Agnes von Kurowsky

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Agnes von Kurowsky
Agnes von Kurowsky in Milan.jpg
Agnes von Kurowsky in Milan, 1918
Born(1892-01-05)January 5, 1892
Germantown, Philadelphia, U.S.
DiedNovember 25, 1984(1984-11-25) (aged 92)
Gulfport, Florida, U.S.
EducationBellevue Nurses Training Program
Medical career
InstitutionsRed Cross

Agnes von Kurowsky Stanfield (January 5, 1892 – November 25, 1984) was an American nurse who inspired the character "Catherine Barkley" in Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms.

Kurowsky served as a nurse in an American Red Cross hospital in Milan during World War I. One of her patients was the 19-year-old Hemingway, who fell in love with her.[1] By the time of his release and return to the United States in January 1919, Kurowsky and Hemingway planned to marry within a few months in America. However, in a letter dated March 7, 1919, she wrote to Hemingway, who was living at his parents home in Oak Park, Illinois, that she had become engaged to an Italian officer. Although Kurowsky did eventually return to the United States, they never met again.[1] Their story is shown in the 1996 film In Love and War.

Hemingway used his experiences in Italy as the basis for ten short stories. Fictionalized characters based on Kurowsky appear in his short stories "A Very Short Story" and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro", as well as his novel A Farewell to Arms.


Agnes von Kurowsky Stanfield was born on January 5, 1892, in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her parents met while her German-born father[2] was teaching languages at the Berlitz school in Washington, D.C.. One of her uncles was the famous Chicago architect William Holabird, and her maternal grandfather was Gen. Samuel Beckley Holabird, who served as a Quartermaster in the United States Army.

Although her family would move many times during her childhood, Agnes came to regard Washington as her home. She attended the Fairmont Seminary and a training program for the public library in Washington. She got her first job in 1910 as a cataloguer for the library there. In 1914 she decided to leave the library and attend nursing school. In her words "[The library] was too slow and uneventful. My taste ran to something more exciting."

She attended the Bellevue Nurses Training Program in New York City, graduating in 1917. She applied for service with the American Red Cross, and, on June 15, 1918, she sailed for Europe. It was there, at her first assignment for the Red Cross at the Army Hospital in Milan that she met Hemingway. In 1919, she rejected him through a letter, while he was in the United States.

Agnes's identity as the basis for the fictional character was not widely known until Hemingway's brother, Leicester, published a book in 1961 about his brother. Leicester Hemingway visited with Agnes in Key West while researching his book. Agnes gave him some photographs from her scrapbook that now reside at the Hemingway Foundation.

Marriages and death[edit]

Agnes von Kurowsky was married twice, but not to the Italian officer. She married Howard Preston ("Pete") Garner on November 24, 1928, while stationed with the Red Cross in Haiti. After her Haitian assignment was completed, she obtained a quick divorce. She married for the second time to William Stanfield in 1934. Stanfield was a hotel manager and widower with three children.

During World War II, her husband and one of her stepsons both served in the Navy. Agnes and her two stepdaughters went to New York City, where Agnes worked at the Red Cross Blood Bank on Fifth Avenue. She remained married to Stanfield until her death in Gulfport, Florida on November 25, 1984, at the age of 92. The cause of death is unknown.[3]

She is buried in the United States Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery in Washington DC.[1] She was honored for "her gallant and commendable services" with the American Red Cross during World War I.


  1. ^ a b c Villard, Henry Serrano & Nagel, James. Her letters to Hemingway are included in Hemingway in Love and War: The Lost Diary of Agnes von Kurowsky: Her letters, and Correspondence of Ernest Hemingway (ISBN 1-55553-057-5 H/B/ISBN 0-340-68898-X P/B)
  2. ^ Meyers, Jeffrey (1977). Married to Genius, London Magazine Editions, p. 177
  3. ^ "Agnes von Kurowsky Stanfield Obituary".


  • Baker, Carlos (1969). Ernest Hemingway: a Life Story, Scribners
  • Bell, Millicent. "A Farewell to Arms: Pseudoautobiography and Personal Metaphor", in Ernest Hemingway, the Writer in Context, Nagel, James (ed.) (1976). Univ. of Wisc. Press
  • Hemingway, Leicester (1961). My Brother, Ernest Hemingway, World Publishing Company
  • Nagel, James (ed.) (1976). Ernest Hemingway, the Writer in Context, University of Wisconsin Press
  • Reynolds, Michael S. (1976). Hemingway's First War, the Making of "A Farewell to Arms", Princeton University Press
  • Reynolds, Michael S. (1979). The Agnes Tapes: A Farewell to Catherine Barkley, Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual
  • In Love and War, film with Sandra Bullock as Agnes von Kurowsky and Chris O'Donnell as Hemingway.

External links[edit]