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Cecil B. Lyon papers

Identifier: GTM-GAMMS147

Scope and Contents note

The Cecil B. Lyon papers comprise a rich life-time's record of a career in the American Foreign Service. Moreover, the collection is replete with letters by and about almost everyone in the field; a list of the colleagues and acquaintances of Ambassador Lyon would read like a "Who's Who" of the Foreign Service.

The material has been organized into 13 series, the first five of which consist of correspondence (alphabetical; carbons; commercial; invitations; and individuals). These eleven boxes (11 linear feet) of correspondence represent perhaps the most significant part of the collection. The overall arrangement of these series is chronological with correspondents in alphabetical order for each year, and spans the entire Foreign Service career of Amassador. Lyon. Content is primarily unclassified official, social and personal. The Individuals series is of special interest for the correspondence by notable officials and political figures.

The next four series consist of subject files (posts, other professional-related material; general; and personal), totalling a little over four boxes (3 linear feet). The order of the subject files for each post held by the ambassador is also chronological, beginning with his first appointment in Havana, Cuba, in 1930.

The final series include manuscripts and copious speeches written and delivered by Ambassador Lyon; a generous collection of photographs of official functions and of family; as well as a series of news clippings and printed matter collected by the ambassador concerning some of the countries he served in and world news that interested him (five boxes, approximately 5 linear feet).


  • 1930-1971

Collection-level Access Restrictions

Most manuscripts collections at the Georgetown University Booth Family Center for Special Collections are open to researchers; however, restrictions may apply to some collections. Collections stored off site require a minimum of three days for retrieval. For use of all manuscripts collections, researchers are advised to contact the Booth Family Center for Special Collections in advance of any visit.

Researchers are solely responsible for determining the copyright status of the materials being used, establishing who the copyright owner is, locating the copyright owner, and obtaining permission for intended use.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers are solely responsible for determining the copyright status of the materials being used, establishing who the copyright owner is, locating the copyright owner, and obtaining permission for intended use.

Biographical note

Cecil Burton Lyon was born on Staten Island, New York, on November 8, 1903. He is the son of Edmund Burton Lyon and Emily Vyse. His early education was completed at St. Bernard's School, New York City; and at St. George's School, Newport, Rhode Island. He attended Harvard University from 1923 through 1927, graduating with an A.B.

Following three years with the investment banking firm of Cassatt and Company, in New York, Ambassador Lyon entered the Foreign Service, and was made an officer in December 1930. He was first assigned to Havana, Cuba, as vice consul. From 1932 to 1938 he served successively in Hong Kong as vice consul; in Tokyo as third secretary; and then in China, alternating between posts in Beijing and Tientsin, as third secretary and vice consul, respectively.

From 1938 through most of 1944, Ambassador Lyon worked primarily in the area of Latin American affairs. In June 1938, he was transferred to Santiago, Chile, as third secretary. In 1939 he served as secretary to the American delegation at the Third Pan American Highway Conference held in Santiago. In June 1940, Ambassador Lyon was promoted to second secretary, Santiago, Chile. He then served as liaison secretary at the first session of the Council of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRAA), held in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In January 1944, Ambassador Lyon returned to Washington, D.C., and served as assistant chief of the Division of West Coast Affairs at the State Department.

In October 1944, Ambassador Lyon was assigned to Cairo where he served as second and eventually, first secretary until 1946. From 1946 to 1947 he was assigned back to Washington where he was successively, special assistant to the assistant secretary for political affairs and then adviser to the U.S. delegation at the Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Continental Peace and Security, held in Rio de Janeiro, 1947.

Ambassador Lyon was posted to Warsaw, Poland, from 1948 to 1950, where he served as first secretary. After this assignment, he undertook a year of study (1950-1951) at the National War College in Washington, D.C. In June 1951, Ambassador Lyon was reassigned to Europe, this time to Germany, where he served until 1954 as director of the Berlin Element in the U.S. Office of the High Commissioner of Germany (HICOG). He returned to the State Department in March 1954 to become director of the Bureau of German Affairs. Ambassador Lyon continued work at the State Department as deputy assistant secretary for Inter-American Affairs from 1955 to 1956.

In May 1956, Ambassador Lyon was appointed U.S. ambassador to Chile, where he served until 1958. In March 1958, the ambassador began a long mission in France, until 1964, serving as minister at the U.S. embassy in Paris. He also acted as deputy chief of mission. From 1964 through 1967, he was ambassador in Colombo, Ceylon. In 1966, he was also appointed ambassador to the Maldive Islands, a post he held consecutively with that in Ceylon, until his retirement from the Foreign Service in 1968.

Ambassador Lyon was married to Elizabeth ("Elsie") Sturges Grew, and had two daughters. The Ambassador and Mrs. Lyon were married in Tokyo, Japan, on October 7, 1933. She was the daughter of the eminent U.S. statesman, Joseph C. Grew, author of the double-volume autobiography, “Turbulent Era: A Diplomatic Record of Forty Years 1904-1945,” (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1952). The latter was U.S. EEMP to Switzerland (1921-1924) and U.S. ambassador to Japan (1932-1941). According to Ambassador Grew, his wife Alice Perry, Elsie Lyon's mother, was "a direct descendant...of Oliver Hazard Perry, renowned brother of the Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry who originally opened Japan to the western world, and she [is] also a great-great-granddaughter of another fairly well-known diplomatist, Benjamin Franklin" ("Turbulent Era," vol. 1, p.9).

Ambassador Lyon died at his home in Hancock, New Hampshire, on April 6, 1993.

Sources include:

“The Lyon's Share” by Cecil B. Lyon (N.Y.: Vantage Press, 1973) - an autobiography from 1903 through the Paris years, up to 1963.

Cecil B. Lyon - Interview (Foreign Affairs Oral History Program, 1988).

Elizabeth Sturges Grew Lyon - Interview (Foreign Service Spouse Oral History, Inc., 1987).


29.25 Linear Feet (20 Hollinger boxes)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Cecil B. Lyon, 1992.

Cecil B. Lyon papers
Lisette C. Matano, Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections, Washington, D.C.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository

Lauinger Library, 5th Floor
37th and O Streets, N.W.
Washington DC 20057