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Collection Overview

Matthews, H. Freeman, 1899-1986
H. Freeman Matthews Sr. Papers
Public Policy Papers
Permanent URL:
1773-1986 (mostly 1923-1972)
9 boxes
Storage Note:
Mudd Manuscript Library (mudd): Box 1-9


Harrison Freeman Matthews Sr. (1899-1986) was a U.S. diplomat and career ambassador. This collection consists of correspondence, a draft of his memoirs, photographs, clippings, films and miscellaneous papers. It includes correspondence with Elizabeth Luke Matthews and a diary she kept during a visit to her husband in Vichy, France in 1940-42.

Collection Description & Creator Information


The H. Freeman Matthews Sr. Papers contain correspondence, photographs, miscellaneous papers and family films, as well as a draft of the memoirs that Matthews wrote after his retirement and published privately under the title "Memoirs of a Passing Era" (circa 1972). The majority of the papers were kept for personal reasons, including the correspondence between Matthews and his first wife Elizabeth "Frisk" Matthews (1900-1955) and his sons Freeman ("Free") and Thomas ("Tim") Matthews.

When Matthews was approached by Boston University Libraries in 1964 he declined to deposit his papers, writing that they would only be of interest to his family but not to historians or research students. "I kept no diary or journal during my forty years in the Foreign Service, and all my reports whether in the form of official dispatches, memoranda, telegrams or personal letters to individuals officials (sic) on subjects of possible "national" interest or bearing are in the archives of the Department of State and in very rare cases have I retained any copies." (Matthews to Richard Gotlieb, Boston University Libraries, 10 December 1964)

When writing his memoirs, however, Matthews was aware of their historical value. He used his correspondence with his wife, sons, his father-in-law Thomas Luke, friends, and superiors for reference in his memoirs. In addition, the correspondence series includes exchanges with researchers and students who sought Matthew's help and recollections for research about World War II, as well as the Cold War.

Collection Creator Biography:

Matthews, H. Freeman, 1899-1986

Harrison Freeman Matthews Sr. (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.

Collection History


Gift of Nancy Matthews in 2010 [ML.2010.010] and in 2015 [ML.2015.018].

Custodial History

As indicated by correspondence with the donor in the process of acquiring this collection, some correspondence of a sensitive or personal nature were removed from the collection by the donor before the materials came to Princeton.


No material was separated during accessioning in 2011. During accessioning of the materials donated in 2015, an earlier draft of the Vichy diary kept by Elizabeth Luke "Frisk" Matthews in Series 3 was returned to the donor.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Helene van Rossum on August 17, 2011. A MARC record and finding aid were created at this time. Materials in the 2015 Accession were added by Rachel Van Unen in June 2015.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. For quotations that are fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For those few instances beyond fair use, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold the copyright and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from the Mudd Library to move forward with their use.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

The collection contains three 16mm film reels. Access to these materials follows the Mudd Manuscript Library policy for preservation and access to audiovisual materials.

Credit this material:

H. Freeman Matthews Sr. Papers; Public Policy Papers, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
65 Olden Street
Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
(609) 258-6345
Storage Note:
Mudd Manuscript Library (mudd): Box 1-9

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Related Materials

An oral history with H. Freeman Matthews is available online from the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library.

Subject Terms:
Genre Terms:
Matthews, Elizabeth Luke
Matthews, H. Freeman, 1899-1986