- Historic Sites
May/June 1999 | Volume 50, Issue 3
Ernest Hemingway. His fixation on his image as war correspondent was already evident in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War, where, like most reporters, he was pro-Republic but where, unlike most, he lost all objectivity and propagandized for that cause. His employer, the North American Newspaper Alliance, was dismayed at the infrequency of his dispatches, especially when nothing on the bombing of Guernica arrived. He was distracted by love for the beauteous Martha Gellhorn; seven years later it was Gellhorn, now his wife, who persuaded him to return to war reporting. Hemingway covered the D-day landings for Collier’s from a landing craft, but once on the Continent, he assumed an interactive reporting style. With his “scouts” (some said “ruffians”), whom he had shaped into a partisan band, he reconnoitered the approach to Paris and then briefed a bemused Gen. Jacques Leclerc on his findings. Disregarding the Geneva Convention’s ban on reporters’ taking part in military actions, he removed his correspondent’s insignia from his uniform and collected a not insignificant arsenal of weapons in his hotel room. These went with him to Paris, where he moved into the Ritz, personally liberated the bar, and then collapsed into a two-week booze. Cover the official surrender of the city? The victory parade down the Champs Élysées? The Te Deum mass at Notre Dame? Not while there was still brandy at the Ritz!
Most female war correspondents have been underrated; Anna Benjamin, of Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper , had the dubious honor of being in that vanguard. Of a patrician New England family, small, slim, and strikingly good-looking, she was just twenty-three when she slung her bulky box camera over her shoulder and became the first female photojournalist to cover a war. In 1898 she reported preparations for the invasion of Cuba from Tampa and Key West, in company with Richard Harding Davis and James Creelman, who would write scathingly of “the swish of the journalistic petticoat on the edge of the military camp.” With the outbreak of war with Spain, she persuaded the captain of a coal barge to take her along to Guantánamo Bay. She sailed in on the first transport, and after Santiago capitulated, she went about the city reporting Spanish fortifications and trenches and the status of the wounded.
The following year found Benjamin halfway around the world covering the Filipino insurrection for the New York Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle . Creelman, also a correspondent with Gen. Arthur MacArthur’s forces, wrote bitterly of her presence among other reporters in a church the night before an expected attack. How had she offended him? She had stretched out on a couple of chairs, downed a few quinine pills with a sip of brandy from a miniature cut-glass flask, and gone to sleep. True danger came later; while she was traveling about with Filipino troops, her train was wrecked by insurgents, and she had to resort to army wagons and cattle cars. In due time, her notes and precious photographs in tow, she returned home from the Pacific via steamship, riverboat, and the not-yet-completed trans-Siberian Railroad.
Poor Anna Benjamin—not only underrated, but almost entirely unknown.