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BELL, Gertrude (1868-1926)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0402 GLB
Held at: Royal Geographical Society
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Full title: BELL, Gertrude (1868-1926)
Date(s): 1905-1924 and 1994
Level of description: Collection level
Extent: 1 box
Name of creator(s): Bell | Gertrude Margaret Lowthian | 1868-1926 | traveller, archaeologist and government official


Administrative/Biographical history:

Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell was born at Washington Hall, County Durham, on 14 July 1868; educated at Queen's College, Harley Street, London, a leading girls' school, and at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, which she entered in April 1886 and after only two years, she gained a first in modern history in 1888. After completing her studies, Bell was sent by her family on a European tour, staying in Bucharest during 1888-1889; visited Constantinople early in 1889, returning to England later that year. The following three years were divided between the family home in Redcar and London. Bell later visited Persia in 1892 and on her return to England she was persuaded to publish, anonymously, a series of her travel sketches adapted from her letters, Safar Nameh, Persian Pictures (1894). During the 1890s Bell undertook travels to France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. In the summers of 1899-1904, with the brothers Ulrich and Heinrich Fuhrer as guides, she undertook a series of expeditions in the Alps, tacking the Meije in August 1899 and Mont Blanc in the following summer. She became attracted to travelling in the East and including visits to Syria and Jerusalem and began publishing her accounts of her journeys. She undertook many expeditions including a number with archaeologist, Sir William Ramsay.

Bell was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in June 1913 soon after membership was opened to women. In Basrah in June 1916 she joined the staff of Sir Percy Cox, chief political officer with the expeditionary force, and was appointed assistant political officer, the only woman to hold formal rank within the force. Early in 1916 Bell was summoned to India and asked by Lord Hardinge to proceed to Basrah on a liaison mission as the viceroy's personal envoy in order to assess the effects of the Arab Bureau's schemes, whose approach differed from the India Office's imperial policy. After the capture of Baghdad from the Turks by Lieutenant-General Sir Stanley Maude in March 1917, Bell continued to act as Cox's right hand in the civil administration of Mesopotamia, as his oriental secretary in charge of daily contacts with the population. Sir Percy Cox became British high commissioner in October 1920 and enhanced the role for Bell as oriental secretary, a position she held under him and his successor until her death. Gertrude Bell's position in Iraq was eroded after Iraq's new constitution (1924) and administrative structures replaced the old, colonial order. She was often at odds with Cox's successor, Sir Henry Dobbs.

In 1917 she was appointed CBE; became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, 1913-1926 and received the RGS Founders Medal 1918. Bell died in Baghdad, July 1926 and was buried on the evening of the 12th in the British military cemetery there.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell, 1905-1924, comprises twelve notebooks containing archaeological notes, plans of churches and other sites; records of inscriptions including those from Turkey, Iraq, and Syria; one notebook and folders containing astronomical observations from Arabia, 1913-1914 and a notebook by Lesley Gordon for an exhibition at the University of Newcastle, 1994.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
English, inscriptions recorded in Arabic and Greek.

System of arrangement:

Thirteen notebooks and two folders plus one booklet published 1994. The notebooks are dated. Geographical subject headings: 1) Turkey 2) Arabian Peninsula 3) Syria 4) Iraq.

Conditions governing access:

Accessed via the Foyle Reading Room. Free of charge for Fellows, Members and those with valid academic identification. All other users pay a charge and must bring identification in order to register on arrival.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Photocopying at Archivist's discretion, and subject to completion of 'application for copies' form. No reproduction or publication without permission of the RGS-IBG Archivist.

Finding aids:

The RGS archives: a handlist compiled by Christine Kelly (London: RGS, 1977) and online at Access to Archives.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

RGS Correspondence block 1921-1930 (D.G. Hogarth) refers to the deposition of some of Gertrude Bell's papers.

Allied Materials

Related material:

RGS Archives-Correspondence blocks 1881-1910, 1911-1920, 1921-1930: Bell, G M L Jnl. Mss. Middle East 1910.

Material is held at St Antony's College Oxford and the University of Newcastle.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online.
Prepared by an archives volunteer using existing finding aids and edited by Samantha Velumyl.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
19 September 2000 modified in April 2008.

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