Gellhorn, Martha, 1908-1998

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Martha Ellis Gellhorn (November 8, 1908 – February 15, 1998) was an American novelist, travel writer, and journalist who is considered one of the great war correspondents of the 20th century.

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. She died in 1998 in an apparent suicide at the age of 89, ill and almost completely blind. The Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism is named after her.

Gellhorn was born on November 8, 1908, in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Edna Fischel Gellhorn, a suffragist, and George Gellhorn, a German-born gynecologist. Her father and maternal grandfather were Jewish, and her maternal grandmother came from a Protestant family. Her brother Walter became a noted law professor at Columbia University, and her younger brother Alfred was an oncologist and former dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

In 1926, Gellhorn graduated from John Burroughs School in St. Louis, and enrolled in Bryn Mawr College, several miles outside Philadelphia. The following year, she left without having graduated to pursue a career as a journalist. Her first published 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, but was fired after she reported sexual harassment by a man connected with the agency. She spent years traveling Europe, writing for newspapers in Paris and St. Louis and covering fashion for Vogue. She became active in the pacifist movement, and wrote about her experiences in her 1934 book What Mad Pursuit.

Returning to the United States in 1932, Gellhorn was hired by Harry Hopkins, whom she had met through her friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The Roosevelts invited Gellhorn to live at the White House, and she spent evenings there helping Eleanor Roosevelt write correspondence and the first lady’s “My Day” column in Women’s Home Companion. She was hired as a field investigator for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), created by Franklin D. Roosevelt to help end the Great Depression. Gellhorn traveled around the United States for FERA to report on how the Depression was affecting the country. She first went to Gastonia, North Carolina. Later, she worked with Dorothea Lange, a photographer, to document the everyday lives of the hungry and homeless. Their reports became part of the official government files for the Great Depression. They were able to investigate topics that were not usually open to women of the 1930s. She drew on her research to write a collection of short stories, The Trouble I've Seen (1936). In Idaho doing FERA work, Gellhorn convinced a group of workers to break the windows of the FERA office to draw attention to their crooked boss. Although this worked, she was fired from FERA.

Gellhorn met Ernest Hemingway during a 1936 Christmas family trip to Key West, Florida. Gellhorn had been hired to report for Collier's Weekly on the Spanish Civil War, and the pair decided to travel to Spain together. They celebrated Christmas of 1937 in Barcelona. In Germany, she reported on the rise of Adolf Hitler and in the spring of 1938, months before the Munich Agreement, she 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 England. 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 on June 6, 1944. She was also among the first journalists to report from Dachau concentration camp after it was liberated by US troops on April 29, 1945.

Gellhorn and Hemingway lived together off and on for four years, before marrying in November 1940. (Hemingway had ostensibly lived with his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, until 1939). Increasingly resentful of Gellhorn's long absences during her reporting assignments, Hemingway wrote to 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, 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. She had found, as had his other wives, that, as described by Bernice Kert in The Hemingway Women: "Hemingway could never sustain a long-lived, wholly satisfying relationship with any one of his four wives. Married domesticity may have seemed to him the desirable culmination of romantic love, but sooner or later he became bored and restless, critical and bullying." 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 Gellhorn and how she changed war reporting.

In her last years, Gellhorn was in frail health, nearly blind and suffering from ovarian cancer that had spread to her liver. On February 15, 1998, she committed suicide in London apparently by swallowing a cyanide capsule.

The Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism was established in 1999 in her honor.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Marion Meade Papers on Dorothy Parker, 1859-2008. Columbia University. Rare Book an Manuscript Library
referencedIn Ernest Hemingway Papers. 1899 - 1977. Outgoing Letters John F. Kennedy Library
creatorOf Crowell-Collier Publishing Company. Crowell-Collier Publishing Company records, 1931-1955. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Alexander Woollcott correspondence, ca. 1856-1943 (inclusive), 1920-1943 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn Robert Lee Sherrod Papers, 1910-1963 Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
referencedIn Papers of Robert Graves: Correspondence (arranged by correspondent), c1909 to 2004 St John's College, Oxford
referencedIn Joseph Barnes Papers, 1923-1970 Columbia University. Rare Book an Manuscript Library
referencedIn Papers of Robert Graves: Works by others: pamphlets, offprints and other materials, 1824 to 2006 St John's College, Oxford
referencedIn Gellhorn, Edna Fischel, 1878-1970. Papers, 1919-1960 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Ernest Hemingway Papers. 1899 - 1977. Incoming Letters John F. Kennedy Library
referencedIn Meade, Marion, 1934-. Marion Meade papers, 1859-1993. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn J. B. Matthews Papers, 1862-1986 and undated David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn Schumann, Edward A. (Edward Armin), 1879-1970. Papers, 1903-1963. College of Physicians of Philadelphia
referencedIn Gellhorn, Edna Fischel, 1878-1970. Papers, 1919-1960 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Crowell-Collier Publishing Company records, 1931-1955 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn John Mason Brown papers, 1922-1967. Houghton Library
referencedIn Clarence M. Forester papers., 1937-1939, 1945, 1996-1997. Minnesota Historical Society
creatorOf Algren, Nelson, 1909-1981. Papers, 1920-1983. Ohio State University Libraries
referencedIn Bessie, Alvah Cecil, 1904-1985. Papers, 1929-1991. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn Yaddo records, 1870-1980 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
creatorOf Tilden, Gladys, 1900-. Gladys Tilden papers, 1875-1982. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn New Yorker records, ca.1924-1984 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Emerson, Gloria. Papers, 1970-1997 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Berenson, Bernard and Mary. Papers, 1880-2002, 1880-2002 Biblioteca Berenson, Villa I Tatti - The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies
referencedIn Sybille Bedford Papers TXRC03-A5., 1914-2001 (bulk 1940s-1980s) Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Joseph Barnes Papers, 1923-1970 Columbia University. Rare Book an Manuscript Library
creatorOf Allen, Jay, 1900-. Letters, 1935-1964. New Hampshire Newsp Project
referencedIn Forester, Clarence M. Clarence M. Forester papers, 1937-1997. Minnesota Historical Society, Division of Archives and Manuscripts
referencedIn Photographs of Hemingway [manuscript], 1934-1959. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Algren, Nelson, 1909-1981. Papers, [ca.1930-1979]. State Library of Ohio
creatorOf Spiegel, Clara Gatzert, 1904-1997. Clara G. Spiegel-Ernest Hemingway Family papers, 1939-1988. Newberry Library
referencedIn William B. Provine collection of evolutionary biology reprints, 20th century. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
creatorOf Harper, Allanah, 1904-1992. Allanah Harper Papers, 1931-1993. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Gladys Tilden Papers, 1875-1982 Bancroft Library
creatorOf Sybille Bedford Papers TXRC03-A5., 1914-2001 (bulk 1940s-1980s) Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Berenson, Bernard, 1865-1959. Bernard and Mary Berenson, Papers (1880-2002, bulk 1880-1959) : a finding aid. Houghton Library
referencedIn Hemingway, Ernest, 1899-1961. Letter, 1945 November 1, Finca Vigia, San Francisco de Paula, to Mother [Edna Gellhorn]. University of South Carolina, System Library Service, University Libraries
referencedIn Allanah Harper Papers TXRC99-A8., 1931-1993 Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Donald and Katharine Foley Collection of Penguin Books, 1935-1965 Bancroft Library
referencedIn Gannett, Lewis, 1891-1966. Papers, 1681-1966 (bulk 1900-1960) Houghton Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Algren, Nelson, 1909-1981. person
associatedWith Allen, Jay, 1900- person
associatedWith Barnes, Joseph, 1907-1970. person
associatedWith Bedford, Sybille, 1911-2006 person
associatedWith Berenson, Bernard, 1865-1959. person
associatedWith Berenson, Mary, 1864-1945 person
associatedWith Bessie, Alvah Cecil, 1904-1985. person
correspondedWith Brown, John Mason, 1900-1969 person
associatedWith Crowell-Collier Publishing Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Emerson, Gloria. person
associatedWith Foley, Donald L. person
associatedWith Foley, Katharine person
associatedWith Forester, Clarence M., 1915-2004 person
correspondedWith Gannett, Lewis, 1891-1966 person
childOf Gellhorn, Edna Fischel, 1878-1970 person
correspondedWith Graves, Robert Ranke, 1895-1985 person
correspondedWith Graves, Robert Windham, 1858-1934 person
associatedWith Harper, Allanah, 1904-1992 person
associatedWith Hemingway, Ernest, 1899-1961. person
associatedWith Matthews, J. B. (Joseph Brown), 1894-1966 person
associatedWith Meade, Marion, 1934- person
correspondedWith New Yorker Magazine, Inc corporateBody
correspondedWith Provine, William B. person
associatedWith Schumann, Edward A. (Edward Armin), 1879-1970. person
associatedWith Sherrod, Robert Lee, 1909- person
associatedWith Spiegel, Clara Gatzert, 1904-1997. person
associatedWith Tilden, Gladys, 1900- person
correspondedWith Woollcott, Alexander, 1887-1943 person
associatedWith Yaddo (Artist's colony) corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Paris A8 FR
Missouri MO US
London ENG GB
War correspondents
Women in war
Women journalists
Women war correspondents
War correspondents


Birth 1908-11-08

Death 1998-02-15






Ark ID: w6bw874m

SNAC ID: 85545980