Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell (July 14, 1868 - July 12, 1926) was a British woman who had a major hand in creating the country of Iraq. During her life she was an unrecognised force behind the Arab revolt in World War I - for which Lawrence of Arabia received most of the credit - and at the conclusion of the war she drew up the borders of the former Mesopotamia to include the three vilayets which became Iraq.
Bell was born in Washington Hall , County Durham, England to a family of great affluence. She was a granddaughter of industrialist Isaac Lowthian Bell. At the age of 16, she went up to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, where she gained a first class honours degree in history in only two years.
Bell travelled to Iran in May 1892. She then spent much of her time traveling around the world, mountaineering in Switzerland, and learning archaeology and languages - Arabic, French, German, Italian, Persian and Turkish. In 1900 she traveled to Jerusalem and dressed up as a male Bedouin to look for the Druzes. She reached Jebel Druze and befriended the Druze king Yahya Beg .
In 1905, Bell was again in the Middle East and traveled widely, studying local ruins and staying with both the Druzes and Beni Sakhr and meeting many Arab chieftains, emirs and sheiks. She published her observations in the book The Desert and the Sown. Bell opened up the Arabian deserts to the western world with the vivid descriptions found in her prose.
In March 1907, Bell journeyed to Turkey and began to work with the archaeologist Sir William Ramsey . Their excavations were chronicled in A Thousand and One Churches. She also became honorary secretary of the Women's Anti-Suffrage League .
In Janury 1909, she left for Mesopotamia. She visited the Hittite city of Carchemish, found yet undiscovered ruin of Ukhaidir and finally went to Babylon and Najac . Back in Carchemish she advised two archaeologists working on the site, one of them being T. E. Lawrence.
At the outbreak of World War I, Bell requested to be posted in the Middle East but her request was denied. She proceeded to go to France to volunteer with the Red Cross. In November 1915, she was summoned to Cairo to the Arab Bureau under General Gilbert Clayton . She also met Lawrence again. At first she did not receive official position but set out to write down his knowledge about the location and disposition of Arabic forces that could be encouraged to join the British against the Turks. Lawrence and the British used the information to deal with the Arabs.
In March 3 1916 Bell arrived in Basra, which British forces had captured in November 1914, to advise Chief Political Officer Percy Cox. She drew maps to help the British army to reach Baghdad safely. She became the only female political officer in the British forces and received the title Liaison Officer, Correspondent to Cairo. When British troops took Baghdad on March 10 1917, Cox summoned Bell to Baghdad and presented her with the title of Oriental Secretary. She later departed for Persia.
When the war ended and the Ottoman Empire collapsed, in late January 1919, Bell was assigned to write a report on who should lead Iraq. She spent the next ten months writing it. Because she was favourable to Arabic leadership, her superior, A. T. Wilson, turned against her. On October 11, 1920, Percy Cox returned to Baghdad and asked her to continue as Oriental Secretary, liaison with the new forthcoming Arab government.
Bell persuaded Winston Churchill to endorse Faisal, the recently deposed King of Syria, as the first King of Iraq. When Faisal arrived in Iraq in June 1921, Bell began to advise him in local matters, including such matters as tribal geography and local business. Faisal was crowned king of Iraq on August 23 1921. Bell supervised the appointments of the other posts in the new government. Due to her influence with the new king, she earned a nickname "The Uncrowned Queen of Iraq".
After the situation had stabilized, Bell begun to form what would later become the Baghdad Archaeological Museum, first inside the confines of the royal palace. She supervised excavations and examined finds herself. She returned to Britain briefly in 1925. Her family fortune had begun to decrease. She returned to Iraq but soon after developed pleurisy. When she recovered she heard that her brother had died of typhoid. Baghdad Museum was officially opened June 1926.
Books of Gertrude Bell
- The Desert and the Sown (1907, republished 1987)
- The Thousand and One Churches (1909, with Sir Wiliam Ramsey)
- Amurath to Amurath (1911)
Books about Gertrude Bell
- Susan Goodman - Gertrude Bell (1985)
- Janet Wallach - Desert Queen (1999)
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