Ernest Hemingway’s legacy is lasting and irrepressible. His nonpareil contribution to the American literary canon, that wild public image, and his tragic and untimely death combine to create a formidable historical presence. In that shadow though there exists another, equally compelling, character: Hemingway’s third wife, Martha Gellhorn.
A novelist, travel writer, and journalist, Gellhorn is widely regarded as one of the most influential war reporters of the the 20th century. She was fearless, completely undaunted by the dangers of whatever armed conflict she waded into. When she arrived in Madrid in 1937 to cover the Spanish Civil War, she had nothing but a knapsack, fifty dollars, and an assignment to cover the conflict for Collier’s Weekly. There she explored and documented the real, human experience of war. Her writings put a face to the violence, making that personal heartache palpable and devastating.
Gellhorn was a gutsy reporter. She’d go to any lengths to get a story — she stowed away on a hospital ship and snuck ashore as a stretcher bearer during the D-Day landings at Normandy, she accompanied British pilots on night bombing raids over Germany, she followed Allied troops when they liberated Dachau. Even into her later years, Gellhorn’s energy reserves seemed inexhaustible. In 1989, at the age of eighty-one, she was still reporting from the front lines of the United States’ invasion of Panama.
In addition to her work as a journalist for The Atlantic, Gellhorn published numerous books including, 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).
Complicated, precise, and prolific Martha Gellhorn endures as one of the 20th century’s most influential journalists. Her work forever changed the business of wartime reportage.