"No tigress could have safeguarded Iraq’s rights better. -- Max Mallowan
Hot Singles in History:
- Works at British Military Intelligence, self-employed archeologist in Syria, or the Arab Bureau, depending on the day.
- Oxford (first chick awarded highest honors in Modern History)
- Interested in: Men (bonus if you speak one of the eight languages I am fluent in including French, German, Persian, Arabic and Turkish. But I’m great at teaching myself language, so it shouldn’t be a problem.)
- Ideal first date: playing tennis or taking a stroll through the Baghdad Museum of Antiquities, which I founded.
It’s impossible to argue - she is incredible. Gertrude once spent 53 hours at the end of a rope in the Alps after her climbing expedition was caught in a blizzard. Are you in love yet? We sure are. Luckily, she’s single (as of her suspected suicide in 1926)! #swiperight
Millennial dating quips aside, in the spirit of Thanksgiving (with it’s historical context of exploration and unfortunately colonization), we want to highlight one of the many fearless explorers who helped map uncharted lands. We thought it fitting to profile the person who embodies the contrast between the typical scene of stuffed, turkey-sedated, tipsy Americans at a Thanksgiving gathering and the violent events happening currently in the Middle East.
As the first female British intelligence Officer and adviser on Arabian affairs to the British government, Bell helped shape the geopolitical map of the world as it changed dramatically after World War I - she literally put Iraq and Syria on the map. She explored and documented much of Arabia (often by herself), creating the maps of Syria used in the World Wars known as the “Bell Maps.”
Bell was instrumental in post-WWI policy in the middle East, and fought for Iraqi unification. Many in the Western world know of her colleague T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), and while her name is almost unknown in Britain and the English-speaking world, it is spoken with reverence and gratitude by many in the middle East.
Saad Eskander, director of Iraq’s national library and archives, referred to Lawrence’s fame in the Middle East and then said, “But in Iraq, it is only Gertrude Bell who occupies an exceptional place both in the imagination of its ordinary people and in the mind of its cultural and political elites.”
Bell had a unique style of diplomacy that gained the respect of leaders of various tribes throughout the Middle East, not to mention Winston Churchill. She spent time understanding each culture, which made her so skilled as a liaison. Did we mention this all happened during a time where exposed wrists were scandalous?! Hard to believe a woman could Climb the swiss Alps, let alone be the trusted advisor of Europe’s Prime Ministers and Mesopotamia’s Prince’s alike.
While her dreams of a unified Iraq have crumbled (arguably because nobody since has displayed her level of tact and empathy), when we hear about Iraq and Syria, we are experiencing Gertrude’s living legacy. Take a moment to think of Bell and the other women and men who are are part of Lady Mafia - left out of history books but oh so relevant.
Don’t worry, we know you didn’t sleep through class:
You should have learned about Gertrude Bell in any history class that covered influential explorers, WWI, the Victorian era, and definitely any current events lessons. Um, hello, she created Iraq and literally drew Syria, so yeah, she’s probably pretty relevant.
Gertrude Bell’s List of Firsts
- The first woman to receive a first-class degree, the highest honors in Modern History at Oxford 1886.
- The first person to climb all the peaks of the Engelhörner range in the Swiss Alps, one of which is named after her: “Gertrude’s Peak.” 1904
- The first woman to do a solo journey into the uncharted Arabian desert (she traveled by camel for 1500 miles across Central Arabia in 1914 and received the gold Founder’s Medal from the Royal Geographic Society)
- Created the first comprehensive map of Syria and other areas of the Middle East.
- First female officer (known as “Major Miss Bell”) ever to be employed by British military intelligence and named Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
- Orchestrated the first government in Iraq.
- Published the first white paper to written by woman: “Review of the Civil Administration of Mesopotamia” in 1920.
- Miss Bell’s life and legacy was also the subject of an international scholarly conference last year in London, the first of its kind.
No woman in recent time has combined her qualities – her taste for arduous and dangerous adventure with her scientific interest and knowledge, her competence in archaeology and art, her distinguished literary gift, her sympathy for all sorts and condition of men, her political insight and appreciation of human values, her masculine vigour, hard common sense and practical efficiency – all tempered by feminine charm and a most romantic spirit.
– D. G. Hogarth
There is so much more to learn about Ms. Bell, her diplomatic feats, her comprehensive education system for Iraqi girls, and her incredible adventures through desert and mountain. Read more about this captivating woman in Amazing Women in History, The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Wikipedia
November 28, 2015