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Herbert Lionel Matthews papers, 1909-2002 bulk 1937-1976 

Matthews, Herbert Lionel, 1900-,.
Phys. Desc: 
18 linear feet (18 linear feet 36 document boxes 1 flat box 7 custom boxes)
Call Number: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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Biographical Note

New York City native Herbert Lionel Matthews (1900-1977), sickly as a child and scholarly as a youth, seems an unlikely candidate for a war correspondent, but he spent his entire career covering some of the most troubled regions in the world, and some of the most dangerous events of his time, while reporting for the New York Times. Matthews served a brief stint with the United States Army Tank Corps in Europe during World War I. Following his military service, Matthews studied languages and history at Columbia University from which he graduated in 1922. In 1931 Matthews married Edith "Nancie" Crosse, a British citizen, with whom he had two children, Eric and Priscilla. During the first decades of Matthews' forty-five year career with the New York Times he reported on the Abyssinian War, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II, following these conflicts to North Africa, Spain, Italy and India. After the war, Matthews was chief of the Times' London bureau from 1945 until 1949. Upon returning to New York in 1949, Matthews joined the Times' editorial staff where he remained until his retirement in 1967. Matthews retained his by-line while editor, which allowed him to cover events in Central and South America during the 1950s and 1960s. When Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista, claimed in 1956 that Fidel Casto had been killed by government troops, it was Matthews who broke the story that Fidel Castro was still alive and consolidating his revolutionary efforts in the Sierra Maestra Mountains. Matthew's interview with Castro, published in, the New York Times on February 24, 1957 helped, in part, to undermine the Batista regime and revive the struggle of Castro, making him appear as the best hope for democracy and social justice in Cuba: "[Castro] has strong ideas of liberty, democracy, social justice, the need to restore the constitution, to hold elections." Matthews subsequently received much criticism for his coverage--which many deemed partisan--of Castro. William F. Buckley, for one, lampooned Matthews and the New York Times by stating that 'Castro got his job through the New York Times'. Matthews made several trips to Cuba before his final visit in 1972, and spent the last years of his life defending his reporting of the events in Cuba leading up to and following the Cuban Revolution. On Saturday, February 17, 1997, the Cuban government unveiled a marble plaque commemorating the 40th anniversary of the meeting between Castro and Matthews. The plaque was placed on the spot where Matthews met with Castro at his hideout in the Sierra Maestra mountains of south-eastern Cuba. Anthony DePalma's The Man Who Invented Fidel: Castro, Cuba, and Herbert L. Matthews of The New York Times, which was published in 2006 by Public Affairs, illuminates both Matthews the reporter and the controversy surrounding Matthew's coverage of Castro.

Scope and Contents

The Herbert L. Matthews Papers contain the writings, correspondence, and personal papers of this American journalist, a correspondent and editorial writer for the New York Times from 1922 to 1967. Matthews' assignments spanned the world. As a journalist he covered the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 and 1936, Spain and the Spanish Civil War, Italy, India, Europe and World War II, postwar Europe, Latin America; as an editor he wrote about Vietnam, China, and Latin America. The Herbert L. Matthews Papers contain a diverse collection of documents and other materials from the life and family of journalist Herbert L. Matthews. The bulk of the papers consists of dispatches for the New York Times and assorted research materials, including notes, periodicals, and photographs. Matthews' assignments for the Times ranged from the Italian invasion of Ethiopia (then Abyssinia) in 1935 and 1936, to his coverage of Cuba and Latin America well into the 1960s, with the Spanish Civil War, World War II and post-war Europe in between. Another large portion of the collection includes manuscripts and research materials for the nearly twenty books Matthews wrote based on his experiences as a war correspondent in North Africa, Italy, and Spain in the mid- to late-1930s, his coverage of the Cuban Revolution, and his memoirs. Other elements of the collection consist of correspondence with political, intellectual, and artistic figures of the twentieth century, including Fidel Castro, Winston Churchill, Benedetto Croce, and Ernest Hemingway. Also included are ephemera collected during his career as a war correspondent, and materials generated by Matthew's wife, brother, and other family members.