Gertrude Bell

No tigress could have safeguarded Iraq’s rights better.
– M.E.L. Mallowan on Gertrude Bell

Born to a wealthy family in England in 1868, Gertrude Bell was a powerful and influential character in the modern history of the middle east, helping to define the borders of modern-day Iraq. After receiving a degree from Oxford University, Bell spent time traveling across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Fascinated with Arabic culture, Bell spent much of her time working, traveling and visiting in the Middle East. She became an important figure in Iraq following World War I. She was the only woman invited to the 1921 Council of Cairo, where she, T.E. Lawrence, Winston Churchill, and 37 others discussed the fate of Mesopotamia. She was a close adviser to King Faisal I of Iraq, and was eventually made Honorary Director of Antiquities. She wrote the first Antiquities laws for Iraq, founded the Iraq Museum, and began its collections with the many objects discovered at Ur, which was the first excavation permitted under the new law. Bell died in 1926 at the age of 58.

Woolley on Bell, “Her ambition was to make the museum worthy of the great history of Iraq and essential to the study of its past, and the fulfillment of that ambition would be the best material monument to her.” (London Times Obituary)