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Martha Gellhorn (8 November 1908 - 15 February 1998) was an Americanmarker novelist, travel writer and journalist, considered to be one of the greatest 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. At the age of 89, ill and nearly completely blind, she committed suicide. The Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism is named after her.

Early life

She was born in St. Louis, Missourimarker; the daughter of Edna (née Fischell), a suffragette, and George Gellhorn, a gynecologist. Her father has origins in Germanymarker. Both of her parents were half-Jewish. 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.

Gellhorn graduated in 1926 from John Burroughs Schoolmarker in St. Louis and enrolled in Bryn Mawr Collegemarker in Philadelphiamarker. 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 Francemarker for two years where she worked at the United Press bureau in Parismarker. 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 US, Gellhorn was hired by Harry Hopkins as an investigator for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. She traveled to report on the impact of the Depression on the United States. Her reports for that agency caught the attention of Eleanor Roosevelt, and the two women became lifelong friends. Her findings were the basis of a novella, The Trouble I've Seen (1936).

War in Europe

Gellhorn first met Hemingway during a 1936 Christmas family trip to Key Westmarker. They agreed to travel in Spainmarker 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 Barcelonamarker. Later, from Germanymarker, she reported on the rise of Adolf Hitler and in 1938 was in Czechoslovakiamarker. After the outbreak of World War II, she described these events in the novel, A Stricken Field (1940). She later reported the war from Finlandmarker, Hong Kongmarker, Burmamarker, Singaporemarker and Britainmarker. Lacking official press credentials to witness the D-Day landings, she impersonated a stretcher bearer and later recalled, "I followed the war wherever I could reach it." She was among the first journalists to report from Dachau concentration campmarker after it was liberated.

She and Hemingway lived together for four years before marrying in 1940. Increasingly resentful of Gellhorn's long absences during her reporting assignments, Hemingway wrote her when she left their home in Havanamarker in 1943 to cover the Italian Front: "Are you a war correspondent, or wife in my bed?" After four contentious years of marriage, they divorced in 1945.

Later career

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. Aged 81, she travelled impromptu to Panamamarker, where she wrote on the U.S. invasion. Only when the Bosniamarker 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 19 homes in different locales. During a long working life, Gellhorn reported widely from many international trouble-spots.


Gellhorn died in London in 1998, aged 89, committing suicide by drug overdose after a long battle with cancer and near total blindness. Since her death, The Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism has been established in her honour.


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

On October 5, 2007, the United States Postal Service announced that it would honor five journalists of the 20th century times with first-class rate postage stamps, to be issued on Tuesday, April 22, 2008: Martha Gellhorn; John Hersey; George Polk; Ruben Salazar; and Eric Sevareid. Postmaster General Jack Potter announced the stamp series at the Associated Press Managing Editors Meeting in Washingtonmarker. Martha covered the Spanish Civil War, World War II and the Vietnam War.

Political and religious views

Gellhorn remained a committed leftist throughout her life and was contemptuous of those who, like Rebecca West, became more conservative. She considered the ideal of journalistic objectivity “nonsense”, and used journalism to reflect her politics. Politically, Gellhorn had two major favorites, Israelmarker and the Spanish Republic. For Gellhorn, Dachau had “changed everything”, and she became a life-long champion of Israel. She was a frequent visitor to Israel after 1949, and in the 1960s considered moving to Israel. An uncompromising opponent of Fascism, Gellhorn had a more ambivalent attitude toward communism. While she is not known to have praised communism and Stalinism, she equally refused to criticize it. She believed in the innocence of Alger Hiss until her death. A self-described “hater”, she attacked fascism, anti-communism, racism, Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan.

She was not above racism herself, however. She loathed Arabs; in a 1970 letter to Leonard Bernstein, she wrote

Gellhorn disliked German people as well, having never forgiven them for the Holocaust.

Gellhorn was an atheist. Each half-Jewish by descent, her parents had embraced secular humanism raised Gellhorn by its tenets. Her only religious instruction consisted of Sunday visits to the Society for Ethical Culture. She objected in her first marriage when her fiancé T.S. Matthews insisted their marriage be blessed by an Anglican priest; she called the religion “horrible, cannibalistic voodoo of the ugliest sort”.

Marriages and love affairs

Gellhorn was married twice and had countless lovers, who tended to be married men.

Her 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.

She first met Hemingway in Key Westmarker 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.

She was faithful to Hemingway, with the exception of a fling with US paratrooper Major General James M. Gavin, commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division. Gavin was the youngest divisional commander in the US army in WWII.

Between marriages, Gellhorn had romantic liaisons with "L", an American businessman (1945); journalist William Walton (1947); and medical doctor David Gurewitsch (1950). In 1954 she married Tom Matthews, editor-in-chief of Time; they were divorced in 1963.

In 1949, Gellhorn adopted a boy, Sandy, from an Italianmarker orphanage. Although Gellhorn was briefly a devoted mother, she was not a maternal woman. She left Sandy to the care of relatives in Englewood, New Jerseymarker 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.

In 1972 she wrote:


  • 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 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) WWII 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) collection of travel writing
  • Travels With Myself and Another (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


(re-published as Gellhorn: A 20th Century Life, Henry Holt & Co., New York (2003) ISBN 0-8050-6553-9)


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