Childhood & Early Life
She was born on July 22, 1895, in Parkersburg, Iowa to a wealthy Catholic family of real estate agent Paul Pfeiffer and his wife Mary Downey Pfeiffer. Jinny Pfeiffer was her younger sister.
Pfeiffer spent her early years in north central Iowa and in 1901 at six years of age she relocated to St. Louis with her family. There she attended Visitation Academy of St. Louis and completed her high school graduation from there in June 1913.
Later her family shifted to Piggott, Arkansas while Pfeiffer stayed in Missouri and attended the University of Missouri School of Journalism from where she obtained a degree in 1918.
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Career & Encounter with Ernest Hemingway
Initially Pfeiffer worked in Ohio on the night desk at the Cleveland Press and then moved to New York to work with the Daily Telegraph. After a stint there, she turned her focus on up-scale magazines and worked with popular culture, fashion, and current affairs magazine ‘Vanity Fair’ and fashion and lifestyle magazine ‘Vogue’.
Her proficiency in writing and copy editing complimented with her perceptiveness in fashion soon landed her with an offer to join the Paris bureau of Vogue. She went to Paris in February 1925 accompanied with sister Jinny.
The following year she got introduced to Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson. Hemingway was then a rising writer who moved to Paris a few years back with Hadley to work as foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star.
Affair, Marriage & Life with Ernest Hemingway
In January 1926 she joined Hemingway and Hadley in Schruns, Austria where the couple were spending their winter. Pfeiffer pressed Hemingway to sign contract with American publisher ‘Charles Scribner's Sons’, although against the advice of Hadley. Accordingly Hemingway left for New York to meet the Scribner's.
While returning to Schruns from New York, Hemingway made a stopover in Paris where he initiated a romantic relationship with Pfeiffer. Gradually Hemingway’s marriage started experiencing rough patches and in spring 1926, Hadley came to know about her husband’s romance with Pfeiffer.
Pfeiffer accompanied the couple during their annual trip to Pamplona in July 1926. While returning to Paris Hadley expressed her decision for separation and formally requested a divorce in November that year. The couple finally got their divorce in January 1927.
On May 10, 1927 Pfeiffer married Hemingway prior to which the latter converted to Catholicism. They had their honeymoon in Le Grau-du-Roi. She became pregnant by the year end and wanted to return to America. As suggested by John Dos Passos, the couple left Paris for Key West in March 1928.
On June 28, 1928, she gave birth to a boy, in Kansas City, Missouri, who was named Patrick. The difficult delivery she experienced during that time was fictionalized by Hemingway in his 1929 novel ‘A Farewell to Arms’.
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Gregory, her second son with Hemingway, was born on November 12, 1931, in Kansas City. Her Uncle Gus purchased a Key West house that year for $8,000 cash as the couple’s wedding gift. Officially known as the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, the house was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark on November 24, 1968.
The couple went on an East African safari in 1933 that lasted for 10 weeks. Places covered by them included Mombasa, Machakos and Nairobi among others.
The Spanish Civil War that lasted from 1936 to 1939 saw Hemingway supporting the Republicans while Pfeiffer with devout Roman Catholic views backed the Nationalists.
Hemingway went to Spain in March 1937 to cover news on the Spanish Civil War on behalf of the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA). There he began an affair with American journalist, novelist and travel writer Martha Gellhorn. Such affair gradually led the marriage of Pfeiffer and Hemingway on the rocks which finally culminated to divorce on November 4, 1940 following which the latter married Gellhorn.
During her marriage with Hemingway, the latter spawned several notable literary works including novels ‘A Farewell to Arms’ (1929) and ‘To Have and Have Not’ (1937); non-fictions ‘Death in the Afternoon’(1932) and ‘Green Hills of Africa’ (1935); and story collections ‘Winner Take Nothing’ (1933) and ‘The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories’ (1938).
Life After Divorce & Death
Following her divorce with Hemingway, she remained in Key West for life and visited California frequently. She ran a designer fabric, upholstery and gift business called the Carolina Shop.
On October 1, 1951, she died after suffering an acute shock. This was considered to have generated from her son Gregory’s arrest due to drug possession and subsequent call of Hemingway to her from Havana spurting a heated argument while she was visiting her sister. Although she was rushed to Hollywood hospital, she died on the operation table.
She was buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, in Los Angeles County, California, US.
Gregory became terribly upset when Hemingway accused him of Pfeiffer’s death.
Later when Gregory became a medical doctor, he elucidated that Pfeiffer had a rare pheochromocytoma tumor on one of her adrenal glands. According to him, Hemingway’s phone call caused surge of adrenaline from her tumor and stopped thereafter thus leading to blood pressure change resulting in an acute shock which turned fatal.