Mabel Hubbard Bell is often left out in the midst of the broad legacy of Dr. Bell. Her contributions to his life of invention are not widely known, but she was a great inspiration in his work with the deaf and his work and enthusiasm for invention.

Mabel was formative in encouraging her father to support Dr. Bell's work for deaf people in addition to his work on the telephone. It was her independent spirit that would attract Dr. Bell’s affections. Her success in speaking and as an independent member of society helped shape Dr. Bell's staunch advocacy for spoken language as the eminent method of teaching the deaf.

Several years into their marriage, Mabel often felt he neglected his family and their relationship in favor of his work.

Mabel maintained her independence, however. She sought an environment for her daughters in which they could grow to be strong and individual. She viewed their estate in Nova Scotia as a place they were able to live a "free, wild life". They named it Beinn Breagh, after the Gaelic meaning “beautiful mountain.” Mabel also took responsibility for the family's finances, making sure Alec didn't overstep his reigns in his inventive life. At the same time, it allowed him the freedom to spend more of his life focused on his work.

Mabel shared her husband’s enthusiasm for flight and, in 1903, was photographed measuring the pull of a kite.

Mabel shared her husband’s enthusiasm for flight and, in 1903, was photographed measuring the pull of a kite.

Mabel's most lasting contribution to American life may be her concerted support, both practical and financial, of the Montessori method of schooling young children. She made efforts to establish a school for the method in Washington, D.C. and helped found Canada's first Montessori school in Nova Scotia. In 1913, she would establish the Montessori Educational Association with her personal financial backing. Mabel would be elected its first President, and collected enough support from Washingtonian society to open a school on Kalorama Road in Washington, D.C. She would also fund their magazine, Freedom for the Child. By 1919 the Montessori method had fallen out of favor in the United States due to rampant criticism, but the foothold that Mabel helped the method gain in the Americas would later inspire another generation of teachers that practice and propagate its ways today.

Upon the breakout of World War I, the Bell’s lives shifted considerably. As a British Territory, Canada was at war from 1914. Mabel was undeterred, however, and hosted many benefits at Beinn Breagh to support international organizations such as the Red Cross.

She also organized the woodlands of the Nova Scotia estate to be used as a boat-building operation to support the war effort from 1918.

Mabel died in Maryland at the age of sixty-five, a mere six months after Alec passed. She had refused to reopen their Washington house without him.

 

Photos courtesy of the National Geographic Society Archives


Links

Read more about Mabel's life and her influence on Novia Scotian women.

Read a National Geographic Voices perspective on Mabel's relationship with her husband.

Read our biography page about Dr. Alexander Graham Bell.