Interesting Women: Gertrude Bell

Gertrude Bell (1868-1926) (En., Ger. – the German article being more informative) led an uncoventional life (biography and literature here). She came from a rich family and was allowed to do things unheared before, like studying in Oxford. Of course she was not allowed to get her academic degree in 1888, such a thing only took place after 1920, heavens. She travelled the old Europe a lot and visited the Near East, learned Persian and from some point onwards left the Victorian tracks of a woman’s life.

She travelled alone.

Men who potentially could play a major role in her life seemingly all were heroes of the Empire, and so died for the Empire. During WWI she joint the Secret Service and after the conquest of Baghdad by the British 1917 she settled there until her suicide 1926. She played a major role in the founding of the new Iraq. The fallout of the collapse of the Osman Empire was not too present in my historical understanding until the beginning of the new millenium, when other forces captured Baghdad.
And one of her lasting works came into the focus of the world’s interest, the
Iraq Museum as it is called today, founded as the Archaeological Museum of Baghdad by Gertrude Bell 1926. I remember well the articles about the looting of the museum and looking back I find this to be a very interesting lesson about creating a public opinion in the tune of “the barbarians arrived”. (See chapter 4 of the wikipedia-article here for an overview; or an NYT-article from 2003.) Very few advancing armies carry the keys for the national tresors with them.

Gertude Bell’s papers survive in The Robinson Library at Newcastle University. You can read her diaries, her letters and see hundreds of photographs she took on her travels.
An interesting woman.