The Truth About Ernest Hemingway's Many Wives

Ernest Hemingway had a Nobel Prize in literature and, three years before, picked up a Pulitzer for his gift to high school English students everywhere: The Old Man and the Sea, reliably the shortest book on the reading list, though John Steinbeck's The Pearl and The Red Pony sometimes gave it a run for its money.

Born July 21, 1899, Hemingway, later known to his intimates as Papa, started in journalism as a high school student. He moved on to a job on the Kansas City Star newspaper as a sportswriter. Ernest was injured while serving as an ambulance driver for the Italian Army in World War I, and afterwards he became a foreign correspondent based in Paris.

Those were the days referred to as The Lost Generation — an entire generation decimated by the casualties of World War I, trying to cope and rebuild, personally and culturally, and without emotional rudders.

That might explain in part Hemingway's serial infidelity.

Fourth time was the charm

He married his first wife, musician Hadley Richardson, eight years older than he, shortly before Paris. They had a son together but divorced after about six years of marriage when Papa began an affair with their mutual friend, Pauline "Fife" Pfeiffer, a fellow journalist. He married Fife, but later claimed she used seduction to destroy his first marriage. Like, it wasn't his fault, right? 

She was wealthy in her own right, and basically supported them and their two sons for 13 years of marriage, until his writing career truly took off. Also until Hemingway met Fife's friend, Martha Gellhorn ... and had an affair with her ... and divorced Fife and married Gellhorn. Because habits, right?

Gellhorn was another journalist. She and Hemingway covered the Spanish Civil War and who knows what else together (we don't pry; neither do we judge). The marriage didn't last long; Gellhorn really was a successful, globe-trotting journalist, and Hemingway resented her long absences for work. "Are you a war correspondent, or wife in my bed?" he wrote to her.

He took the Hemingway out

Come we now to Wife #4 (if you're having trouble keeping track, we found an Excel spread sheet helpful), Mary Welsh, also a journalist. No doubt they all knew how to change Ernie's typewriter ribbon, but while Gellhorn was openly competitive professionally with Hemingway, apparently Welsh was happy to play cheerleader, at least until Hemingway fell in love with someone else while the couple lived in Cuba. That affair didn't end their marriage, oddly enough, but by all reports things were never the same between them.

Papa struggled with health issues, both physical and mental, as he aged. "Time is the least thing we have of," he wrote in response to a New Yorker interview request in 1950. "After you finish a book, you know, you're dead. But no one knows you're dead. All they see is the irresponsibility that comes in after the terrible responsibility of writing."

Hemingway and Welsh moved to Ketchum, Idaho, where his health, both physical and mental, declined. Suffering from severe depression, Hemingway died there of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on July 2, 1961. His marriage to Mary Welsh was the longest of the four: 15 years.