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Martha Gellhorn: One of the greatest war correspondents

Posted by: | November 15, 2014 | No Comment |


Martha Ellis Gellhorn (1908-1998) was an American novelist and journalist. She was 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 attended Bryn Mar College in Philidelphia but dropped out in 1927 to pursue journalism, writing early on for New Republic. Soon after, she moved to Paris, where she worked for various publications. She then joined the United Press Bureau, where she sought to become a foreign correspondent. While in Paris, she aligned herself with the pacifist movement and wrote a book about her experience in a novel, What Mad Pursuit (1934).

Amidst all of this, Gellhorn 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.

Gellhorn and Hemingway lived together off and on for four years, before marrying in December 1940. Increasingly resentful of Gellhorn’s long absences during her reporting assignments, Hemingway wrote her when she left their Finca Vegía 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.


Gellhorn soon went to Western Europe to cover World War II, and in 1944 she allegedly stowed away on a hospital ship to report on the D-Day landings. The next year, she entered Dachau with American troops for the liberation of the infamous concentration camp (that same year, she and Hemingway split up), and her harrowing account was a landmark piece of journalism.

In 1966, she covered the war in Vietnam, which she found supremely disturbing and horrific, full of victims on both sides of the battles lines. In the 1980s she continued to travel extensively, writing about the wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua and the U.S. invasion of Panama, and in the mid-1990s she went to Brazil to write about street children there. That would be her last significant article before her death, as, dying of cancer, she took her own life in 1998.

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