#WomeninMedia Spotlight: Martha Gellhorn

Martha Gellhorn 1908-1998

Martha Gellhorn was an American journalist, travel writer, novelist, suffragette, and is considered one of the greatest war correspondents of the 20th century.

Her journalistic career was sparked working as a foreign correspondent for the United Press bureau in Paris, France. After working for the United Press for two years, she was fired after reporting on sexual harassment by someone from within the agency.

She then spent years exploring and freelancing in Europe. She had the opportunity to cover fashion for the famous Vogue Magazine. During her time in Europe, she was active in the pacifist movement; Gellhorn wrote about her experiences in Europe in her book titled What Mad Pursuit.

Gellhorn returned to the United States in 1932 and was later hired by Harry Hopkins, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s closest advisor on foreign policy during World War II.

Gellhorn was invited to live at the White House, spending evenings helping first lady Eleanor Roosevelt write correspondence and her first lady’s “My Day” column. She was then hired as a field investigator for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), which was created by President Roosevelt to alleviate the effects of the Great Depression.

Gellhorn traveled across the country under FERA reporting on how the Great Depression was affecting American citizes. She worked with renound photographer Dorothea Lange to document the lives of the impovershed and homeless. Their work was inconic in that these topics were not usually avaible for female journalists to cover. She wrote a series of short stories titled The Trouble I’ve Seen, which was inspired by her reports of the Great Depression.

Gellhorn was later hired to cover the Spanish Civil War for Collier’s Weekly. As World War II developed, she covered the rise of Adolf Hitler from Germany. She covered the war from all across the world, including: Finland, Hong Kong, Burma, Singapore, and England.

Though she did not have the press credentials needed to witness the Normandy landings, she persisted in her coverage–hiding in a hospital ship bathroom and impersonating a stretcher bearer. She is quoted in saying: “I followed the war wherever I could reach it.”

She was the only woman to land at Normandy on D-Day, and was also among the first journalists to report from the Dachau concentration camp in Germany after it was liberated by US troops.

Her unwavering commitment to international war coverage and iconic career led to the establishment of the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. According to the prize’s official website, it is awarded to a journalist whose work has penetrated the established version of events and told an unpalatable truth – a truth validated by powerful facts that expose what Martha Gellhorn called “official drivel”. For the kind of reporting that distinguished Martha: in her own words “the view from the ground”

Gellhorn’s dedication to journalism in a war-era so impactful to our country’s history did not go unrecognized. She truly higlights what it means to be a hard-working, dedicated journalist. Gellhorn’s committment to war coverage allowed for many Americans to be informed, which is a lifeblood for our democracy.

You can learn more about Gellhorn and her historic career using these links: https://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/books/martha-gellhorn-a-life-20040117-gdx44p.html, http://www.marthagellhorn.com/index.htm, https://www.cliomuse.com/martha-gellhorn.html

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