Comics Herstory: Dorothy Woolfolk
In the 1940s, Dorothy Woolfolk’s success was another man’s Kryptonite. (Literally.) Woolfolk had an impressive resumé and became a prominent comics editor in the 1940s. She got her start at All-American Publications, which would later merge with other publishers to become DC Comics, and was the first woman to edit for DC. Woolfolk also edited books for Timely Comics, Marvel’s predecessor, and Entertainment Comics.
It’s hard to imagine Superman without Kryptonite, but Kryptonite wasn’t introduced into comics until 1949, more than ten years after Superman’s inception in 1938. Dorothy Woolfolk was responsible for Superman’s adverse reaction to Kryptonite, having found his perfection lacking. She said that he would become a more compelling character if Superman, like the rest of us, had a vulnerability. Kryptonite was introduced in Superman #61, “Superman Returns to Krypton!” when it became an important and definitive part of the Superman mythos.
Her contributions to comics were numerous, but she was also a driving force in the character of Lois Lane, and had a heavy influence in the development of her personality. Woolfolk also wrote an unknown number of Wonder Woman comics in the 1940s, which would make her the first woman to write the character (barring Elizabeth Holloway Marston, co-creator of Wonder Woman, though her contributions to the character aren’t fully known). The late Alan Kupperberg, a former artist for DC, memorialized Woolfolk in a blog post, saying that she held her own in an office that treated her disrespectfully and poked fun behind her back.
Woolfolk wrote for Orbit (a science fiction magazine) in the 1950s and returned to DC in the 1970s. There, she edited big name books like Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Young Romance, and Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane, among other superhero and romance titles. She also wrote the Donna Rockford series, a ten-book series about a teen detective, in the 1980s.
Dorothy Woolfolk died in 2000 at the age of eighty-seven, and though she isn’t a household name, her contributions to the comic industry have left a powerful impact on the personalities and makeup of the characters she worked with. She was nominated for a place in the Female Cartoonists and Comic Book Writers Hall of Fame in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004, but was never inducted.