Rare Book & Manuscript Library

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

Summary Information


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.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#0856
Bib ID 4079089 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Matthews, Herbert Lionel, 1900-
Title Herbert Lionel Matthews papers, 1909-2002, bulk 1937-1976
Physical Description 18 linear feet (36 document boxes 1 flat box 7 custom boxes)
Language(s) English , Spanish; Castilian .
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

This collection has no restrictions.



This collection is arranged in six series.



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.

  • Series I: Correspondence, 1938-1973

    This series contains correspondence, between Matthews and numerous political, intellectual, and artistic figures of the twentieth-century world, that documents Matthews' journalism and the relationships he forged with many of these individuals through his work. The bulk of the correspondence, which also includes interview transcripts and notes, is related to Matthews' reporting and editorials on Latin America, and particularly Cuba, for the New York Times in the 1950s and 1960s. This includes most notably Matthews' notes from his famous interview with Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra in 1957, an interview with Fulgencio Batista, and correspondence with Ernest Hemingway. Other correspondence related to Matthews' coverage of Latin America includes communications with various Latin American presidents, such as Romulo Betancourt of Venezuela, Francois Duvalier of Haiti, and Juscelino Kubitschek of Brazil.

    The majority of correspondence in this series is arranged alphabetically by author, but several folders are arranged chronologically by year. These folders contain numerous letters to Matthews regarding Cuba, and his reporting and writings on Cuba and Latin America. Included here are letters from Ruby Hart Phillips, a Times correspondent in Cuba. The last folder in this series contains photocopies of correspondence with notable individuals, including Eleanor Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Anthony Eden, and Nelson Rockefeller.

  • Series II: Cuba, 1948-1978

    This large series consists of material related to the Cuban Revolution and its aftermath, both in Cuba and the United States. These documents chart Matthews' life after his reports on the Revolution, particularly his celebrated 1957 New York Times article announcing the survival and progress of Fidel Castro and his guerrillas whom the dictatorship claimed had been defeated. This part of the Matthews Papers represents a considerable collection of material from Cuban revolutionaries and the revolutionary government, including statements and publications. The American reaction to the Cuban Revolution is present here in responses to Matthews' writing for the New York Times. This series also contains manuscripts and notes for Matthews' several books on the Cuban revolution.

    The correspondence in the series, much of which is related to the Cuban Revolution and Matthews' journalism on this subject, includes letters from Matthews and his wife, Nancie Matthews, regarding developments in Cuba in 1959; letters between Matthews and historian Theodore Draper, some of which were reprinted in Draper's book, Castro's Revolution: Myths and Realities (1962); letters from Ernest and Martha Hemingway; communications from the New York Times; and congratulatory and critical letters from Matthews' readers. Also here are personal items, including travel documents, and a number of photographs of Fidel Castro and Matthews in Cuba in the 1950s and 1960s, some of which were published.

    The largest part of the Cuba series holds assorted research materials collected and used by Matthews for his reporting and his manuscripts. These include an atlas published by the Cuban revolutionary government, books, clippings from a variety of periodicals in the United States, Cuba, and Latin America, including clippings regarding Matthews himself. Publications and statements issued between 1955 and 1968 by the United States and Cuban governments and their agencies, the July 26 Movement and other rebel groups, and other individuals and groups. This part of the series provides a wealth of historical documents regarding Cuba, relations between Cuba and the United States, and the response in American society to the Cuban Revolution and Matthews' reporting in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

    Matthews' various writings on Cuba and the revolution make up the final portion of this series, and include articles written for periodicals, addresses, and manuscripts, notes, and reviews for Matthews' books: The Cuban Story (1961), Fidel Castro (1969), and Revolution in Cuba (1975). Also contained here are materials, written about Matthews by the United States and Cuban press, which indicate the diversity and severity of reactions to Matthews' coverage of the Cuban Revolution. Included are notes from conversations with the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding an alleged plot to assassinate Matthews.

  • Series III: Matthews Family, 1918-2000s

    This series contains Herbert L. Matthews' correspondence with his family and the personal papers of several relatives. Matthews' correspondence to his brother John L. Matthews constitutes the bulk of the correspondence and conveys Herbert Matthews' perspectives and opinions on many American and world events from the mid-1940s to his retirement after 1967 and into the 1970s. John L. Matthews' papers on World War I, his writings, and family photographs provide information about the life of Herbert Matthews' brother.

    Also notable is Nancie Matthews' journal of life with her husband and their children in fascist Italy between 1940 and their expulsion in 1942. This is a rich source of information regarding the life of American journalists and their families in Europe in these first years of World War II. Other folders in this series contain material about Herbert's oldest brother, Hilliard H. Matthews, and his service in World War I, and the service and death of Robert Alan Matthews, Herbert's nephew, in World War II.

  • Series IV: New York Times, 1935-1960s

    This series documents more than three decades of correspondence and editorial writing by Matthews for the New York Times, his employer from 1922 to 1967. The series is arranged chronologically by assignment to a particular nation or region, beginning with the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 and 1936, then Spain and the Spanish Civil War, Italy, India, Europe and World War II, postwar Europe, Latin America, and ending with Matthews' editorials on Vietnam, China, and Latin America. Generally these folders include notes, ephemera, periodicals and other printed material used for research, and Matthews' original dispatches to the New York Times, not all of which were published.

    Material on the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) includes a collection of official maps issued and used by the Italian military, Matthews' personal bag, and a press armband issued by the Italian government. Material on the Spanish Civil War contains numerous photographs and publications issued by the Abraham Lincoln Brigades, and critics and sympathizers of the Republicans. Materials related to Matthews' subsequent reporting in Italy from 1939 to 1942, and in Italy during and after the Allied invasion in 1943, include Matthews' interviews with philosopher Benedetto Croce and newspapers published by partisans and other anti-fascist forces. In reporting about World War II in Europe, Matthews noted the widespread destruction of art and the Allies' attempts to mitigate the damaging of Europe's cultural legacy; a folder retains his notes and writings on this subject. Notes from the 1960s record the content of conversations between Matthews and John F. Kennedy and officials in his administration, as well as conversations with Johnson administration officials, regarding U.S foreign policy, particularly towards Latin America and Cuba. Finally, this series contains scrapbooks of Times' editorials authored by Matthews between 1949 and 1967; created and donated by the New York Times.

  • Series V: Personal, 1909-1970s

    This brief series contains a disparate array of documents, papers and photographs about Matthews' life within and beyond his career as a journalist. This section includes materials related to Matthews' life-long interest in Italian history, culture, and thought, begun while a student at Columbia University, such as files on Columbia professor Dino Bigongiari and Matthews' support for the university's Casa Italiana in the 1960s. This section also holds various personal documents such as passports and journalist identification cards from Matthews' entire career as a journalist. Photographs, including photographs of Matthews in World War I, and a folder of material regarding the work of Spanish artist Luis Quintanilla, who served the Republican government in the Spanish Civil War, also are included here.

  • Series VI: Writings, 1930s-1972

    This large series records the multitude of books, articles, and addresses written by Herbert L. Matthews, and some material written about Matthews, not otherwise found in previous sections of the Matthews papers. Included are manuscripts, and often correspondence and notes for, and reviews of, his books: Two War and More to Come (1938), Fruits of Fascism (1943), Education of a Correspondent (1946), Assignment to Austerity (1950), The Yoke and the Arrows (1957), A World in Revolution (1971), and Half of Spain Died (1973). Also notable here is an unpublished manuscript written by Matthews in the 1970s, "Valediction"; and the transcript of an episode of the television show, "The Big Story," recounting Matthews' celebrated reports of March, 1955, concerning student politics under the Peronist dictatorship in Argentina.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

This collection has no restrictions.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Herbert L. Matthews papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Related Materials

The Man Who Invented Fidel: Castro, Cuba, and Herbert L. Matthews of The New York Times by Anthony DePalma. Public Affairs: 2006.


Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Alternate Form Available

Translations available for interview and part of Spanish language material.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source of acquisition--Matthews, Herbert L. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--1962. Accession number--M-62.

Papers: Source of acquisition--Journalism Library. Method of acquisition--Transfer; Date of acquisition--1977. Accession number--M-1977.

Papers: Source of acquisition--Matthews, John L. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--03/25/91. Accession number--M-91-03-25.

Papers: Source of acquisition--Matthews, John L. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--02/25/92. Accession number--M-92-02-25.

Gift of Herbert L. Matthews, 1962, 1968, 1974, 1976, 1977.

Gift of Herbert L. Matthews, 1962.

Transferred from the Journalism Library, 1977.

Gift of John L. Matthews, 1991 & 1992.

Gift of John L. Matthews, Jr., 2002 & 2007.

Gifts of Jim Michaels, Priscilla Mills, Leslie Matthews, and Eric Matthews, 2007.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Cataloged Christina Hilton Fenn 08/--/89.

Papers processed BRC 1977.

Papers processed HR 12/26/91.

Papers processed HR 03/09/93.

Papers processed by Justin Jackson (GSAS 2012) 2009.

Finding aid written by Justin Jackson in May 2009.

Biographical note written by Mary Boone Bowling in 1975.

Revision Description

2009-09-24 File created.

2009-10-06 xml document instance created by Carrie Hintz

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Articles Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Autobiographies (literary works) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Book reviews Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Dispatches Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Galley proofs Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Interviews Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Manuscripts for publication Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Maps (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Medals Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Memorabilia Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Memorandums Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Military passes Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Notes (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Passports Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Photographic prints Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Photographs Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Press releases Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Proofs (printed matter) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Radio scripts Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Releases Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Scripts (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Transcripts Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Acheson, Dean, 1893-1971 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Authors Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Baker, Carlos, 1909-1987 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Batista y Zaldívar, Fulgencio, 1901-1973 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Betancourt, Rómulo, 1908-1981 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Bowers, Claude G (Claude Gernade), 1879-1958 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Castro, Fidel, 1926-2016 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Croce, Benedetto, 1866-1952 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Cuba -- Description and travel Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Cuba -- History -- Revolution, 1959 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Cuba -- Politics and government Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Duvalier, François, 1907-1971 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Eaton, Cyrus Stephen, 1883-1979 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Foreign correspondents Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Frankel, Max, 1914- Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Guevara, Che, 1928-1967 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Heads of state Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Hemingway, Ernest, 1899-1961 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
India -- History -- 20th century Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Journalists Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Kubitschek, Juscelino, 1902-1976 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Lippmann, Walter, 1889-1974 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
MacLeish, Archibald, 1892-1982 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Matthews, Herbert Lionel, 1900- Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Muñoz Marín, Luis, 1898-1980 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Politicians Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Quintanilla, Luis, 1900-1980 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Reston, James, 1909-1995 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Revolutionaries Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Scrapbooks Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Spain -- History -- Civil War, 1936-1939 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Spain -- History -- Civil War, 1936-1939 -- Journalists Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Spain -- History -- Civil War, 1936-1939 -- Personal narratives Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Spain -- History -- Civil War, 1936-1939 -- Press coverage Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Statesmen Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Sulzberger, Arthur Hays, 1891-1968 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Thomas, Norman, 1884-1968 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Translations Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
World War, 1939-1945 -- Italy Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

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.