Distinguished Women of Past and Present


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Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell

From: United Kingdom
Fields: Archaeology, Government and Politics, Literature and Poetry
Key Words/Phrases: archaeologist, traveler, writer, administrator, helped establish Iraq's borders
Gertrude Bell, a British archaeologist, writer and government official, was born on July 14, 1868 in Durham County, England. Her parents were the industrialist Hugh Bell and Mary Shield Bell. Gertrude was educated at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford and was the first woman to obtain first-class honors there. She travelled extensively, and from 1899 to 1914 made several archaeological expeditions in the Middle East. In addition, she learned to speak Persian and Arabic and wrote about her travels. Her works include Safar Nameh (1894), a volume of travel sketches; Poems from the Divan of Hafiz (1897); The Desert and the Sown (1907) on her Syrian travels; The Thousand and One Churches (1909) on excavating Byzantine archaeological sites; Amurath to Amurath (1911) on travels in Turkey; and The Palace and the Mosque of Ukhaidir (1914).

Bell acquired knowledge of the region which led her into service with the British intelligence during World War I. In 1915 she was appointed to the Arab Bureau in Cairo, which was involved in gathering information useful for mobilizing the Arabs against Turkey. She also joined the Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force in Basra and Baghdad. In 1920, she became Oriental Secretary to the British High Commission in Iraq and was influential in establishing the Hashimite dynasty when Faisal I became the first king of Iraq in 1921. In the same year, she published Review of the Civil Administration in Mesopotamia.

Between 1923 and 1926 she founded an archaeological museum in Baghdad and became Iraq's Director of Antiquities. She also left money in her will to fund the British Institute of Archaeology in Iraq. A year after her death, Letters of Gertrude Bell, a two-volume set, were published in 1927.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1999.

1. Larousse Dictionary of Women, edited by Melanie Parry, Larousse, 1996
2. Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia
3. Women's World: A Timeline of Women in History by Irene M. Franck and David M. Brownstone, HarperCollins Publishers, 1995


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