I just finished reading Mabel Bell: Alexander’s silent partner.
Mabel Bell was Alexander Graham Bell’s wife. I really knew nothing about Alexander Graham Bell, other than he had ties to Brantford, Ontario and Baddeck, Nova Scotia (as well as the U.S) and he had something to do with inviting the telephone.
Well a few weeks back Dad and I visited the Alexander Graham Bell museum in Baddeck. It was stunning how many inventions and scientific developments Alexander Graham Bell had a hand in. As I told Dad, there was one man who certainly had no television or internet in his life to waste away his time. He was ALWAYS busy learning and inventing!
I was particularly interested in his wife after the visit to the museum. I learned she was deaf and had a strong role in Bell’s life. I was so interested that I looked her up in our University library (where I work) to see if they had the book about her that I spotted in the museum’s giftshop.
Sure enough they did, and after working in a library for 2.5 years, I checked out my first book.
Mabel Bell became deaf from scarlet fever when she was just 5 years old. Alexander (or “Alec” as he is referred to in the book) was Mabel’s teacher who helped teacher her how to speak clearly and read lips. Bell, ten years her senior, fell in love with Mabel, and waited until she was old enough to court, and were married when she was 19.
Most of the book content was in Mabel’s words from her journal, letters to family, to “Alec”, and even some to her from Alec. What a treasure to have her original thoughts and words.
Mabel was a strong, determined woman. She pushed Alec into areas she wanted him to focus on, and away from others (he would have been perfectly content being a teacher of the deaf for his entire life). She fought so hard to claim recognition for Alec’s work. He loved the science, and the inventing, but grew weary of patent fights and battles.
Mabel came from the wealthy Hubbard family and had money of her own that she used to fund some of Alec’s pursuits (including the aeronautical research that led to the flight of The Silver Dart.
She knew many languages worked tirelessly at creating the social structure her husband’s work required, and so their two daughters would be properly raised.
It was astonishing to me how many times they crossed the ocean for speaking events, and to expose their daughters to foreign languages, and cultures.
She seemed to me to be very insistent by nature. She was not afraid to make her opinion known. Her biggest, on-going conflict with her husband was that he would not come to bed with her at a decent hour, and he was never an early riser. He wrote letters, begging her to understand that he wanted to be left alone in his study or laboratory to work for hours, or days, until he was done a project, and then he was all hers.
She would write Alec letters when he was away on speaking engagements, pleading with him to be well groomed and finely dressed. She was desperate that her grandchildren would be educated in a
Mabel organized his history and pleaded with her son-in-law to properly write Bell’s biography so history could be set straight so Bell could receive the proper credit for his work after they were gone.
Mabel started the first Montesorri school in Canada, and later another in the U.S., in order for her grandchildren and their friends to receive a proper education.
The story was fascinating to me because it also tied in to a book I listened to part of with Dad – Outliers: The Story of Success. Did fortune, and fame come to Alexander Graham Bell because he was lucky? a genius? Or because he was already surrounded with successful, famous people? Throughout their lives they had contact with royalty, Prime Ministers, Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Lieutenant-Governors, inventors, and other wealthy notables. This angle would make for a fascinating book or thesis.
The presence of the Bells in Baddeck, Nova Scotia must have changed the village’s destiny for ever. Mabel invested in the local library, and started a reading and women’s club in the village to bring together the women of different religions (who would otherwise never co-mingle) and class. The club still continues today. Their presence must have touched every person in the village. Many of them were employed by the Bells to construct their house, or in Bell’s laboratory. Others would have attended lavish meals and events at their “Beinn Bhreagh” estate (Gaelic for beautiful mountain).
Their large mansion and estate still overlooks Baddeck Bay and is used by their great-grandchildren. From the written description of a guest room in the mansion from a guest, their decor is/was very lavish! Mabel and Alec are buried together on the hill.
The life story of Mabel Bell will stick with me for a long time.
Book: Mabel Bell: Alexander’s silent partner
Author: Lilias M. Toward