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The name, Martha Gellhorn, is usually associated with Ernst Hemingway for her short-lived marriage to him, however, there is a lot more to her credits and personality that cannot be overlooked. She is one of the first female war correspondents and is known for her fearless writings and reporting on World War II, Spanish Civil War, and Vietnam war sightings. Her novels and work of journalism were celebrated in America and later got popularized to other parts of the world as well. She was considered as the best war reporters of the 20th Century with a career that flourished for 60 long years. She reported all the major wars that happened during her tenure and was known to chronicle the plight of the common man during wars as she had an astute observation and great sense of right and wrong.

Childhood & Early Life

  • Martha was born to a suffragist, Fischel Gellhorn and a gynecologist, George Gellhorn. She was born on November 8, 1908, in St. Louis, Missouri and was Jewish by origin. She had 2 brothers, Walter Gellhorn, who was a law professor at Columbia University and Alfred Gellhorn, who was an oncologist.
  • She began her studies at John Burroughs School in St. Louis and then moved on to Philadelphia to join Bryn Mawr College in 1926. She was determined to pursue a career in journalism, so she left the graduation course in between to chase her dreams. Her initial work was featured in ‘The New Republic’ an American magazine.
  • Later, in 1930 she traveled to Paris with a dream to become an international reporter. There, she started working at the United Press Bureau and during her tenure, she actively participated in the pacifist movement and authored her experience in the book, called ‘What Mad Pursuit’ which was published in 1934.

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Career

  • In the United States, Martha Gellhorn started working as field investigator at FERA (Federal Emergency Relief Administration). She extensively covered the effect of Great Depression by traveling across the country with Dorothea Lange, the photographer. She recorded the stories of the affected people who were starving and living in poverty, she also documented the accounts of the forbidden subjects, making her work as a key contributor to the American history.
  • In 1936, she was working with Collier’ Weekly and was traveling to Florida to cover the Spanish Civil War. She met with Earnest Hemingway during the task, as he accompanied him to report on the war.
  • She reported major wars and happenings around the world. She documented the growing popularity of Adolf Hitler in Germany and Czechoslovakia. She also reported on the wars that affected countries like Hong Kong, Burma, England, Singapore, and Finland. She also authored a novel, called ‘A stricken Field’ in 1940, where she documented the happenings of the World War II.
  • Martha Gellhorn, was the only woman to witness the Normandy Landings by impersonating as a stretcher carrier on D-Day June 6, 1944.
  • During the 1960s and 70s, she worked for the Atlantic Monthly and covered Vietnam War and the Arab-Israel conflicts. Furthermore, in next decade she reported the Civil Wars that took place in Central America.
  • Martha Gellhorn in 1989 reported on the US invasion of Panama. However, due to her advanced age and an unsuccessful cataract operation, she was unfit to report Balkan conflicts in the 1990s. That’s when she planned her retirement.
  • In 1995, she submitted her last report on poverty in Brazil which was published in ‘Granta’, the literary journal. Her failing eye-sights made the task really cumbersome for her.

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Major Works

  • In 1936, Martha Gellhorn published her first book ‘The Trouble I’ve Seen’ in which she documented the impact of the Great Depression on the lives of the common American people. The book received an overwhelming response.
  • Her major work also comprised of the articles she authored, like the ‘The Face of War’, published in 1959, which is a collection of wartime writings and in 1966, she wrote, ‘Vietnam: A New Kind of War’ and again, in 1988, she published, ‘The View from the Ground’, which was a collection of the peacetime essays.
  • In 1978, she published ‘Travels with Myself and Another: A Memoir’, in this she also documented her travels with Hemmingway.

 

Awards & Achievements

  • She was the only lady to be honoured in the American Journalists stamp series of 2008 among other 5 people.
  • She was the only female to witness the Normandy on June 6, 1944.

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Personal Life & Legacy

  1. Martha Gellhorn was 22 years old when she had her first significant relationship that lasted for 4 years with French economist Bertrand de Jouvenel.
  2. In 1936, she met Ernest Hemingway in Florida and got married to him, 4 years later to become his third wife. She did not like her identity to be limited to being Mrs. Hemingway and she made it clear, with her famous remark, that ‘she had no intention of being a footnote in someone else’s life. The marriage did not last long and she divorced him in 1940.
  3. She had an affair with Major General James M. Gavin of U.S.A while being married to Hemmingway.
  4. In 1949, she adopted a child, Sandy and after sometime he started living with relatives that led to an estranged mother-son relationship.
  5. In 1954, post her divorce with Hemingway and after few other romantic affairs, she got married to T. S. Matthews, the former managing editor of Time Magazine. She moved to London post her marriage, which unfortunately ended in 1963.
  6. On February 15, 1998, Martha Gellhorn ended her life by committing suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule at the age of 89. During her last years, she was almost bling and was suffering from ovarian and liver cancer.
  7. Posthumously, The Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism was established in 1999.

 

 

Trivia

  • Also Known As: Martha Ellis Gellhorn, Marta Gellhorn, Марта Гельхорн, Martha Gellhorn
  • Nationality: American 
  • Died At Age: 89
  • Sun Sign: Scorpio
  • Place Of Death: London
  • Cause Of Death: Suicide

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