Gertrude Bell is a pioneer worth celebrating! She lived from 14 July 1868 – 12 July 1926 and wore many hats during her lifetime.
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10 Facts you need to know about Gertrude Bell
1. She did not fit into the typical role of women of her time
Gertrude Bell was born in 1868 in Victorian England, where the general belief was that the only proper place for a woman was in the house, taking care of the household environment. Nothing else was even remotely acceptable back then for a woman.
But Gertrude Bell was lucky – she was born to a wealthy family who did not necessarily share these beliefs. When it became clear that she had an adventurous spirit that was fueled by lots of energy and a sharp intellect, her family supported her in her ventures.
2. She studied history
While her family supported her in getting an education, women were only allowed to attend college for a few choice subjects. History was one of them, and that is what Gertrude Bell chose to study at Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford, the very first institution in Great Britain to offer an opportunity for girls to gain some academic qualifications. In 1892 she graduated with honors, as the first woman to receive first class honors in Oxford.
3. She traveled to the Middle East after graduation
After graduation, Gertrude Bell traveled to Iran, which was still Persia at the time (the name changed in 1935). Her uncle, Sir Frank Lascelles, served as British ambassador in Tehran at the time. This trip wasn’t just the beginning of a lifetime of travel, but it especially sparker her love for and curiosity of the Middle East. If you are interested to learn more about this particular journey, read Gertrude Bell’s book ‘Persian Picture’.
4. She did a round-the-world trip with her brother
In December 1897, Maurice and Gertrude Bell embarked on a trip around the world together. For Gertrude, this was the first of two such trips. She embarked on the second one with her half brother Hugo from 1902 – 1903. She traveled extensively during that time, including trips to Palestine and Syria in 1899, and a trip from Jerusalem to Damascus in 1900. Between 1900 and 1912 she traveled across Arabia no less than six times.
5. She was a famous mountaineer
Gertrude Bell didn’t just excel academically. In the years between 1899 and 1904, and she climbed a number of mountains, including such famous peaks as Mont Blanc in France. She focused much of her climbing in Switzerland, where she eventually recorded ten new paths or first ascents in the Bernese Alps. In 1901, she traversed a 8635 foot (2632 meter) peak in the Berner Oberland along with two guides, which was later named Gertrudspitze in her honor. A failed attempt at the Finsteraarhorn nearly cost her life. Inclement weather forced Gertrude to
6. She spoke eight languages
While traveling the world Gertrude Bell didn’t just develop a passion for archaeology, but for languages as well. It is reported that she spoke eight languages in total, including French, German, Turkish, Persian, Arabic, and Italian.
7. She was passionate about Writing and archaeology
Her interest in archaeology was sparked in 1899, on a family trip. She combined many of her trips with archaeological exploration. Gertrude documented her findings at the sites she visited with extensive notes, plans she drew, as well as photographs. She worked with several of the leading archaeologists of the Middle East of her time.
One of her great passions was the preservation of the heritage of Iraq. When she became the Honorary Director of Antiquities of the country, she worked to establish the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. In 1900, she spent 7 months in Jerusalem documenting extensively through photography. In 1905, she traveled to Asia Minor through the Syrian Desert. In 1919 her book about this expedition: ‘Syria – The Desert and the Sown’ was published. In 1907 she explored the Karadağ mountain and sites in central Anatolia with Sir William Ramsay. Together they wrote ‘One Thousand and One Churches’, which was published in 1909. Finally, in the year 1914, she published a very important monograph about the Early Islamic Palace and Mosque at Ukhaidir, Iraq.
8. She was a founder of the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League
The Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League was founded in 1908. The leagues opposed women being granted any right to vote in parliamentary elections. Voting in local government elections, however, was acceptable. In 1090, Gertrude Bell became the Honorary Secretary of the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League.
In the light of the fact that she was a woman defying traditional roles in a male-dominated society, this fact may give you pause. The reason is most likely to be found in her upbringing. While she had the support of her family in her unusual for the time life choices, the general role and place of a woman were still something she was constantly surrounded by, and while it seemed acceptable for one woman to defy the rules, she didn’t seem to think that all women should.
9. She was a volunteer in World War I and started a political career
When World War I broke out, Gertrude Bell joined the Red Cross as a volunteer and helped search for missing soldiers in France. In the year 1915 she was asked to work at the then newly formed Arab Bureau in Cairo. She and T.E. Lawrence, better know as Lawrence of Arabia, worked together to destabilize the Ottoman Empire and oust it from that region. Upon accomplishing this goal, she became Oriental Secretary and played a big part in the creation of Iraq.
Throughout the war she continued to work for the British government in various positions. She is said to have been the only woman ever holding any political power and influence in regards British policy in the Middle East, from World War I until her death.
10. She died from an overdose
On July 12 1926, Gertrude Bell died from an overdose of sleeping pills. There is no clear evidence as to whether this was an accident or suicide.
Jenny grew up in Germany. All she ever wanted out of life was to leave and have adventures. Jenny always traveled as much as the budget would allow, and when she met her husband traveling became a full-time thing. You can follow Jenny on her blog and Facebook.