Gertrude Bell has been described as “one of the few representatives of His Majesty’s Government remembered by the Arabs with anything resembling affection” (Meyer and Brysac, 2008, p.162). Bell gained this reputation in the Arab world through her early travel, archaeological fieldwork, political positions and administrative archaeological position in Iraq. She established intimate and solid connections with Arab leaders and citizens all throughout the Middle East, and this helped her greatly in all facets of her life. Despite her strong ties to colonial Britain through her father, education, and political work, Bell gained authority amongst the people in Iraq due to her unwavering allegiance and determination in furthering the autonomy of their country in any way possible (Meyer and Brysac, 2008, p. 162). The most obvious example of this can be seen in her position as Director of Antiquities in Iraq, but her earlier life and brief political career illustrate this as well.
Life and Times of Gertrude Bell
Gertrude Bell was born in 1868 in Durham County, England to a very wealthy and privileged family; her grandfather was an ironmaster, industrialist and politician (Asher-Greve, 2004, p.145). Her mother died two years after her birth, but her father remarried Florence Bell, an accomplished author of children’s books and a playwright (Asher-Greve, 2004, p. 146). She attended Queens College at age 16, and when she found this unchallenging she convinced her parents to allow her to attend one of the women’s colleges at Oxford, Lady Margaret Hall (Asher-Greve, 2004, p. 146). She graduated a year early with high honors in modern history, the first to do so (Asher-Greve, 2004, p.147). She expressed an interest in politics, art and architecture from an early age, whether originated from her father, step-mother, or schooling (Asher-Greve, 2004, p. 147). Her personality, as described by many who knew her well from a young age, is important to take into consideration while observing her later achievements. Best described by close friend and teacher Dr. Hogarth,
No other woman of 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 conditions 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. (Hogarth, 1926, p. 363)
Bell is commonly discussed in reference to her “masculine” traits such as endurance, vitality, common sense and efficiency, which can now be translated in today’s society as a woman very self-assured and practical possessing a particularly strong wit. What made her such a threat in the man’s world that was 1920s British imperialist rule was the fact that she displayed these male characteristics in addition to the standard feminine...