Herbert L. Matthews:
An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Center
Herbert Matthews worked as a journalist for the New York Times for 45 years. Starting as a secretary in the business office, Matthews rose to hold a position on the Times' editorial board from 1949-1967. As a correspondent, he is most noted for his reporting from Spain during the Spanish Civil War and, much later, his editorials on Latin America. His 1957 interview with Fidel Castro was a journalistic coup, and Matthews' articles about Castro did much to shape American opinion about him.
Born in New York City on 10 January 1900, Matthews was raised and educated in that city until the age of 18. Matthews enlisted in the army to fight in the First World War, but arrived in France after hostilities had ceased. Returning to the United States at the conclusion of his tour of duty, Matthews entered Columbia University where he studied Romance languages and medieval history. Matthews intended to pursue a career in book publishing upon graduation in 1922. To that end, he responded to an advertisement for a publisher's secretary, only to find that the publisher was the New York Times.
Matthews worked in the business office of the Times for three years, and at the same time pursued a graduate degree in Romance languages at Columbia. In 1925, Matthews was awarded a Bayard Cutting Taylor Fellowship for one year's study in Europe. On leave from the Times, Matthews spent eight months of his fellowship year in Italy studying Dante at the University of Rome and the remaining four months in Paris attending lectures at the Sorbonne.
Matthews returned to New York and the Times in 1926, and was assigned to the news department as secretary to the acting managing editor, Frederick T. Birchall. From that post, Matthews went on to hold other positions in the news department: reporter with the city desk, rewrite man and ultimately night copy editor--first at the city desk and later at the cable desk. As a copy editor, Matthews worked side by side with the same individuals who would later edit his copy from Spain: Raymond McCaw, Clarence Howell, and Neil McNeil, among others.
Matthews cut his teeth as a war correspondent from 1935-36 while covering the Abyssinian (Ethiopian) war. The Times sent Matthews to cover the Italian side of the hostilities owing to his fluency in the language and his knowledge of Italian culture. The fact that Matthews' reportage often conflicted with that of the British and Ethiopian press led him to be labeled a Fascist.
By September of 1936, Matthews had requested a position as correspondent from Spain where hostilities had already begun. Matthews' reporting from the Loyalist side of the conflict put him in opposition to Franco's Nationalists, who were militarily supported by the Italians. The irony of such a reversal was not lost on Matthews, his editors, or his readers. Matthews was friend and colleague to Ernest Hemingway during the war, and the latter author occasionally sent dispatches to the Times.
Matthews served as Rome correspondent from 1939 to 1945, with a brief interlude in India from July 1942 to July 1943. At the conclusion of World War II, Matthews headed the London bureau of the Times until he joined the Editorial Board in 1949. Matthews penned virtually all of the Times editorials on Latin America from 1949 until his retirement in 1967. Matthews died in Adelaide, Australia, on 30 July 1977.
Matthews' publications include Eyewitness in Abyssinia (Secker, 1937), Two Wars and More to Come (Carrick, 1938), The Fruits of Fascism (Harcourt, 1943), and Fidel Castro (Simon & Schuster, 1969). For additional information on Matthews, the reader should consult Matthews' own Education of a Correspondent (Harcourt, 1946), and A World in Revolution: A Newspaperman's Memoir (Scribner, 1972).
Cables, correspondence, memoranda, clippings, periodical articles, financial records, and assorted printed materials document Matthew's career with the New York Times. These files principally come from the Times' Managing Editor's office and relate primarily to Matthews' coverage of the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and later career as head of the Times' London bureau from 1929-1949. The collection is arranged in two series, Series I. Correspondence, 1929-1949 (2 boxes), and Series II. Dispatches, clippings and assorted printed material, 1937-1945 (.5 box).
Series I includes correspondence, primarily cables printed on newsprint, but also typescript and holograph letters. The materials are arranged chronologically, with incoming and outgoing correspondence inter-filed; they arrived arranged in roughly this manner from the collector, and it is believed that they were maintained in this fashion by the New York Times. The bulk of the collection, this series primarily comprises communications between Herbert Matthews and Edwin James, the Times managing editor during this period. In addition, there are items pertaining to Matthews that were sent to James from other sources, such as inter-office communications and "letters to the editor." Of particular interest are correspondence surrounding Matthews' controversial coverage of the battles at both Guadalajara (March 1937) and Teruel (December 1937), as well as two dispatches sent by Ernest Hemingway. The collection also includes correspondence from Arthur Hays Sulzberger, the Times' publisher, and from Raymond McCaw, the Times' editor for Matthews' coverage of Guadalajara and Teruel.
The second series includes dispatches from Matthews related to Teruel (December 1937-January 1938), as well as clippings and assorted printed materials generated by Matthews, or much later by the collector, Dudley Althaus, presumably while preparing his Masters thesis.
Photocopies in this collection of originals held by the Columbia University Department of Special Collections may not be reproduced without permission.
Open for research. Photocopies of originals belonging to Columbia University may not be copied without permission. Part or all of this collection is housed off-site and may require up to three business days notice for access in the Ransom Center's Reading and Viewing Room. Please contact the Center before requesting this material: email@example.com
Gift, 1984 (G1939)
The papers in this collection were donated by Dudley Althaus, and were used to prepare a Masters thesis titled A Correspondent's Commitment: Herbert L. Matthews' Coverage of the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939. He acquired the papers from the New York Times' Managing Editors' file in 1983, after the originals were microfilmed for their archive.
Ken Ward, 1999; updated by Kelsey Handler, 2012
Herbert L. Matthews Collection--Folder List
Bar Code List