Herbert Pell

Herbert Pell
Herbert C. Pell.jpg
United States Ambassador to Hungary
In office
February 11, 1941 – November 30, 1942
PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded byJohn Flournoy Montgomery
Succeeded byNone
United States Ambassador to Portugal
In office
May 27, 1937 – February 11, 1941
PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded byRobert Granville Caldwell
Succeeded byBert Fish
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 17th district
In office
March 4, 1919 – March 3, 1921
Preceded byJohn F. Carew
Succeeded byOgden L. Mills
Personal details
Herbert Claiborne Pell, Jr.

(1884-02-16)February 16, 1884
Brooklyn, New York
DiedJuly 17, 1961(1961-07-17) (aged 77)
Munich, Germany
Political partyDemocratic
Matilda Bigelow
(m. 1915; div. 1927)

Olive Bigelow Tilton
(m. 1927; his death 1961)
ChildrenClaiborne Pell
EducationPomfret School
Alma materHarvard University
Columbia University
New York University

Herbert Claiborne Pell, Jr. (February 16, 1884 – July 17, 1961) was a United States Representative from New York, U.S. Minister to Portugal, U.S. Minister to Hungary, and an instigator and member of the United Nations War Crimes Commission.

Mr. Pell was an internationalist and progressive among a class of economic conservatives and geopolitical isolationists. He was the leading American seeking to build awareness of and prevent the Holocaust—and prosecute those responsible—as the principal U.S. sponsor and member of the United Nations War Crimes Commission. Mr. Pell had extensive first-hand experience in international affairs, having lived many years in Europe. He also served on the advisory committee of Yenching University, later merged with Peking University.

Early life[edit]

Pell was born in New York City on February 16, 1884. He was the eldest son of two children born to Katherine Lorillard (née Kernochan) Pell (1858–1917) and Herbert Claiborne Pell (1853–1926). His younger brother was Clarence Cecil Pell (1885–1964). He was a great-grandson of U.S. Representative John Francis Hamtramck Claiborne, and great-great-grandnephew of William Charles Cole Claiborne and Nathaniel Herbert Claiborne.[1] Through his mother and maternal grandparents, James Powell Kernochan and Catherine (née Lorillard) Kernochan, the daughter of Pierre Lorillard III, he inherited a share of the Lorillard Tobacco fortune.

Pell was educated at the Pomfret School, in Connecticut. He attended Harvard University, Columbia University, and New York University, but did not complete a degree.[2]


Pell's political career began as a member of the Progressive committee of Orange County, New York (1912 to 1914). He was elected as a Democrat to the Sixty-sixth Congress (March 4, 1919 – March 3, 1921) and was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1920 to the Sixty-seventh Congress.[3] He was chairman of the Democratic State committee from 1921 to 1926 and a delegate to the 1924 Democratic National Convention. Pell was an occasional lecturer at Columbia University, Harvard University, and other institutions of learning, and in 1936 was vice chairman of the Democratic National Campaign Committee.[1]

Pell was appointed from Rhode Island as Minister to Portugal, holding that office from May 27, 1937 until February 11, 1941, when he was appointed Minister to Hungary. He was serving in Budapest on December 13, 1941 when he received the Hungarian declaration of war against the United States. He closed the legation in Budapest, returned to the U.S. on January 16, 1942 and submitted his resignation on November 30, 1942. He was United States representative on the United Nations War Crimes Commission from August 1943 to January 1945.[1]

Personal life[edit]

In November 1915, he married Matilda Bigelow (1895-1972),[4] daughter of Nelson Pendleton Bigelow.[5] Before their divorce in March 1927, they were the parents of:[6]

In June 1927, Matilda married Hugo W. Koehler (1886-1941), a commander in the United States Navy who served as a naval and State Department special agent in Russia during its civil war in 1920.[8][9] Two weeks later in Paris,[10] Pell married Olive Bigelow Pell (1886-1980),[11] the portraitist.[12][13] Olive Bigelow was the daughter of Poultney Bigelow (1855-1954) and granddaughter of John Bigelow (1817–1911), the U.S. Ambassador to France under Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson.[10]

Pell died on July 17, 1961 in Munich, Germany at the age of 77, while touring Europe with his grandson, Herbert Pell III.[14] His funeral was held at Trinity Church in Newport, Rhode Island where there is a memorial plaque in his honor. His ashes were committed to the ocean off Beavertail in Jamestown, Rhode Island.[1]


Pell was the great-grandfather of Herbert Claiborne Pell IV (b. 1981), a candidate for Governor of Rhode Island, who married two-time Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan (b. 1980).[15][16]

Honors and commemorations[edit]

The Herbert Pell Cup in yachting is named for Pell.


  1. ^ a b c d "PELL, Herbert Claiborne, Jr. - Biographical Information". bioguide.congress.gov. Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  2. ^ Baker, Leonard (1972). Brahmin In Revolt: A Biography of Herbert C. Pell. New York, NY: Doubleday. p. 34.
  3. ^ "DEMOCRATS ELECT PELL AS CHAIRMAN; New Head of State Committee Receives Pledge of Tammany's Support "to the Limit." LUNN DEFINES STATE ISSUES In Nominating Ex-Congressman He Urges Fight for Return of Home Rule and Direct Nominations". The New York Times. 1 July 1921. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  4. ^ Times, Special To The New York (30 August 1915). "SOCIETY AT NEWPORT.; Large Supper and Dance at the Golf Club Is Planned". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  5. ^ Seidenbero, Robert (28 July 1972). "Senator Pell's Mother Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  6. ^ Times, Copyright, 1927, By The New York Times Company special Cable To The New York (27 February 1927). "MRS. HERBERT PELL ASKS PARIS DIVORCE; Charges Desertion by Former Representative and Democratic State Chairman. GETS CUSTODY OF CHILD Couple Were Married Here in November, 1915, by Bishop Darlington -- Mr. Pell Abroad". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  7. ^ Honan, William H. (1 January 2009). "Claiborne Pell, Patrician Senator Behind College Grant Program, Dies at 90". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  8. ^ "COMDR. H.W. KOEHLER; Served in Warsaw and Canal Zoneu16 Years in Navy". The New York Times. 19 June 1941. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  9. ^ "MRS. MATILDA B. PELL WEDS NAVAL OFFICER; Marrlage to Cornmanier Hugo W. Koehler Is Surprise - She Won divorce in March". The New York Times. 3 June 1927. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  10. ^ a b "MRS. BIGELOW TILTON WEDS HERBERT C. PELL; Ceremony in Paris on Saturday -- Bride an Artist, Granddaughter of Diplomat". The New York Times. 20 June 1927. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  11. ^ "Olive Pell, 94, a Painter; Works Helped Red Cross". The New York Times. 10 December 1980. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  12. ^ http://articles.latimes.com/1989-12-17/entertainment/ca-1640_1_arts-caucus
  13. ^ "A Certain Amount of Tactful Undermining: Herbert C. Pell and Hungary in 1941" The Hungarian Quarterly, VOLUME LII, No. 202-203, Summer-Autumn 2011, http://www.hungarianquarterly.com/no202203/14.shtml[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ "HERBERT C. PELL, DIPLOMAT, DEAD; Father of Senator Served in Portugal and Hungary". The New York Times. 19 July 1961. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  15. ^ Sullivan, Sean. "Michelle Kwan's husband Clay Pell running for governor of Rhode Island". Retrieved February 23, 2014.
  16. ^ "Clay Pell files for divorce from Michelle Kwan". Providence Journal. March 29, 2017. Retrieved 29 March 2017.

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
John F. Carew
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 17th congressional district

Succeeded by
Ogden L. Mills
Party political offices
Preceded by
William W. Farley
New York State Democratic Committee Chairman
July 1921 – January 1926
Succeeded by
Edwin Corning
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Robert Granville Caldwell
U.S. Envoy Extraordinary and
Minister Plenipotentiary to Portugal

Succeeded by
Bert Fish
Preceded by
John Flournoy Montgomery
U.S. Envoy Extraordinary and
Minister Plenipotentiary to Hungary

Succeeded by
None – Legation closed
December 1941