Martha Gellhorn, the daughter of George Gellhorn, a gynecologist, and Edna Fischel, was born in St. Louis on 8th November, 1908. When she was a child her mother was involved in the women's suffrage movement.
Gellhorn attended Bryn Mawr College but left in 1927 to begin a career as a writer. Her first articles appeared in the New Republic, but determined to become a foreign correspondent, she moved to France to work for 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). When Gellhorn returned home she was hired by Harry Hopkins as an investigator for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, where she had the task of reporting 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).
In 1937 Gellhorn was employed by Collier's Weekly to report the Spanish Civil War. While there she started an affair with Ernest Hemingway and the couple married in 1940. Gellhorn travelled to Germany where she reported the rise of Adolf Hitler and in 1938 was in Czechoslovakia. After the outbreak of the Second World War wrote about these events in the novel, A Stricken Field (1940).
Gellhorn worked for Collier's Weekly throughout the Second World War and later recalled how she "followed the war wherever I could reach it." This included reporting from Finland, Hong Kong, Burma, Singapore and Britain. She even impersonated a stretcher bearer in order to witness the D-Day landings. Her book about the war, The Undefeated, was published in 1945.
Gellhorn also covered the arrival of allied troops at Dachau: "In their joy to be free, and longing to see their friends who had come at last, many prisoners rushed to the fence and died electrocuted. There were those who died cheering, because that effort of happiness was more than their bodies could endure. There were those who died because now they had food, and they ate before they could be stopped, and it killed them. I do not know words to describe the men who have survived this horror for years, three years, five years, ten years, and whose minds are as clear and unafraid as the day they entered. I was in Dachau when the German armies surrendered unconditionally to the Allies. We sat in that room, in that accursed cemetery prison, and no one had anything more to say. Still, Dachau seemed to me the most suitable place in Europe to hear the news of victory. For surely this war was made to abolish Dachau, and all the other places like Dachau, and everything that Dachau stood for, and to abolish it for ever."
After the war Gellhorn worked for Atlantic Monthly. This included all the major world conflicts, including the Vietnam War. In an interview with Shelia MacVicar she pointed out: "I hated Vietnam the most, because I felt personally responsible. It was my own country doing this abomination. I am talking about what was done in South Vietnam to the people whom we, supposedly, had come to save. I'm seeing napalmed children in the hospital, seeing old women with a piece of white sulphur burning away inside of them, seeing the destroyed villages, seeing people dropping of hunger and dying in the streets. My complete horror remains with me as a source of grief and anger and shame that surpasses all the others."
Gellhorn published a large number of books including a collection of articles on war, The Face of War (1959), a novel about McCarthyism in the United States, The Lowest Trees Have Tops (1967), an account of her life with Ernest Hemingway, entitled, Travels With Myself and Another (1978) and a collection of her peacetime journalism, The View From the Ground (1988).
Martha Gellhorn died in London on 15th February, 1998.