Throughout history women have made their mark in a wide variety of ways. Each Saturday I plan to highlight one of these remarkable women. There will be no limit to the areas of history that I may include; however as a guide I will look to the month of their birth, the month of their death or the month associated with their mark in history when I select them. Is there an outstanding women in history you would like me to include? I welcome your suggestions. Would you like to guest blog one of the world’s outstanding women? Let me hear from you. You can access all the previous postings of these remarkable women from the menu at the top of my site.
Keeping with a theme found in a few of my other posts this week, this one is also to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of D-Day which was yesterday, June 6, 2014. The source of today’s outstanding woman is an article from the June 5th Huffington Post D-Day: 150,000 Men — and One Woman. Meet Martha Gellhorn.
In June 1944 the British government accredited 558 writers, radio journalists and photographers to cover the D-Day landings and each news outlet could send only one. Martha Gellhorn was a journalist with Collier’s but they gave the job to a well known personality and Martha’s estranged husband, Ernest Hemingway (his 3rd wife). He didn’t even work for Collier’s. He asked for her slot and they gave it to him because by no means would any women be allowed by the British government. What’s a determined woman to do? Stow away of course. Martha stowed away in a hospital ship bathroom because with a 5000-vessel armada, transporting the men and nearly 30,000 vehicles across the English channel to the French shoreline who is going to notice one extra person. Upon reaching Normandy, she hit the beach disguised as a stretcher bearer and no one noticed she was a girl. On June 6, 1944 more than 9,000 allied soldiers were dead or wounded but among those that survived was one woman, Martha Gellhorn.
Martha Gellhorn is 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. Martha Ellis Gellhorn was born November 8, 1908 in St. Louis, Missouri. She was the daughter of Edna Fischel Gellhorn, a suffragist, and George Gellhorn, a German-born gynecologist.
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 as a field investigator for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, created by Franklin D. 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 skills of observation and communication 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. (Dorothea Lange would make a good subject for a future WOW).
I’ve used this famous Dorothea Lange photograph in posts I’ve made about the Great Depression.
Their reports later became part of the government files for the Great Depression. They were able to investigate topics that were not usually 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 (also a future subject of one of my WOW posts), and the two women became lifelong friends. Her findings were the basis of a collection of short stories, The Trouble I’ve Seen (1936).
Gellhorn first 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. Later, from Germany, she reported on the rise of Adolf Hitler and in 1938 was in Czechoslovakia. After the outbreak of World War II, she described these events in the novel A Stricken Field (1940). She later reported the war from Finland, Hong Kong, Burma, Singapore, and Britain. As stated earlier in my post, she lacked official press credentials to witness the Normandy landings so 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 camp after it was liberated.
She and Hemingway lived together off and on for four years, before marrying in December 1940 (Hemingway also lived with his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, until 1939).
Increasingly resentful of Gellhorn’s long absences during her reporting assignments, Hemingway wrote her when she left their Finca Vigía 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 would soon follow, 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.
The 2012 film Hemingway & Gellhorn is based on these years. The 2011 documentary film No Job for a Woman: The Women Who Fought to Report WWII features Martha Gellhorn and how she changed war reporting.
At the age of 89, ill and almost completely blind, she committed suicide. The Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism is named after her.