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GERTRUDE BELL (1868 – 1926) Explorer, Instrumental in Founding Iraq

In adventure, Biography, Explorers, Feminists, People from England, Victorian Women on January 12, 2011 at 10:27 AM

Gertrude Bell

Gertrude Bell followed where her curiosity led in ways no woman had before.  She broke the ultimate glass ceiling by becoming a friend and confidant to numerous sheiks in Mesopotamia, with enough influence to be considered one of the founders of the country of Iraq.  The literal heights she scaled and emotional low she felt bookmarked her remarkable professional life as someone who intimately understood that home is where your heart is.

Bell had an upper class upbringing near Newcastle, England.  Her father, Sir Hugh Bell, inherited a fortune from the Bell Brothers Ironworks, but education was a priority, and he studied in Edinburgh, at the Sorbonne and in Germany.  He married Mary Shield, but she died three weeks after Bell’s younger brother, Maurice, was born.  Sir Hugh was devoted to his children, but he was lonely and knew the children needed a mother.  He married Florence Olliffe who was easily integrated into the family.

Bell’s commanding, adventuresome spirit manifested itself early on, and she took it out on her little brother.  One time when she led the terrified boy along the edge of the greenhouse roof, she crossed handily but he slipped and fell, and it was his turn to break through the glass ceiling.

Formal elementary education was traditionally reserved for boys, so while her brother was at boarding school, Bell spent lonely days devouring books from the family library.  When she was 16, she was sent to Queen’s College in London and excelled in every class except scripture, declaring herself an atheist because she did not believe a word of the Bible.  Ironically, as an adult she would carve out a life for herself in the cradle of the world’s three most important religions.

She matriculated at Oxford University, and Bell’s confidence and intellect had prepared her for the rigors of such a demanding education.  During her oral final exam, when the professor, a distinguished historian, asked a question about Charles I, Bell had the audacity to say that she held a different opinion of the monarch.  Then, when another professor asked about a German town that was on the left bank of the Rhine, Bell casually contradicted him before answering, saying that she was positive town was on the right bank because she had been there.  Her assertiveness did not blight her evaluation, and she set her first record as a woman by becoming the first female student to receive the highest grade possible in Modern History.

Bell came out as a debutante in London and was presented to Queen Victoria.  But if the goal of the formal debut was to find a husband, no one suitable presented himself.  Without romantic prospects or many career options, she jumped at the opportunity to go with her aunt and uncle to Persia.  Sir Frank Lascelles was the British ambassador to Tehran.  Six months before leaving, Bell started learning Persian and was able to understand the locals when she arrived in June 1892.

This was the beginning of two great love affairs.  First, she was totally captivated by the people and culture of Persia, her introduction to the Middle East.  Second, she was smitten by the British legation secretary, Hon. Henry Cadogan.  Finally she had found someone to give her heart to and who returned her affections, and they got engaged.  When her parents heard of the impending nuptials, they didn’t approve because Cadogan didn’t earn enough money in foreign service to support their daughter well enough, and he was a gambler.  Bell was heartbroken, but she obeyed her parents and returned to England.  One year later Cadogan died of pneumonia.

During the ensuing years, Bell studied Persian and Arabic.  Ultimately she would become fluent in both languages as well as German, French and Italian.  She continued to travel, following her personal philosophy of the pursuit of personal happiness coupled with the moral responsibility for the welfare of others.  She became proficient in horseback riding, hunting, dancing, shooting, fishing, gardening and mountain climbing.

AIMING FOR THE TOP      In 1899 Bell made her first major ascent, climbing to the top of the Meije in the French Alps, over 13,000 feet.  There were no proper clothes for female climbers then, so Bell took off her skirt when she and her guides roped up together and continued in her underclothes until they descended back to the glacier.  After more hair-raising, confidence-building ascents, Bell decided to be the first person to climb all the peaks of the Engelhörnerrange in the Swiss Alps.  She accomplished her goal during two weeks in 1901 wearing a blue climbing suit with pants, although she always changed back into her skirt at base camp.  Of the nine peaks, she was the first person to summit seven of them.  One mountain top was named after her, Gertrudspitze.

After her record-breaking mountain climbing adventures in Europe, Bell headed east to a warmer clime.  When she was 31 years old she went to Jerusalem at the invitation of friends.  Her days were filled with language lessons (Arabic, Hebrew and Turkish), horseback riding and socializing.  Bell rode “astride” the horse for the first time, and the sisters at the local convent stitched a long, split skirt so she could still be ladylike.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE JOURNEY      From Jerusalem, Bell took extensive journeys into the desert on horseback accompanied only by cooks, muleteers and her guide, all local men.  During her first expedition she painfully learned the need to protect herself from the severe desert environment.  From then on, she wore the traditional keffiyeh (scarf) over her hat and around her face and a lightweight veil with eye holes.  She covered her feet with cloth so the sun wouldn’t scorch them through her boots, and she made a muslin sleeping bag to protect against sand fleas while camping at night.  To help pass the time while crossing the vast landscape, Bell learned how to read and nap on horseback.

Gertrude Bell in Iraq, age 41 (photo: University of Newcastle)

In addition to learning survival techniques for traversing the desert, Bell had to learn the protocol of presenting herself to the sheiks of the tribes as she passed through their territories.  Her knowledge of history and languages and the fact that she was a woman traveling alone impressed and endeared her to most of the sheiks.  Because of the style in which Bell traveled, her small entourage became a substantial caravan.   She earned the respect of the local rulers, and they referred to her as Queen.  In camp she always had two tents for herself, one that was erected immediately with a writing table and comfortable chair.  The other had her convertible bed and a bath, which was prepared for her as soon as a fire was built and hot water was available.  In her trunks she packed clothes for every occasion.  When she was in a city she had evening dresses and fur coats.  She carried linen skirts, sweaters, scarves, boots, hats veils, parasols, lavender soap, hair brushes, Egyptian cigarettes in a silver case, insect powder, maps, books, and blankets.  For dining she had a Wedgewood dinner service, crystal glasses, linen tablecloths and silver candlesticks.  She had binoculars and guns to give as gifts to the important sheiks, and she carried her own weapons, cameras and film hidden under her petticoats.

Bell’s curiosity about the Middle East went way beyond tourism.  She took courses in archaeology and cartography, and she was an accomplished photographer.  It became her mission to document ancient ruins and the current landscape, and she published numerous books of her work and experiences which, in many cases, became the definitive reference for the region and influenced policy decisions.

LOVE AND LOSS        Despite a deep affinity for the people and places of the Middle East, Bell’s heart and mind were distracted by the growing affections for an Englishman, Major Charles (“Dick”) Doughty-Wylie, a decorated war hero.  Unfortunately, Dick was married.  The pair shared a common view of the world and enjoyed each other’s company, but the time they could spend together had many limitations.  The couple’s correspondence from various foreign lands evolved from conversational to include the passion and angst of distant love.

Bell wanted to serve her country in World War I, so in November 1914, she went to France to work for the Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Department.  She took the initiative to create a workable system to keep accurate records of the wounded soldiers.  Surprisingly, despite her apparent restlessness, she found she loved the desk work.

With his wife in Europe, Doughty-Wylie sent word to Bell that he would be in London for a few days before being deployed to the front lines.  Bell jumped at the opportunity to be alone with him.  They spent four days together, and this time, there was only one limitation that imposed itself.  Bell’s Victorian morals would not allow her to consummate the relationship since Doughty-Wylie would never get a divorce.

Bell returned to France, and Doughty-Wylie was deployed to Gallipoli.  He was killed heroically in a battle with Turkish troops.  Bell had been called back to London to set up a new office for Wounded and Missing.  She found out her lover’s fate when, at a party, someone casually mentioned what happened in Gallipoli.  For the second time in her 47 years she was devastated by losing the love of her life.

A NEW HOME       Since Bell had spent almost two years in the Arabian Desert as an explorer, cartographer, photographer and archaeologist and was an expert in the policies and personalities of the region, she was summoned to Cairo, Egypt with the rank of Major.  She was the first woman officer in the history of British military intelligence.  The British agenda included fighting the Turks to retain access to oil and preventing India from annexing Mesopotamia.  Bell’s desire was for a unified Arab nation, but she acknowledged that that would be impossible and worked to establish independent Arab states.

Bell moved to Basra and was given the title of Oriental Secretary with status as an Assistant Political Officer.  She was instrumental in establishing order in the Basra vilayet (province).  In April 1917, Bell was 49 years old, and she moved to Baghdad to continue her work.  This would be her permanent home for the rest of her life.

THE BIRTH OF A NATION          In Baghdad, Bell became active in nation building.  The British occupied Iraq, fighting the Turks for rights to the oil, but mistakes were made, and the occupation was becoming very expensive for Britain.

In 1918, the incoming Judicial Officer, Sir Edgar Bonham-Carter, after conferencing with Bell, took the first steps toward creating an independent nation by setting Arabic as the official legal language of Iraq and establishing a new court system for civil and Sharia law in an effort to appease Sunnis and Shia.  Five new schools for girls were opened with female faculty.

Eventually boundaries were agreed upon to divide Mesopotamia into individual countries, and Bell and her colleagues lobbied to have Faisal ibn Hussain, a direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad and son of Sharif Hussain ibn Ali, installed as the first ruler of the self-governed new Iraq.  Faisal officially became king in 1921, and Bell’s dreams of Arab independence were realized.

Bell knew Faisal personally, and he enjoyed her company and relied on her as a confidant in political matters.  He commissioned her to help design the first flag and his personal standard.  Because of Bell’s extensive archaeological expertise, Faisal appointed her Director of Antiquities.  Her first duty was to write antiquities laws that would balance the rights of the host nation and excavators.  Bell established the Baghdad Museum, maintaining that Iraq had the right to own its past.*  The principal wing of the museum was named after her.  Bell continued to go on many archaeological digs, and she won a coin toss for a Semitic statuette from 2800 BC.

LEAVING GRACEFULLY        When Bell was 55 years old, she had a third love interest, but this relationship never matured beyond a friendship.  For all her physical activities, she was sick a lot during her life.  She was a chain smoker, and she suffered from malaria twice, jaundice and bronchitis.  In 1925 Bell went to London for a visit.  Her family had lost their fortune and was forced to give up their mansion, which was demolished.  Bell’s doctor advised her not to return to the oppressive climate of the Iraqi summer, but Baghdad was her home, and she could not stay away.  When she returned she contracted pleurisy.

With her ill health, financial troubles, no husband and reduced political responsibility, Bell became depressed.  On July 11, 1926 she came home exhausted from the heat after a swimming party.  She told her maid to wake her up at six am and went to bed early.  Her maid dutifully checked in on Bell after a couple of hours and found a suspicious bottle of pills on the bed stand.  Bell died in the early hours of July 12 of an overdose, two days before her 58th birthday.

The British government duly honored Bell for her work.  In October 1917 Bell was made a Commander of the new Order of the British Empire, and five months later she received the Founder’s Medal of the Royal Geographical Society.  When she died, King George V sent his personal condolences to Bell’s parents.

*  This is the same as the National Museum of Iraq that was looted during the war in 2003.

QUESTION:  Do you agree with the saying, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?”  Why?

©2011 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

Howell, Georgina, Gertrude Bell Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations.  New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.

Wallach, Janet, Desert Queen The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia.  New York: Nan A. Talese, 1996.

Winstone, H.V.F., Gertrude Bell.  New York: Quartet Books Inc., 1978.

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SIR HENRY COLE (1808 – 1882) Commissioned the First Commercial Christmas Card

In Biography, Holidays, People from England, Traditions on December 20, 2010 at 8:13 PM

Sir Henry Cole

Professionally, Henry Cole was a busy and influential man.  Maybe that’s why there is a lot more known about his professional life than his private life.  With all the demands on his time, he did try to keep up with the social graces, but one year around the holidays, time just got away from him, and he had to solicit help in sending greetings to his friends.

Cole started working when he was 15 years old.  He was born in Bath, England, the son of an army officer, but he moved to London for the opportunities.  One of his first jobs as a civil servant was the Assistant Keeper of Public Records.  He fancied himself a writer and began his publishing career with pamphlets about reforming the public record system.  His efforts led to the establishment of the General Record Office.

Flush with success, Cole, along with two partners, edited and published the Guide newspaper, the Historical Register and the Journal of Design.  In addition to writing, design was a field that he was passionate about.  It’s unknown whether he was educated in design and the decorative arts or if his passions and instincts fueled his achievements, but his influence spanned administrative duties as well as his own creative projects.

A MAN OF MANY TALENTS                  Much of Cole’s personal work was done under the name of Felix Summerly.  As this alter ego he wrote children’s books, handbooks of the National Gallery, Hampton Court and other art exhibitions, and many articles of various subjects.  He also designed the Felix Summerly Tea Service which was made by the Herbert Minton ceramic factory.  This became so popular that Cole, perhaps a bit of a snob, opened Felix Summerly’s Art-Manufactures with the goal of commissioning work from artists that would raise the level of industrial design and the overall taste of the general public.

In 1840 Cole was credited with being instrumental in revamping the postal system and creating the first self-adhesive postage stamp: the Penny Black.  A profile of Queen Victoria was on the stamp, and Cole provided the sketch of her that was used based on a medal done by William Wyon.

As a member of the Royal Society of the Arts, Cole met Prince Albert and accepted his commission to organize the Great Exhibition of 1851.  This merging of art, industry and manufacturing was so successful that there followed similar exhibitions in London and Paris, and it was instrumental in reforming the patent laws a year later.

Cole’s influence extended into education when he was asked, on behalf of the government, to reorganize the Schools of Design.  He became head of the Science and Art Department, a job that lasted 21 years.

At the end of the Great Exhibition of 1851, Parliament authorized £5,000 to purchase the most striking objects that were on display to be part of a permanent collection along with the best drawings from art schools from around the country.  Cole founded The South Kensington Museum to exhibit these works.  Queen Victoria was on hand for the official opening, and in 1899 it became the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Cole retired in 1873 after 50 years in public service, but that didn’t seem to slow him down.  He continued to channel his experience and expertise toward education and established the National Training School for Music and the National Training School for Cookery within two years.  In 1875 he was rewarded for his service by receiving the Order of the Bath.  It was Queen Victoria herself that recommended he be knighted.

STARTING A TRADITION      With all of this resume building, it’s easy to imagine that in 1843 Cole was just too busy to write Christmas cards.  The custom at the time was to hand write each one individually, but that just wasn’t going to happen.  Cole hired London artist John Calcott Horsley to design a card for him to send to all his friends.  It was a triptych with scenes on each of the side panels depicting the charitable essence of Christmas: feeding the poor and clothing the homeless.  In the center was the message “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year To You” under a colorful drawing of a family celebrating, their wine glasses raised in a toast.  Horsley made 1,000 lithographic copies of his greeting card measuring 5 1/8 inches by 3 and 1/4 inches, and he hand colored each one himself.  The cards that Cole did not send were sold in the Felix Summerly art shop on Bond Street in London for six cents each.  Since it is estimated that there are only about a dozen still in existence, they have become quite collectible.  In December 2008 one sold for £8,500 (over $13,000 today).

Horsley Designed Christmas Card

Cole never slowed down even as he aged.  He had a known heart condition, but at the end of 1881, with the help of his daughter, he started writing his memoir highlighting his half century of public service.  On Monday, April 17, 1882 Cole sat for a portrait with the famous painter Whistler.  That night his condition worsened, and he died the following evening.

QUESTION: What is your favorite Christmas tradition?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes all Rights Reserved

Sources:

http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/periods_styles/features/history/directors/henry_cole/index.html

http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Sir_Henry_Cole.aspx#1

http://www.clark-hogg-family-history.org/ch-gallery-clark-margaret-elizabeth.htm#henrycole

http://hubpages.com/hub/Sir-Henry-Cole

http://postalheritage.org.uk/exhibitions/onlineexhibitions/christmas/firstcard

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Cole

ELIZABETH BLACKWELL (1821 – 1910) First Female Doctor

In American History, Doctors, Feminists, History, People from England, Victorian Women on October 13, 2010 at 5:13 PM

 

Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell’s parents were Quakers.  They believed in equality and educated their sons and daughters equally.  So, when Blackwell decided to be a doctor, her family was totally supportive.  Convincing the rest of the world, however, was not so easy. 

Blackwell was ten when her family moved from England to New York.  When her father’s business failed, they move to Cincinnati.  Shortly after settling  there her father died, leaving the family without income.

Blackwell became a teacher, but she didn’t find it intellectually stimulating enough.  When her girlfriend, Mary Donaldson, got cancer she believed that her suffering would have been less if she could have been treated by a woman doctor.  Donaldson tried to convince Blackwell that she had the intellect and personality to be a great doctor.  As a student, Blackwell was not interested in the sciences, preferring metaphysics and history.  But, her friend’s request haunted her, and she decided to go for it. 

GETTING INTO MEDICAL SCHOOL          Blackwell’s first course of action was to write letters to several physicians to solicit their advice about applying to med school.  All six contacts advised her to give up the idea as it was impossible for a woman to get a medical education.  Dr. Joseph Warrington said in a letter, “Elizabeth, it is of no use trying. Thee cannot gain admission to these schools. Thee must go to Paris and don masculine attire to gain the necessary knowledge.”1  Blackwell was not discouraged.  While she worked as a governess for Dr. John Dixon, of Ashville, North Carolina, she started educating herself in science and classical languages by reading the books in his library. She moved to South Carolina, supported herself by teaching music lessons, and continued her homeschooling from the library of Dixon’s brother.

With a solid background and determination, Blackwell applied to 13 medical schools.  She was rejected outright from every one of them because she was a woman.  This discrimination was foreign to her egalitarian upbringing.  Finally, the faculty of Geneva College in upstate New York (now Hobart College) asked the students to decide Blackwell’s fate.  They unanimously agreed to admit her because they thought her application was a joke.    

In 1846, Blackwell matriculated, and she graduated two years later, the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States.  Eventually she won over her fellow students by her intelligence and commitment, but she was shunned by the citizens of Geneva who believed her career choice was very inappropriate. 

On January 23, 1849, the same ladies who were rude to Blackwell had a change of heart with her success.  They packed the Presbyterian Church to witness her historic accomplishment, applauding enthusiastically when she received her diploma.  During the ceremony, Charles Lee, Dean of Geneva Medical College, expressed his respect for the first female medical graduate, but in the program he added a footnote that said he supported medical training for qualified women, but the “inconveniences attending the admission of females to all the lectures in a medical school, are so great, that he will feel compelled on all future occasions to oppose such a practice …”2  Her success was inspiring to other women, however, and within three years of her graduation, twenty women completed medical training at various colleges. 

WHAT’S A GIRL TO DO…WITH A MEDICAL DEGREE?    After graduation, Blackwell planned to spend a few months in Philadelphia, studying personally with a Dr. Bryan, and then go to Paris and eventually return to New York to establish her practice where she could expect to earn six thousand dollars a year.

After some time in London studying at a hospital, Blackwell did go to Paris.  The only opportunity open to her there was to train to become a midwife.   While she was in Paris she contracted “purulent opthalmia” and lost the sight in one eye.  This forced her to abandon her dream of becoming a surgeon.

In 1851 she returned to New York City and at age 30 tried to set up her own practice.  People were hesitant trust her as a doctor, so she had to consider another options.  She opened a dispensary to give out-patient treatment to poor women and children.  In this setting, she wasn’t able to accomplish as much as she hoped, so in 1957 she closed the dispensary and opened a hospital, the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children (now the New York University Downtown Hospital).  Her partners were two recent medical school graduates: her sister Dr. Emily Blackwell, and Dr. Marie Zakrzewska. 

Even though Blackwell was a busy professional woman, something was missing from her life.  She was never interested in marriage, but she adopted an orphan girl named Katherine “Kitty” Barry.  Blackwell and her daughter made periodic trips to England, and she also made history there.  In 1859 while in London, she was the first woman to have her name entered into the Medical Register of the United Kingdom. 

HELPING OTHER WOMEN FOLLOW IN HER FOOTSTEPS       Back in the States, when the Civil War broke out, Blackwell helped create the Women’s Central Association of Relief, training nurses to treat the wounded soldiers.  Her work at the hospital was going well, but she was committed to opening a medical college for women.  In 1868 Blackwell founded The Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary to provide training for female medical and nursing students.  Blackwell was the Professor of Hygiene, and Emily was the Professor of Obstetrics and Diseases of Women. 

In 1869, Blackwell left Emily in charge, and she and Kitty returned to England where they lived for the rest of Blackwell’s life.  She helped to create the National Health Society, established a private practice and taught gynecology at the London School of Medicine for Women, which she helped to found, and the London School of Medicine for Children. 

In addition to the demands of a pioneering, practicing doctor, Blackwell found the time to write six books focusing on hygiene, the medical treatment for women, raising healthy children, and her autobiography.

On May 31, 1910, Blackwell, 89 years old, died in Hastings, England.  She was buried in Kilmun, in the Highlands of Scotland, one of her favorite places on earth.

QUESTION:  Have you ever done something that most people thought was wrong but that you knew was right for you?  Was it easy or hard?  Were you successful?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

1 http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/blackwell/admission.html

2 http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/blackwell/graduation.html

http://womenshistory.about.com/cs/medicine/a/blackwell_emin.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Blackwell

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobart_and_William_Smith_Colleges

http://campus.hws.edu/his/blackwell/articles/oldnews.html

http://library.hws.edu/archives/pdfs/tripp.pdf

http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mcc:@sum(@field(OTHER+@band(Blackwell,+Elizabeth++1821+1910+))+@field(SUBJ+@band(Blackwell,+Elizabeth++1821+1910+)))

http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mcc:@sum(@field(OTHER+@band(Blackwell,+Elizabeth++1821+1910+))+@field(SUBJ+@band(Blackwell,+Elizabeth++1821+1910+)))

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/physicians/biography_35.html

Elizabeth Blackwell’s autobiography, Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women, published in 1895, is out of print.  I could not find it anywhere online or  in any local libraries.