Gellhorn has been called the most famous journalist of the 20th century. Her life had many facets, and she constantly reinvented herself to more closely align with her values as a woman in war-torn Europe during World War II.,
Martha Gellhorn was a writer, warrior and witness. She wrote about the horrors of war in her book “The Face of War.”
Journalist and writer Ernest Hemingway was fired after railing against injustice and covering war.
Martha Gellhorn, a Bryn Mawr College dropout, left the Albany Times Union in 1930 to go to Paris to write. Gellhorn returned to the industry after a ten-month hiatus writing ad copy for The New Republic and other publications.
Adapted from Janet Somerville’s Martha Gellhorn’s Letters of Love and War 1930-1949 for probably always. Firefly Books (U.S.) Inc. published it in 2019. Janet Somerville owns the rights to the text. All intellectual property rights are retained.
Abortion will be performed in the United States. In 1933, she became pregnant again in France with her married boyfriend and had another abortion. Gellhorn toured Europe and anguished about her romance while writing for Vogue and working on a book, What Mad Pursuit, before returning to the United States. Gellhorn obtained a position researching welfare programs for presidential advisor Harry Hopkins at the Federal Emergency Relief Administration in fall 1934, thanks to a newspaper acquaintance. Gellhorn adopted a lifetime commitment to make “small squeaking remarks about the wrongness of things” in her reporting. Biographer Janet Somerville presents selections from Martha Gellhorn’s correspondence with eminent figures such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson, and her first husband, Ernest Hemingway, in the new Firefly Books title, Yours, for probably always: Martha Gellhorn’s Letters of Love & War 1930-1949.
Harry Hopkins to MG Massachusetts, November 26, 1934
When going across the state and witnessing our assistance system, it is hard not to sense that ineptitude has become a threat, and that the jobless are suffering as a result of the administration’s inadequacies. Our administrative positions seem to be often allocated on the Mayor’s and Town Board of Aldermen’s recommendations. The administrator is a pleasant, inefficient man who gets a raise because he is someone’s relative…
In terms of the jobless people, the situation is so bleak that whatever words I choose would come out as emotional and overblown…. Dread, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, worry, fear I haven’t been in a house where I haven’t seen a person being pushed past his or her limits of tolerance and sanity.
For decades, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Gellhorn were pals. (Photo credit: AP)
Martha yelled at Eleanor Roosevelt over how the country treated the poor at a meal at the White House organized via her mother Edna’s friendship with her. Eleanor took a step forward. “Franklin, you have to pay attention to this girl!” she said. “She claims that everyone who is jobless has pellagra and syphilis!” Eleanor Roosevelt and Gellhorn established a lifelong relationship. What Mad Pursuit was released in November 1934 by Frederick A. Stokes Company to mixed reviews. In September 1936, her second novel, The Trouble I’ve Seen, about living during the Great Depression, was well appreciated.
MG to Eleanor Roosevelt, St. Louis, February 7, 1936
With an introduction by [H.G.] Wells, The Trouble I’ve Seen is being released in England straight away (three months, I suppose). It should be brought here at some point. Surprisingly, individuals don’t seem to like hearing about their own problems, and therefore their own obligations, nearly as much as they enjoy hearing about others’ misfortunes….
Martha and her family took a trip to Key West, Florida, in December 1936. The Gellhorns met Ernest Hemingway, the bar’s most renowned customer, at Sloppy Joe’s. Hemingway recommended Gellhorn’s tale “Exile” to Max Perkins, his Scribner editor, who had like The Trouble I’ve Seen. Scribner’s Magazine published “Exile” in September 1937. Hemingway was getting ready to go to Spain to report on the civil war. He urged Gellhorn to join him, despite the fact that he was still married to Pauline Pfeiffer. Martha’s greatest work opportunity was as a stringer for Collier’s magazine. Hemingway flew first class to Valencia, the temporary capital of Republican Spain, after taking a luxury liner to Le Havre, France. Martha paid for her steerage trip by penning a Vogue puff article on beauty secrets. In Gellhorn’s account, she was stuck in Paris without orders from Hemingway in March 1937, so she boarded a train to the Spanish border. She walked over the Pyrenees with a duffel bag full of canned food. At the Hotel Florida in Madrid, Gellhorn and Hemingway shared apartments and were shelled.
March-April 1936, Spain, MG’s journal
The battle in Madrid was the subject of Gellhorn’s debut article for Collier’s magazine.
[I walked out to the battlefield with Republican] brigade commander Randolfo Pacciardi…. “Look, there are several dead out there,” one of the troops remarked from the front line. [All I could see were] two filthy grey laundry bundles that may or may not have been dead, but when they are dead, there are no longer any men, just something completed, squandered, and no longer nice, and you have to think about it to feel anything, even pity.
In May 1937, Gellhorn and Hemingway went to New York to work on a documentary film called The Spanish Earth with director Joris Ivens. Gellhorn’s first entry, “Only the Shells Whine,” about living in Madrid, was published by Collier’s in July. In August, Hemingway departed for Spain once again, this time with Martha on a separate ship. Gellhorn covered the battle for Collier’s and The New Yorker for three months, when the Republicans were losing severely.
Autumn 1937, MG to Hemingway
I assumed I understood all there was to know about the conflict. But I had no idea that one of your buddies had been murdered.
Martha returned to St. Louis for Christmas in December before embarking on a rigorous lecture tour pushing for American assistance to the Republicans in Spain. German bombers bombed Barcelona on March 16, 1938, three days before Hemingway and Gellhorn were scheduled to depart to Europe. Thousands of people were killed.
Post-March 23, 1938, onboard the RMS Queen Mary, MG to Eleanor Roosevelt
Gellhorn found Hemingway a spot to write in Finca Vigia, just outside of Havana, Cuba. (Alamy Stock Photo/ForgetPatrick/Sagaphoto.com)
The news from Spain had been awful, and I felt compelled to return. Everything is going to hell… I want to be there, fighting with those who oppose fascism in some way. …. Watching the next Great War barrel toward us makes me powerless and enraged, and I believe the three democracies (including ours, which is just as culpable as the others) have repeatedly muted their part in history since 1918. The English government’s recent behavior has gone beyond everything one could conceive in terms of illegal, hypocritical [sic] ineptitude, yet neither we nor France have dazzled me. The same thing will happen: the young guys will die first, followed by the best, and the elderly strong men will remain to mismanage the peace. In the event of a conflict, everything I care about in life becomes gibberish. And all of the individuals I care about will die before they can complete their job…. The whole world is about to be destroyed by the author of Mein Kampf, a guy who can’t think straight for more than a half-page.
Collier’s rejected Gellhorn’s proposal to write about the bombing in Barcelona because the story was old. Her editor asked her to report about German aggression from Czechoslovakia and England. Hemingway made a last journey to Spain in August 1938, when Gellhorn was following events in Europe, writing for newspapers about the Republicans’ loss and the influx of refugees into France. Hemingway and Pauline Pfeiffer divorced in early 1939. Hemingway hunkered down at a hotel in Havana, Cuba, to finish a book set in Spain during WWII. He was accompanied by Gellhorn. She discovered a run-down house outside of Havana named Finca Vigia (“Lookout Farm”), which Hemingway purchased. Collier’s sent Gellhorn to Helsinki three months into World War II to chronicle the “Winter War” between Finland and the Soviet Union. She stated that Finns “looked after each other’s needs and rights, with justice: a healthy democracy.” Collier’s published a story titled “Bombs on Helsinki,” in which a nine-year-old kid stood outside his house watching Russian bombers and held himself “stiffly so as not to flinch from the roar.” ‘Bit by little, I am becoming very furious,’ he remarked when the air was silent again.
MG to Ernest Hemingway, Hotel Kaalp, Helsinki, Finland, December 4, 1939
You should have seen the Finns on the first day, the first taste of battle. They acted as though they had seen this every day for 10 years, with no signs of fear…. I’d never seen such discipline and control before. It resembles iron. I believe it will be a lengthy battle, and I believe the Finns will prevail unless Russia deploys a four-million-strong force against these people. They’ve had a lot of success so far, and their pilots are fantastic…. I’m betting on 3 million Finns against 180 million Russians [sic]. They are fighting for their lives and their homes, after all, and only God knows why the Russians are fighting.
In January 1940, Gellhorn returned to Cuba. In March, she published A Stricken Field, a book about the German occupation of Czechoslovakia.
MG to Collier’s editor Charles Colebaugh, Finca Vigia, San Francisco de Paula, Cuba, March 13, 1940
Robert Capa, a friend and fellow reporter, photographed the couple at Sun Valley, Idaho, in November 1940. (Magnum Photos/International Center for Photography/Robert Capa)
It doesn’t seem like there will be any Finland to return to… I can’t express how disgusted I am about it…. Hitler is exactly what he is: a monster born in our time and created by it…. I just want to live long enough to see the destruction of the guys who have controlled Europe for the last six years. Any of them would be too good for a firing squad….
Gellhorn spent the most of 1940 composing The Heart of Another, a collection of short stories. For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway, was published in October and became a best-seller. In November, Hemingway’s divorce from Pauline Pfeiffer was finalized, and he married Martha Gellhorn on November 21. Collier’s sent Gellhorn to China in January 1941 to report on the war with Japan; a hesitant Hemingway followed her as far as Hong Kong. Gellhorn risked Japanese anti-aircraft fire to fly across the Himalayas into Burma while her husband stayed in Hong Kong, carousing with locals and exploiting his fame to collect information at President Roosevelt’s request.
Gellhorn and Hemingway had lunch with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and his beautiful wife in Chungking, China. The Chiangs were more concerned with preserving their authority than with fighting the Japanese, and they had little compassion for China’s hungry people, yet Gellhorn’s Collier’s article on the pair was lavish in its praise. She then acknowledged soft-pedaling the Chiangs’ violence and corruption.
July 1941, Finca Vigia, San Francisco de Paula, Cuba, MG to friend Allen Grover
Madame Chiang, the wonderful lady and China’s rescuer. Balls, to be precise.
“In the sun, secure and comfortable, yet loathing it,” Gellhorn spent most of 1942 in Cuba with Hemingway. She contributed pieces to Collier’s while traveling the Caribbean from July to September, including “Messing About on Boats,” about survivors of U-boat assaults on Allied oil shipments. Liana is a book by Gellhorn about a Caribbean love triangle between a young Frenchman, a mixed-race lady married to a rich man, and a young Frenchman. Her lone New York Times best-seller would be Liana. In October 1943, Gellhorn set ship for England once again. Hemingway avoided joining her for months as she reported on young men flying Lancasters on night bombing flights over Germany, accusing her of abandoning him in a series of emails.
Late 1943, Ernest Hemingway to Edna Gellhorn
Hemingway and Gellhorn on a Sun Valley hunting expedition. (Magnum Photos/International Center for Photography/Robert Capa)
I’m just so darned lonely that I feel like I’m dying a bit each day, like a girdled tree…. [I] would exchange my painstakingly taught and earned virtue for a wife….to love, adore, go to bed with, and speak to….rather than a female war reporter [sic] who just returns home to get ready to travel someplace else or write a book.
In March 1944, Gellhorn went to Cuba for a short visit, only to discover a grumpy Hemingway. He pushed the magazine’s editors into designating him the publication’s senior war reporter in Europe, replacing Gellhorn, because he was jealous of Gellhorn’s success at Collier’s. Hemingway was able to get a seat on a Royal Air Force aircraft thanks to his credentials. He departed for London, upsetting Gellhorn, claiming that women were not permitted on the aircraft, despite the fact that actress Gertrude Lawrence had been allocated a seat.
April 28, 1944, MG to Eleanor Roosevelt
It seems that I will miss out on the thing I most care about witnessing and writing about in the globe, and perhaps in my whole life. I knew I was a fool for returning from Europe, and I felt unhappy about it, but it seemed essential in the face of Ernest. (Being a woman is quite a job, isn’t it? You can’t just do your work and get on with it because that would be selfish; you have to be two things at once.) …. Ernest is scheduled to leave for England at the end of next week. But I’ve been bumped up and down [on the aircraft passenger list], and we don’t know whether the RAF will agree to fly me over (it’s different for Ernest), and there’s a lot of uncertainty.
I am…. It’s also hilarious since I had everything planned out for how to cover the Invasion…
Gellhorn sneaked away on a medical ship to beat her husband to the Normandy beaches. (Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)
Gellhorn spent 17 days in a convoy traveling to Britain on a ship carrying explosives. She arrived on May 26 to discover Hemingway in a London hospital, suffering from a concussion suffered in a vehicle accident after a party. Despite having a Collier’s certificate, military officials chose to confine Hemingway on D-Day aboard a Navy ship. Gellhorn beat him to the beach on June 7, getting on a medical ship and hiding herself in a toilet as it crossed the English Channel. She was the first female reporter to arrive in France after D-Day as a stretcher bearer on Omaha Beach.
Hortense Flexner, Bryn Mawr professor and longtime friend, Hortense Flexner to MG, Bryn Mawr lecturer and lifelong friend, London
I went down to one of the embarkation ports the following day. I saw the arrival of the first captives on the English beaches and wrote about it. They were a dreadful master race…. I nearly forgot to come up on deck and examine the universe the night of the second day on a medical ship, since I worked so hard. I enjoyed working with the injured, not writing or gazing at them, just doing. I walked ashore to search for injured as well, and it was all a little crazy, foreboding, and frightening, and, in a way I’ll never be able to describe, hilarious in the way war is always funny.
Gellhorn’s official position was jeopardized as a result of his illegal entry into Normandy. Her rage was not eased by an angry letter to an Army commander.
Colonel Lawrence to MG, June 24, London
As you may recall, General Eisenhower declared that male and female reporters would be treated equally and given equal chances to complete their missions…. In my case, I attempted to be permitted to do the job for which I was sent to England but was unable to do so. I’ve written about wars in Spain, Finland, China, and Italy, and how I’m unable to continue working in this theater for no other reason than that I’m a woman.
Gellhorn was undeterred by his lack of qualifications. She buzzed from front to back, persuading commanders to let her join their units and filing whenever she could get a wireless operator to provide a copy. She was in Paris at the time of the August revolution. When Mary Welsh, a Time/Life reporter, discovered Hemingway in her suite at the Ritz, she sought a divorce.
1944, MG to Edna Gellhorn
I really don’t want to hear his name again… To compensate for being such a vile human being, a guy must be a genius.
Gellhorn was given a three-hour permit to visit the Dachau concentration camp in May 1945. She writes in the June 23 issue of Collier’s, “Behind the wire and the electric fence, the skeletons sat in the sun and scraped themselves for lice.” “They have no age and no faces; they all look similar and, if you’re fortunate, like nothing you’ll ever see.” For Gellhorn, who had Jewish grandparents, the camp became a symbol of Nazism’s depravity. “We, the Allies, aren’t completely blameless,” she said, “because it took us 12 years to open the gates of Dachau.” We were deafeningly deafeningly deafeningly deafeningly de
MG to Hortense Flexner
Gellhorn seen horrific sights like these in Dachau. (Photo courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)
[I will never be free of guilt because] I was unaware of, unaware of, unaware of, unaware of, unaware of, unaware of, unaware of, unaware of, unaware of, unaware of, unaware of, unaware of, unaware of, unaware of, unaware of, unaware of, unaware of,
Gellhorn had one of her few happy marriages in the late 1940s, with US Army Major General James Gavin of the 82nd Airborne Division. She also adopted an Italian kid and published a book about Dachau, The Wine of Astonishment. She attempted miserably to embrace domesticity by 1954, when she was unhappily married to journalist Tom Matthews and lived in London. She continued to correspond with Eleanor Roosevelt after learning of her death on November 7, 1962. Gellhorn turned 54 the following day.
November 8, 1962, London, MG to Adlai Stevenson
This is a day when being together would have made a difference. To cry. Mrs. R.’s crying should have started years ago, at least 70 years ago. Not for her; she’d never been scared of death and would have despised living as a sick and dependent person. I’ve always felt she was the loneliest person I’d ever met, and she’d been through a lot in her life (starting with her mother)… Because of how he handled her, I never liked or trusted the President as a man. And I’ve always known she was something more than a saint, something so uncommon there’s no word for it…. We may now cry for ourselves. Someone gone from one’s own world who was like a certainty of shelter; and someone gone from the world who was like a certainty of honor; I feel lonelier and more frightened.
In 1978, Gellhorn was in London. She moved about a lot throughout the 1960s and 1970s, living in different places on different continents. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock/Graham Harrison)
Gellhorn battled with loneliness throughout the 1960s and 1970s, traveling extensively and purchasing homes in Mexico, England, Wales, and Kenya. Sandy, her adoptive son, grew alienated from her as he approached maturity. Trips to Israel enthralled Gellhorn, who championed the Jewish state and wrote insensitively about Arabs’ self-imposed exile. She went to Vietnam and wrote a vehement op-ed against the treatment of civilians that the South Vietnamese authorities refused to grant her a visa for a second visit. Gellhorn traveled the globe in search of the finest beaches for her favorite sport, snorkeling. She fell in love with Africa and returned many times, eventually purchasing a hillside home to be closer to her favorite animals, giraffes. She was assaulted and raped at the age of 79 while walking to a friend’s home in Nyali, Kenya’s coast.
1988, MG to a buddy
Since the beginning of time, women have been raped all across the globe. The fact that I was involved does not make the situation unique.
Martha Gellhorn, 89, who was almost blind and suffering from ovarian and liver cancer, ingested cyanide and died at her London home on February 14, 1998. Her brother, son, and stepson threw her ashes into the Thames River a few days later, following Gellhorn’s orders, which concluded, “…if it’s inconvenient, what the heck.”
Nancy Tappan, senior editor of American History, has written a biographical profile. .
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Martha Gellhorn was a writer, warrior, and witness. Her work spanned six decades of war reporting in Europe and Asia. She won the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in 1945. Reference: martha gellhorn awards and achievements.
Frequently Asked Questions
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A: Martha gelhorn was a scientist who worked closely with Dr. Harlan Wade. She died in the laboratory fire that led to his mental breakdown and death, along with most of her research notes taken by Dr. Wade at the time of the incident
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