Martha Gellhorn


Biography of Martha Gellhorn

Martha Ellis Gellhorn (8 November 1908 – 15 February 1998) was an American novelist, travel writer, and journalist, considered by the London Daily Telegraph, among others, 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 almost completely blind, she committed suicide. The Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism is named after her.

She was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Edna (née Fischel), a suffragette, and George Gellhorn, a German-born gynecologist. Her father and maternal grandfather were of Jewish origin, and her maternal grandmother was from a Protestant family. 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 School in St. Louis and enrolled in Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia. 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 France for two years where she worked at the United Press bureau in Paris. 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 a field investigator for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, created by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to declare war, in a sense, on the Great Depression. She traveled to report on the impact of the Depression on the United States. She first went to Gastonia, North Carolina, where she used her observation and communication skills to report on how the people of that town were affected by the Great Depression. Later, she worked with Dorothea Lange, a photographer during the Great Depression, to document the everyday lives of the hungry and homeless. Their reports later became part of the government files for the Great Depression. They were able to investigate topics that were not open to women of the 1930s, which makes Gellhorn, as well as Lange, major contributors to history. Gellhorn's reports for that agency caught the attention of Eleanor Roosevelt, and the two women became lifelong friends. Her findings were the basis of a collection of short stories, The Trouble I've Seen (1936).

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