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9 trailblazing female explorers

By: Matt Hickman on Oct. 24, 2016, 12:17 p.m.
Gertrude Bell in Iraq, 1909

Photo: Public domain

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Gertrude Bell (1868-1926)

Mountaineer. Archeologist. Writer. Cartographer. Diplomat. Linguist. Museum founder. British spy. This is just a brief list of titles that could apply to the inimitable Gertrude Bell.

Often referred to as “Gertrude of Arabia,” Oxford-educated Bell was, above all, a nation-shaper who played an integral role in transitioning Mesopotamia into modern-day Iraq after World War I. Bell drew borders, installed a monarch (who was loyal to the British), and helped reorganize and stabilize a wobbly government. If Bell’s name rings, well, a bell, it may be because of a recent flurry of interest in her legacy amid the current Middle East instability. Writes The New York Times: “Seen through the experience of Iraq’s tumultuous recent past, the decisions made by Miss Bell … hold cautionary lessons for those seeking to bring stability or seek advantage in the region now.”

Bell, who overdosed on sleeping pills in Baghdad at age 57, remained a staunch anti-suffragist to the end. She is the subject of an upcoming Werner Herzog-helmed biopic titled “Queen of the Desert” starring Nicole Kidman as Bell and Robert Pattinson as Bell's protégé, T.E. Lawrence.