8th of March. International women’s day celebrated across the globe. This morning I did my homework and read a bit about it on United Nation’s web page (www.un.org/en/events/womensday/history.shtml). I was surprised to read that it took this international institution so many years to recognise, proclaim and start celebrating “women’s day”. It happened in 1975. What is worth mentioning is that many years before, in 1911:
(…) International Women's Day was marked for the first time (19 March) in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men attended rallies. In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office, they demanded women's rights to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination on the job.
It is unsettling that there are still situations/contexts where men and women are not treated equally (including equal salary for equal work).
But today I don’t want to write about the history of women’s movements and their fight for recognition. There will probably be other bloggers who will write about that. Therefore I would like to focus on presenting you a woman that, in my eyes, was far from being ordinary. That I believe can be a source of inspiration for many. Luckily there are many women that should be discussed and shown as an example. It is hard to choose one. But because travelling is one of my greatest passions, I wanted to talk about Gertrude Bell.
A woman in a man's world, Bell immersed herself in the Arab culture and became an "uncrowned Queen of the Desert", according to Helen Berry, professor of British History at Newcastle University. (…) She spoke eight languages, including French, Persian, Arabic and Turkish, and it was her knowledge of the tribes, geography and politics of the area that attracted the attention of British Intelligence.
I don’t remember exactly when and why I first heard about Gertrude Bell, it happened a few years ago, but I do remember being surprised and a little ashamed of not knowing this woman before. I then started to dig deeper in order to learn more about her. I was moved by what I have discovered so, as a consequence, I read a book about her life called “Queen Of The Desert: The Extraordinary Life Of Gertrude Bell”, written by Georgina Howell.
Gertrude Bell was an outstanding person with an extraordinary life. She was born in 1868 in Great Britain and she died in 1926 in Iraq. Her grandfather, Lowthian Bell, was one of the wealthiest businessmen of his times, a leader in the steel industry. He was also a patron of artists with William Morris as one of his protégés. He was also, like his son, and Gertrude’s father, a politician. Therefore Gertrude was brought up in nourishing conditions and she made a very good use of them. She graduated from Oxford University. And should I remind you that at that time, a century ago, women were not, with rare exceptions, studying? Gertrude became the first woman in the history of this famous University to graduate from Modern History with a first class honours degree. She instantly found particular interest in international affairs, foreign languages and archaeology.
What I particularly liked and admired about her was the fact how independent and nonconformist she was from an early age. She allowed herself to say what she was thinking, upfront, unlike most people. Especially in Victorian England, where political correctness and etiquette were required more from women than men. And although her attitude was not warmly welcomed by everyone, her social position and intelligence did not allow others to ignore her.
One of the events that clearly shaped her future and love to the Middle East was her travel to Teheran in, what back then was called, Persia. Gertrude was visiting her uncle, a British ambassador!, just after graduating from Oxford. She already spoke Persian, so she was able to polish it what resulted in a translation into English of Hafez’s poems.
Gertrude wanted to escape the Victorian norms and rules. Instead of settling down, she was eager to learn, experience and explore more. She was aware that she operates in a world dominated by men, but she saw herself as an exception.
What were the results of Gertrude’s inner strength, passion and dedication, as well as stubbornness? She became the greatest woman mountaineer of her times, later she travelled across a desert, she played important role in establishing order in the post First World War Arab world to mention only her most outstanding accomplishments.
I hope you will join me tomorrow for the second part of her story.
Thank you for being here with me. I hope until next time!
Pura Vida and enjoy your journey! ❤