I’ve always been inspired by a certain caliber of woman born in the late 1800′s, who then went on to blaze a trail in the early decades of the 20th century, breaking ground for a later generation who claimed “women’s liberation” as their mantra.
They were among the first generation of women in modern times to go to war during the years 1914-18, and were profoundly impacted by the losses of young men in that conflict. The 1921 census revealed that over two million women in Britain alone would never marry or have children, instead facing a life of spinsterhood alone. There were those who floundered, but many moved into public life and a “man’s world” as never before. Gertrude Bell — writer, explorer, cartographer, historian, politician, intelligence officer — was one of the older members of that generation, and her life has fascinated me for years.
Born in 1868, she was the grand-daughter of politician, Isaac Lowthian Bell; it is through her grandfather that she likely garnered an early interest in international affairs, travel and politics. She graduated from Oxford with a first class honors degree in Modern History, following just two years of study. In 1892 she traveled to Persia to visit an uncle; this journey not only proved to be the start of a love affair with the Middle East, but it began a decade of travels around the globe. More intensive travel across the Middle East followed during the years 1899-1912, taking her across Arabia six times.
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