“She’d be mad if we mentioned the name of her second husband (a burly dude, fond of guns and six-toed cats, the one she called “Unwilling Companion”; he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls when they were together). And Martha Gellhorn would be correct in saying it’s probably the dullest fact about her life. At age 8 (when she was living in this three-story World’s Fair house in the CWE, with its toothy gingerbread trimand 10-foot-ceilings) she made history as part of The Golden Lane, a “walkless parade” campaigning for women’s voting rights. Suffragettes traveled from all over the country during the Democratic National Convention of 1916, filling Locust Street for blocks and creating a spectacle with their white gowns, yellow sashes, and yellow parasols.
Gellhorn, representing a “future voter,” was no doubt there with her mother, Edna, who founded St. Louis’ League of Women Voters. (Ironically, Gellhorn didn’t vote much in St. Louis—she spent most of her adult life in Europe.) Her father, George, was a Prussian gynecologist (St. Louis’ only at the time) who, when he learned how prudishly the nuns were teaching science in convent school, moved his daughter to a progressive coed school.
Everyone who knew Gellhorn agreed that she was (a) fearless and (b) filterless. (Both traits were amplified, apparently, under the influence of a harsh German nanny, who once chased her charge around the kitchen table with a knife.) She left Bryn Mawr to write, first for the New Republic, then for the United Press bureau in Paris. After returning to the States, she worked for the Works Progress Administration with photographer Dorothea Lange, documenting the ravages of the Great Depression; befriended Eleanor Roosevelt; and, one fateful night, walked into a Key West bar, where she met Ernest Hemingway. (Oops…sorry, Miss Gellhorn. We’ll note that you’d already written two novels when you met him.)
During World War II, she worked as a war correspondent for Collier’s. After being denied press credentials to cover the Normandy landings because she was a woman, she locked herself in the bathroom on a medical ship and went anyway. (She was the only woman present at D-Day. Hemingway reported it from a landing boat, too scared to go ashore.) For 60 years, she covered every major conflict of the 20th century—except the Balkan Wars. At 84, she announced that she was “too old,” then traveled to Brazil in 1995 to write about the country’s street children for Granta. She was still smoking, drinking, and wearing fabulous red velvet pantsuits till the end. At 89, she took her own life—seemingly as unafraid of death as she was of the battlefield.”
Article originally posted by STLMag