of one of these trips, “Will never stays long. He’s like a humming bird, in and out like a flash. Will always stays busy. I guess he has done more than any other man alive.”
Eleanor Howard remembers her mother, Mary Aiken, getting her daughter all dressed up and taking her next door to meet the visiting Dr. Dodd . “You may never have such a chance to shake the hand of an Ambassador,” Mary told her daughter.
Upon his return, Dr. Dodd engaged in a speaking tour of the United States relating his experiences with the Hitler government. He hoped to resume his life at his Virginia estate, Stoneleigh Farm, near Round Hill but illness overtook him.
On May 28, 1938, his wife Mattie died of a heart condition at first thought to be severe indigestion. In December Dodd was involved in a tragic auto accident in which a boy was killed. He was indicted for leaving the scene. He stated that he paid all medical bills of the family, but he was never able to recover following this tragedy and that of Mattie’s death.
According to his obituary in the Smithfield Herald (February 13, 1940) he suffered from severe pneumonia, was placed in an oxygen tent, but died the following day.
Both Ambassador Dodd and his wife are buried in Rock Creek Cemetery. Loudoun County, Virginia. Relatives listed are his two children but no mention is made of his father or stepmother. At the time of his death, he was survived by two brothers, Rev. E. D. Dodd of Norlina and Rev. W. H. Dodd of Mocksville, and a sister Annie Dodd Griffin.