Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell (1868-1926) was born into a wealthy family at Washington New Hall. Initially home-schooled, she then attended school in London and graduated with a first-class degree in Modern History from Oxford University. Thereafter she travelled in Europe and also spent several months in Bucharest and in Tehran. Her travels continued with two round-the-world trips: one in 1897-1898 and one in 1902-1903.
From the turn of the century, Gertrude developed a love of the Arab peoples - she learned their languages, investigated their archaeological sites and travelled deep into the desert. This intimate knowledge of the country and its tribes made her a target of British Intelligence recruitment during the First World War. At the end of the war, Gertrude focussed on the future of Mesopotamia and was to become a powerful force in Iraqi politics, becoming a kingmaker when her preferred choice, Faisal was crowned King of the state of Iraq in 1921.
Gertrude's first love remained archaeology and, as Honorary Director of Antiquities in Iraq, she established the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. Her 1905 expedition through the Syrian Desert to Asia Minor was published as The Desert and the Sown and her study, in 1907, of Binbirkilise on the Kara Dag mountain was published as The Thousand and One Churches and remains the standard work on early Byzantine architecture in Anatolia.
Gertrude Bell's achievements were considerable at a time when a woman's role was deemed to be limited to the home and the family. Yet, it might seem contradictory that in spite of her exceptional education and career she campaigned against votes for women and was a founder member of the Northern branch of the Women's National Anti-Suffrage League.