Martha Gellhorn

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Martha Gellhorn
Gellhorn Hemingway 1941.jpg
Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway with General Yu Hanmou, Chungking, China, 1941
Born Martha Ellis Gellhorn
(1908-11-08)November 8, 1908
St. Louis, Missouri, US
Died February 15, 1998(1998-02-15) (aged 89)
London, England
Occupation Author, war correspondent
Nationality American
Period 1934–1989
Genre War, travel
Spouse Ernest Hemingway (1940–1945; divorced)
T. S. Matthews (1954–1963; divorced)

Martha Ellis Gellhorn[1] (November 8, 1908 – February 15, 1998) was an American novelist, travel writer, and journalist, who is considered one of the greatest war correspondents of the 20th century.[2][3] She reported on virtually every major world conflict that took place during her 60-year career. Gellhorn was also the third wife of American novelist Ernest Hemingway, from 1940 to 1945. At the age of 89, ill and almost completely blind, she committed suicide.[4] The Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism is named after her.

Early life[edit]

She was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Edna Fischel Gellhorn, a suffragist, and George Gellhorn, a German-born gynecologist.[5][6] Her father and maternal grandfather were of Jewish origin, and her maternal grandmother was from a Protestant family.[5] Her brother, Walter Gellhorn, became a noted law professor at Columbia University. Her younger brother, Alfred Gellhorn, an oncologist and former dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, died at 94 in 2008.[7]

Gellhorn graduated in 1926 from John Burroughs School in St. Louis and enrolled in Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia. In 1927, she left before graduating to pursue a career as a journalist. Her first articles appeared in The New Republic. In 1930, determined to become a foreign correspondent, she went to France for two years where she worked at the United Press bureau in Paris. While in Europe, she became active in the pacifist movement and wrote about her experiences in the book What Mad Pursuit (1934).

After returning to the United States, Gellhorn was hired by Harry Hopkins as a field investigator for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), created by Franklin D. Roosevelt to declare war on the Great Depression. She traveled to report on the impact of the Depression on the United States. She first went to Gastonia, North Carolina, where she used her observation and communication skills to report on how the people of that town were affected by the Great Depression. Later, she worked with Dorothea Lange, a photographer during the Great Depression, to document the everyday lives of the hungry and homeless. Their reports later became part of the government files for the Great Depression. They were able to investigate topics that were not usually open to women of the 1930s, which makes Gellhorn, as well as Lange, major contributors to history.[8] Gellhorn's reports for that agency caught the attention of Eleanor Roosevelt, and the two women became lifelong friends. Her findings were the basis of a collection of short stories, The Trouble I've Seen (1936).

War in Europe[edit]

Gellhorn first met Hemingway during a 1936 Christmas family trip to Key West. They agreed to travel in Spain together to cover the Spanish Civil War, where Gellhorn was hired to report for Collier's Weekly. The pair celebrated Christmas of 1937 together in Barcelona. Later, from Germany, she reported on the rise of Adolf Hitler and in 1938 was in Czechoslovakia. After the outbreak of World War II, she described these events in the novel A Stricken Field (1940). She later reported the war from Finland, Hong Kong, Burma, Singapore, and Britain. Lacking official press credentials to witness the Normandy landings, she hid in a hospital ship bathroom and upon landing impersonated a stretcher bearer; she later recalled, "I followed the war wherever I could reach it." She was the only woman to land at Normandy on D-Day (June 6, 1944.)[9] She was also among the first journalists to report from Dachau concentration camp after it was liberated.

She and Hemingway lived together off and on for four years, before marrying in December 1940 (Hemingway also lived with his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, until 1939). Increasingly resentful of Gellhorn's long absences during her reporting assignments, Hemingway wrote her when she left their Finca Vigía estate near Havana in 1943, to cover the Italian Front: "Are you a war correspondent, or wife in my bed?" Hemingway himself, however, would later go to the front just before the Normandy landings, and Gellhorn also went, with Hemingway trying to block her travel. When she arrived by means of a dangerous ocean voyage in war-torn London, she told him she had had enough. After four contentious years of marriage, they divorced in 1945.

The 2012 film Hemingway & Gellhorn is based on these years. The 2011 documentary film No Job for a Woman: The Women Who Fought to Report WWII features Martha Gellhorn and how she changed war reporting.[10]

Later career[edit]

After the war, Gellhorn worked for the Atlantic Monthly, covering the Vietnam War, the Six-Day War in the Middle East, and the civil wars in Central America. At age 81 she even travelled impromptu to Panama where she wrote on the U.S. invasion. Only when the Bosnian War broke out in the 1990s did she concede she was too old to go, saying, "You need to be nimble."

Gellhorn published numerous books, including a collection of articles on war, The Face of War (1959); a novel about McCarthyism, The Lowest Trees Have Tops (1967); an account of her travels (including one trip with Hemingway), Travels With Myself and Another (1978); and a collection of her peacetime journalism, The View From the Ground (1988).

Peripatetic by nature, Gellhorn reckoned that in a 40-year span of her life, she had created homes in 19 different locales.

Personal life[edit]

Gellhorn's first major affair was with the French economist Bertrand de Jouvenel. It started in 1930, when she was 22 years old, and lasted until 1934.[11]

She met Ernest Hemingway in Key West, Florida, in 1936. They were married in 1940. Gellhorn resented her reflected fame as Hemingway's third wife, remarking that she had no intention of "being a footnote in someone else's life". As a condition for granting interviews, she was known to insist that Hemingway's name not be mentioned.[12]

While married to Hemingway, Gellhorn had an affair with U.S. paratrooper Major General James M. Gavin, commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division. Gavin was the youngest divisional commander in the U.S. army in World War II.

Between marriages, Gellhorn had romantic liaisons with "L" Laurance Rockefeller, an American businessman (1945); journalist William Walton (1947) (no relation to the British composer); and medical doctor David Gurewitsch (1950). In 1954, she married the former managing editor of Time Magazine, T. S. Matthews, and settled down in London, which was to be her home for the rest of her life. She and Matthews divorced in 1963.[13]

In 1949, Gellhorn adopted a boy, Sandy, from an Italian orphanage. Although Gellhorn was briefly a devoted mother, she was not a maternal woman. She eventually left Sandy to the care of relatives in Englewood, New Jersey, for a long period of time. Sandy endured many absences from Gellhorn during her travels and eventually attended boarding school. He grew to disappoint her, and their relationship became embittered.[14]

However, the legacy of Gellhorn's personal life remains shrouded in controversy. Supporters of Gellhorn say her unauthorized biographer, Carl Rollyson, is guilty of "sexual scandal-mongering and cod psychology". Several of her prominent close friends (among them Betsy Drake, the actress who was once married to Cary Grant; journalist John Pilger; writer James Fox; and Martha's younger brother, Alfred) have dismissed the characterizations of her as sexually manipulative and maternally deficient. Her supporters include her stepson, Sandy Matthews, who describes Gellhorn as "very conscientious" in her role as stepmother.[15]

In 1972 she wrote:

If I practised sex, out of moral conviction, that was one thing; but to enjoy it ... seemed a defeat. I accompanied men and was accompanied in action, in the extrovert part of life; I plunged into that ... but not sex; that seemed to be their delight and all I got was a pleasure of being wanted, I suppose, and the tenderness (not nearly enough) that a man gives when he is satisfied. I daresay I was the worst bed partner in five continents.[16]

Death and legacy[edit]

After a long battle with ovarian and liver cancer and near total blindness, Gellhorn died in London on Saturday, February 16, 1998, aged 89, committing suicide by taking a special pill (perhaps cyanide) she had obtained several years before for just this occasion. The Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism was established in her honor.

Gellhorn was one of five individuals – and the only woman – honored in the 2008 American Journalists stamp series.

Gellhorn published books of fiction, travel writing, and reportage. Her selected letters were published posthumously in 2006.

In popular culture[edit]

On October 5, 2007, the United States Postal Service announced that it would honor five 20th-century journalists with first-class rate postage stamps, to be issued on April 22, 2008: Martha Gellhorn; John Hersey; George Polk; Rubén Salazar; and Eric Sevareid. Postmaster General Jack Potter announced the stamp series at the Associated Press Managing Editors Meeting in Washington, D.C.[17]

In 2011, Gellhorn was the subject of an hour-long episode of the World Media Rights series Extraordinary Women, which airs on the BBC and periodically in the United States on PBS stations.[18]

In 2012, Gellhorn was played by Nicole Kidman in Philp Kaufman's Hemingway & Gellhorn.


  • What Mad Pursuit (1934) her time as a pacifist;
  • The Trouble I've Seen (1936) Depression-era novella;
  • A Stricken Field (1940) novel set in Czechoslovakia at the outbreak of war;
  • The Heart of Another (1941);
  • Liana (1944);
  • The Undefeated (1945);
  • Love Goes to Press: A Comedy in Three Acts (1947) (with Virginia Cowles);
  • The Wine of Astonishment (1948) World War II novel, republished in 1989 as Point of No Return;
  • The Honeyed Peace: Stories (1953);
  • Two by Two (1958);
  • The Face of War (1959) collection of war journalism, updated in 1986;
  • His Own Man (1961);
  • Pretty Tales for Tired People (1965);
  • Vietnam: A New Kind of War (1966);
  • The Lowest Trees Have Tops (1967) a novel;
  • Travels with Myself and Another: A Memoir (1978);
  • The Weather in Africa (1984);
  • The View From the Ground (1988) collection of peacetime journalism;
  • The Short Novels of Martha Gellhorn (1991);
  • The Novellas of Martha Gellhorn (1993);
  • Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn (2006), edited by Caroline Moorehead.

Books about Gellhorn[edit]

  • Hardy Dorman, Angelia (2012). Martha Gellhorn: Myth, Motif and Remembrance.[1]
  • Rollyson, Carl (2000). Nothing Ever Happens to the Brave: The Story of Martha Gellhorn. 
  • Moorehead, Caroline (2004). Martha Gellhorn: A Life. 
  • Rollyson, Carl E. (2007). Beautiful Exile: The Life of Martha Gellhorn. 
  • Moreira, Peter (2007). Hemingway on the China Front: His WWII Spy Mission With Martha Gellhorn. 
  • McLoughlin, Kate (2007). Martha Gellhorn: The War Writer in the Field and in the Text. 



  1. ^ "Martha Ellis Gellhorn", Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. ^ "Martha Gellhorn: War Reporter, D-Day Stowaway", American Forces Press Service. Retrieved 2 June 2011
  3. ^ "Iraqi journalist wins Martha Gellhorn prize", The Guardian, 11 April 2006. Retrieved 2 June 2011
  4. ^ Moorehead, 2003, New York edition, p. 424
  5. ^ a b Ware, Susan; Stacy Lorraine Braukman (2004). Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary Completing the Twentieth Century. Harvard University Press. p. 230. ISBN 0-674-01488-X. 
  6. ^ Review by Kirkus (UK) of Caroline Muirhead: Martha Gellhorn (2003)
  7. ^ Kee, Cynthia (22 April 2008). "Alfred Gellhorn". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  8. ^ Gourley, Catherine (2007). War, Women and the News: How Female Journalists Won the Battle to Cover World War II. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Documentary No Job for a Woman website
  11. ^ Moorehead, 2003, p. 38, New York edition. She would have married de Jouvenel if his wife had consented to a divorce.
  12. ^ Kevin Kerrane, "Martha's quest" (Archive), Salon, 2000, accessed 19 Oct 2009
  13. ^ "I didn't like sex at all", Salon, August 12, 2006. Retrieved 23 February 2012
  14. ^ Moorehead, 2003, p. 366, Vintage edition.
  15. ^ "The War for Martha's Memory", The Telegraph, 15 March 2001
  16. ^ Moorehead, 2003, p. 408, New York edition.
  17. ^ "Stamps honor distinguished journalists", USA Today
  18. ^ "Episode 7 : Martha Gellhorn", Extraordinary Women


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