Born in 1868, Gertrude Bell was an English writer, archeologist, political officer and spy who is known for her role in founding modern Iraq. After becoming the first woman to graduate with a history degree from Oxford, Bell began her world travels.
Over the years she learned Arabic, Persian, French, German, Italian and Turkish. She made two around-the-world journeys within 10 years, and even survived a blizzard while while climbing the Alps in 1902.
Bell was particularly fond of the Middle East, and began a career in archeology there. When World War I broke out, she was hired by the British government to form an alliance with the Arabs against the Ottoman Empire. She was the only female political officer in the British forces at the time. In 1921, Bell was incredibly influential in determining the borders of the new state of Iraq, even serving as advisor to the first King of Iraq, Faisal bin Hussein. Bell died shortly after, in 1926, from an apparent overdose on sleeping pills.
Interestingly enough, Bell was a staunch anti-suffragist and seemed to have a rather dim view of the abilities of other women of her day. Despite working for the Imperialist British forces, she was loved by the people of Mesopotamia that she encountered in her travels and remains a figure of affection even today. She believed strongly that the people of Iraq should have the right to determine their own fate, a controversial stance at the time which was dismissed by the British government.
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