Beyond Hemingway: an investigation reveals that almost 200 women journalists came to Spain to report on the Civil War

Just a handful, no more than eight or ten. They are the foreign journalists who until now were thought to have moved to Spain to tell the world what happened after the military uprising of 1936. Although it is known that the Civil War was narrated in newspapers and radios with great circulation at the time, it is the masculine names that have transcended the most. However, the female reporters were at least 183. This is the figure that Bernardo Díaz Nosty, professor of Journalism at the University of Malaga, has managed to document, whose research will be published in the coming months with the Renaissance publishing house.

"It's surprising, first because there is a dominant idea that the profession was practically only male and it wasn't like that. There were quite a few women journalists at that time. And then because 200 female reporters is a lot, we have to take into account that they moved to a country at war", says the researcher about the importance of his discovery. Díaz Nosty recalls that the Spanish war is considered the most mediatic in history up to that moment, but the investigation of the foreign journalists who covered it "has been incomplete."

The identified authors have twenty different nationalities, highlighting the British, who reach 40, the Americans (35) or those from France or Germany, from where they came 24 and 13 journalists respectively. The Argentineans, Australians, Italians and Russians also constituted numerous groups, reaching seven reporters for each of those countries. Many wrote for important international and large-circulation headers, others for publications edited by political parties or organizations.

Some of them already narrated from the first moments of the conflict because in July 1936 they were in Barcelona when the military coup took place. They were covering the so-called People's Olympiad, a sporting event intended to be a left-organized alternative to the Olympic Games in Hitler's Germany. This was the case of Muriel Rukeyser, who wrote for the London magazine Life and Letters To-Day, and the British magazine Jose Shercliff, of the Daily Herald. Also in Spain was Anita Brenner, who worked for the New York weekly The Nation. Many others landed shortly after, among them, the well-known photojournalist Gerda Taro.

Why only a small handful has come to light does not surprise Díaz Nosty, who already in 2020 published Voices of women: Spanish journalists of the 20th century born before the end of the Civil War: "In general, there is a part of historiography that It is based on chronicles of journalists, of the great reporters of the New York Times or The Times, when many of the women were also in front-line newspapers. For whatever reason, a Hemingway chronicle, being much worse than one of Marta Gellhorn , who was also his wife, acquires a different historiographical fit", exemplifies the also doctor in Political Science.

But beyond the number of journalists revealed by the professor, his investigation, which has taken him three years, also concludes that there was what he calls "a feminine reading of the war" and that his chronicles and reports differed in content from the of their fellow men. "The male narrative was more dominated by the political and war story, but not so much its effects, something to which they paid more attention. They not only looked at what was happening on the battlefield, but they saw that it was a war total that impacted the most vulnerable," explains Díaz Nosty.

Martha Gellhorn visited the Palace hotel in Madrid, whose luxury had given way to the wounded by becoming the first military hospital in Madrid. "The Empire-style shelves, where there used to be boring books for guests, are used for bandages, hypodermic needles and surgical instruments," the journalist recounted. In 1937 Frida Stewart broadcast from Union Radio the bombings of the capital trying to arouse empathy. "I wonder how Londoners would feel if they saw Piccadilly in the Sun Gate state [...] and that the cinemas and theaters of west central London were flattened by shrapnel."

Many also noticed what was happening with the boys and girls. This is how the British Ellen Wilkinson referred to an educational center in Madrid: "They are all children of the working class, smart as lightning, but very skinny. Every day, they had to get to school under projectiles or stray bullets. The school was at only 2.5 miles from the current trenches. The bombs fell on the school, destroying everything, blowing up the teachers and the children. This is how the fascists bring civilization to a country."

The researcher's work, which will be titled Foreign Journalists in the Civil War, incorporates multiple examples of how female reporters focused on the effects of Franco's bombing of the civilian population, the transit of displaced people, supply problems or health care for the wounded. His narratives "showed the tensions of civil life in the cities" and, in general, highlighted that the humanitarian crisis did not only happen on the front lines, nor the war in the barracks or political dependencies. "Horror and death were also in the streets of the cities", which also showed daily life in the markets, leisure or fun.

The vast majority of displaced journalists were in the Republican zone. Specifically, 91% of the 183 identified authors traveled to the government area "more permeable to journalistic activity than that of the rebels," says the professor. "They were mostly anti-fascist and progressive. Many denounced the political position of non-intervention of the governments of the United Kingdom, France or the United States," he continues. It should not be forgotten that "most of them worked for left-wing or center-left newspapers" and even demonstrated against customs that they disliked and that they had seen on the Republican side, such as bullfighting.

Of the remaining twenty, some 13 were only in the Francoist zone and came to identify with their cause, and another small group moved between the two. This was the case of Eleanor Packard, from the United Press, who came to interview in Bilbao to General Molaarchitect of the military uprising of 1936. The Frenchwoman Clara Candiani inquired "into critical aspects of the republicans", but after entering the Francoist zone she even wrote about it: "The Christian State that claims to be the rebellious Spain, falsifies with tragic cynicism criminal the reality of republican Spain, and those who have been faithful to the law are presented, without exception, as monsters with sadistic instincts".

Among those clearly related to Francoism was also The Irish Independence correspondent Gertrude Gaffney, who came to describe the dictatorship that would come later as "necessary". The Swedish Anna Elgström was one of the few to interview Carmen Polo and the American Virginia Cowles moved to Salamanca in 1937, where she interviewed Franco and later stated: "Insulting the enemy, even by the responsible officers, It was so extreme that it seemed like a mental illness." Relevant was also the role of Dora Lennard, a Reuters correspondent, who became the dictator's English teacher.

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