Biography and History

Harrison Freeman Matthews (1899-1986) was an American diplomat and career ambassador. He entered Princeton University in 1917 and returned there in 1921, after serving in the U.S. Navy. After obtaining his BA in 1921 and an MA in history in 1922 he decided to pursue a career in the diplomatic service. He attended the Ecole des Science Politiques in Paris, France in the following year, and passed his diplomatic examinations in 1923, entering the diplomatic service in 1924. In the following year, during his first assignment as 3rd Secretary of the Legation in Budapest (1924-1926), he married Elizabeth “Frisk” Luke of Tarrytown, New York, whom he had met prior to his departure. Matthews was transferred to Bogota, Colombia, in 1926, and to the State Department in 1930, where he became Assistant Chief of the Latin American Division (1930-1933). His son Harrison Freeman Matthews Jr. (“Free”) was born in Bogota in 1929, followed by Thomas Luke (“Tim”) in 1933.

Matthews was appointed 1st Secretary of the Embassy in Havana, Cuba (1933-1937), where he joined Ambassador Jefferson Caffery, under whom he had already served in Columbia in 1928-1930. He was transferred to Paris, France as First Secretary in 1937. After a brief interlude in Spain in 1939, where he served as the first US representative to the Franco government after the Civil War, he stayed in Paris until June 10, 1940, when Italy declared war on France, a week after the capital had been bombarded by Germany. After the resignation of the Reynaud government and the signing of the armistice with Germany and Italy, Matthews spent the following two years in Vichy, where the French regime under Marshal Pétain was based. Matthews' wife and children had stayed in the United States since 1939, but Frisk Matthews visited her husband in Vichy between late November 1940 and May, 1941. After Pearl Harbor Matthews was transferred to London as counselor and minister under Ambassador John Winant (1941). Because of his knowledge of France, he was designated as political advisor to General Eisenhower in the summer of 1942, and was with him during the landings in Gibraltar in November 1942. In the autumn of 1943 Matthews reunited with his family in Washington, where he served for the next four years, first as Chief, then Director of the Office of European Affairs. During this time he attended the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences (1945), the Paris Peace Treaty negotiations (1946) and the Moscow Conference with General George Marshall (1947).

Matthews served as Ambassador to Sweden from 1947 to 1950. Two days before the Korean War broke out, he was appointed Deputy Under Secretary of State, serving under Dean Acheson (1950-1953). In 1955, during his subsequent appointment as ambassador to the Netherlands (1953-1957), his wife Frisk died of a brain tumor. In 1957, Matthews remarried Mrs. Helen Skouland, a secretary he had worked with during the war. He spent his last years of diplomatic service with her as ambassador in Vienna from 1957 until 1962, when he retired and returned to Washington. He served as a member of the Board of National Estimates at the CIA from 1963 to 1969 and as the American Chairman of the American-Canadian Permanent Joint Board on Defense from 1963 to 1969. A widower again in 1966, he married Mrs. Elizabeth Bluntschli in 1967, the widow of an old friend. Matthews died at 87 in 1986.

Source: From the finding aid for MC243