Hemingway and St. Louis: For Whom The Wedding Bell Tolls

By Harry Sneed III

As a lifelong native of St. Louis and fan of Ernest Hemingway, I’ve come to know both city and literary citadel rather well. For more than fifty-five years I’ve traveled through the streets and towns of this gateway on the river. Like moveable feasts, I’ve seen iconic restaurants come and go. I’ve witnessed neighborhoods thrive and others get swallowed up in crime and blight. It has become both my friend and foe. My retreat and retreated. My home town. And just as I’ve physically traversed around this city, I’ve mentally and emotionally followed the words and lines of Hemingway’s works. I have come to love and hate his characters. I’ve experienced his adventures. Witnessed his strengths and shortcoming. Studied his style. I’ve even visited his city and house in Key West. FL. He’s become my literary friend. My literary foe whose triumphs and tragedies are enough to fill Busch stadium.

But what I missed somewhere between reading the Sun Also Rises while eating my Moons Over My Hammy at the local Denny’s during my college days, were Hemingway’s ties to St. Louis. He had three of them. Each were female and came from wealthy families. Two were journalists. All three shared his bed and last name. And in one case, his financial writing royalties.

Yes, amazingly three of Ernest Hemingway’s four wives were St. Louisians.

Wedding of Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway, Horton’s Bay, Michigan Sept. 3, 1921

His first wife, “Hadley”, was born Elizabeth Hadley Richardson on November 9, 1891, in St. Louis. Like Hemingway himself, Hadley also had her own tragedies. As a child, she fell from a two story window and spent a year recovering in bed. At twelve, her father killed himself despondent over the family’s finances. And if that wasn’t enough to scar a frail and shy adolescent just starting college, her sister died from injuries sustained in a house fire. Hadley attended Mary Institute. Which is the predecessor and the “MI” of the current  “MICDS” or Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School, located on Warson Rd. in Ladue. Hadley and Hemingway met in Chicago in 1920 while Ernest was working as an associate editor. Hadley was visiting, Katie Smith, her college roommate. Smith’s brother was Hemingway’s roommate. Even though Hadley was eight years older than Hemingway, he was smitten by her looks and childish charm and claimed “I knew she was the girl I was going to marry.” Nine months later, they were married. Shortly thereafter, Ernest was hired as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star. The Hemingway’s packed up and moved to Paris. It was in Paris where Hemingway would give birth to his famous and prolific writing career. Hadley would also gain her own infamy as the wife that lost a suitcase full of Hemingway’s original works while waiting for a train.

Hadley skiing, Schruns, Austria. Winter 1926

In the spring of 1923 Hadley became pregnant, thus motivating the young Hemingways to move  back to Toronto where she gave birth to their first son, John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway. She nicknamed him “Bumby”. Bored with his journalistic life in Toronto, the official new “Papa” moved his family back to the glamourous Lost Generation life of Paris. Over the course of the next several years, their marriage became torn and tumultuous. The end finally came in the fall of 1926 when Hadley discovered Hemingway was having an affair with their mutual friend and fellow journalist. By January 1927 they were divorced. Part of the divorce settlement stated that Hadley would get the royalties of The Sun Also Rises.

The mutual friend and fellow journalist was another St. Louis native named Pauline Pfeiffer. Born in Iowa on July 22, 1895, her family moved to St. Louis in 1901. She was raised in a wealthy Catholic family and sent to one of the best private, all-girls school in town at the time: Visitation Academy of St. Louis. She went on to get her degree at the University of Missouri of Journalism in 1918. After several newspaper gigs, she switched to magazines were she eventual landed a position writing for Vogue in Paris. It was there in 1926 that Pauline met Hemingway and Hadley. They became fast friends. Pauline even went on vacation with them to Pamplona, Spain during the San Fermin Festival. The festival’s dangerous running of the bulls was brought to worldwide recognition in The Sun Also Rises.

One has to wonder if Hadley and Pauline often talked about their home town of St. Louis. Did they share stories of the 1904 World’s Fair during lunches in Parisian cafes? Or share the joy of sipping a malt from Crown Candy (1913) on the train to Pamplona. Perhaps Hadley studied at the relatively new St. Louis Library (1912). While Pauline attended Christmas eve services at the glorious Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (1914).

Whatever their conversations about St. Louis, you can bet their animosity didn’t start when Hadley, upon finding out that Pauline was from St. Louis, immediately asked “What high school did you go to?” And her reply was, “Visitation”. Which put her at odds with a Mary Institute grad. No, the real reason why these two St. Louisian’s friendship spilt was because “Papa” Hemingway had own question he asked to both of them: “Do you want have a threesome?”

Portrait of Ernest Hemingway and Pauline Pfeiffer, Paris. 1927

When and how Pauline and Ernest’s affair started is sketchy at best, but as mentioned above, it was the catalyst to Hadley divorcing him. Less than five months later, Pauline and Ernest were married. But not before he converted to Catholicism. Pauline became pregnant before the end of the year and they move back to Kansas City, Mo where both their sons, Patrick (June 24, 1928) and Greg (Nov. 12 1931) were born. It was during Patrick’s birth that Pauline’s C-section labor became life-threatening. The experience became the basis for Catherine Barkley’s death during childbirth in “A Farewell to Arms”. Hemingway became a Spanish Civil War correspondent tossing his support to the Republicans while Pauline’s Catholicism led her to support the Nationalists. Her strict Catholicism also prevented the use of birth control. This, along with her doctor’s recommendation not to have any more children, cause a sexual strain in their marriage. Not that Papa needed an excuse for his habitual extra-marital liaisons. However, during their thirteen years of matrimony, Pauline was a loyal wife, a less than average mother and in Hemingway’s own words, “The best editor I ever had”.  It was during their marriage that his writing and fame flourished with the publishing of  “A Farewell to Arms” (1929), “Death in the Afternoon” (1932), “Green Hills Of Africa” (1935).

Pauline and Hemingway laughing next to their pool in Key West, FL circa 1939-40

Most Hemingway fans will be shocked to learn that it was also during this time that Hemingway and his family moved into their spacious retreat in Key West, FL. But it’s wasn’t Papa’s literary riches that purchased the place that would one day become the historic landmark visited by thousands of fans each year. It was a gift to the couple from Pauline’s rich uncle, Gus Pfeiffer.


It was in Key West during December of 1936 that karma finally caught up with Pauline. It was there Hemingway met another young, pretty journalist who was visiting on Christmas vacation. It was Pauline’s turn to play the role of protagonist to Hemingway’s new adulteress antagonist. And for the next several years, she suffered in the part.

Martha Gellhorn and Hemingway in Sun Valley, Idaho. 1940

Enter the next St. Louisian to marry Hemingway. Martha Gellhorn. Born in St. Louis on Nov. 8 1908. Martha graduated from the prestigious prep school, John Burroughs School. Located in Ladue exactly 2.6 miles away from Hemingway first wife’s high school, MICDS. Like Hadley Richardson, Martha Gellhorn also attended the women’s liberal arts college in Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania. She dropped out to pursue a career in journalism. Her travels took her to Paris where she became a Pacifist and authored her first book about her experiences in What Mad Pursuit (1934). She returned back to the United States and worked for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) documenting the daily lives of the poor and poverty stricken. She gathered these stories in a book titled: The Trouble I’ve Seen (1934). Unlike Papa’s first two wives who leaned to the side of maternal pampering, Martha was strong-willed, career driven and independent. She would later make reporters swear they would not mention Hemingway’s name during interviews. “I’ve been a writer for over 40 years. I was a writer before I met him and I was a writer after I left him. Why should I be merely a footnote in his life?” she once said. But that was later in life, before Hemingway and her agreed to travel to Spain together to report on the Spanish Civil War in 1937. For the next several years, while still married to Pauline, Martha and Hemingway lived together on and off. After years of trying to keep their shattered marriage together, Pauline finally agreed to a divorce. And, in keeping with his possible insecure loneliness, Papa married Martha two weeks later on Nov. 21. That same year he dedicated his Spanish Civil War novel, For Whom the Bells Toll to her.

Gellhorn and Hemingway hunting in Idaho 1941

Always the reporter, when WWII broke out Martha wanted to be where the action was. So she hid in a civilian hospital ship’s bathroom and pretended to be a stretcher carrier. It earned her the alleged honor of being the only woman to land at Normandy on D-Day on June 6, 1944. When the US troops liberated the Dachau concentration camp in April of 1945, Martha was there too. Soon Papa got tired of his wife’s constant trips and assignments away from home. He became resentful and bullying. The last pencil that broke her reporter’s back came when Hemingway tried to block her from going to Europe to report on the war. His fame allowed him to work as a war correspondent for any magazine. He chose Collier’s. The same magazine that Martha had been with since 1937. The US Press Corp had the rule that only one reporter could represent a magazine on the frontlines. Thus, he stole Martha’s job. His plot to keep Martha away from the frontlines failed. She made the passage anyway on a war ship filled with explosives. True to her style. When she arrived in London, she had had enough. It was then, she earned one more distinction; the first of Hemingway’s wives to leave him. They divorced on Dec. 21, 1945. Martha would go on to write five novels, fourteen novellas, and two short story collections. In 1958 she received the O. Henry first prize award. In 2008 she was honored on a US postage stamp. In 2012 Philip Kaufman’s made the film Hemingway and Gellhorn. based on the couples years together.

Hemingway would go on to marry one more time. Another journalist even named Mary Welsh. And in the same Hemingway-ish style, he asked her to marry him the third time they met. They were also both married at the time. But by now he had learned his lesson to stay away from St. Louis girls. Mary was from Minnesota. Years later, while talking to Pauline, Hemingway is quoted as saying, “If one is perpetually doomed to marry people from St. Louis, it’s best to marry them from the best families”

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Ernest Hemingway

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