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Mabel Bell: Scientist, Inventor, Activist (World Hearing Day 2023)

Many people know Mabel Hubbard Bell as the dedicated wife to Dr. Alexander Graham Bell. And while she did spend a large amount of time supporting her husband’s work and managing their lives, Mabel Bell was a scientist, inventor, and activist in her own right.

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By Melody Bertrand

Scientist at Heart

Mabel Bell had a passion for growing and maintaining gardens, leading her to study and create ways to make food grow better. Ideas that today we know as cross-species pollination.

While summering in Canada, Mabel would often be seen peeking over hedges and admiring the flowers, fruit and veggies growing in her neighbor’s yards. She began to study her own gardens and make detailed sketches and notes about their growth and production. Her sketches show details about how well certain vegetables grew when planted next to specific types of flowers. Mabel’s notes also had questions about the role bees played in helping pollinate a variety of fruits and vegetables. These ideas have only recently been recognized and commercially applied in today’s agricultural industry.

In addition, she worked with her son-in-law, David Fairchild, to experiment with growing foreign and unusual plants from other places in the world. This collaboration would lead to Fairchild successfully planting and growing the famed Japanese cherry blossom trees in Washington, D.C.

Today, visitors to the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Nova Scotia, Canada, can view recreations of Mabel’s gardens. These have intentionally been designed to carry on her legacy of showing how easy it is to grow sustainable food for one’s own household.

Inventor and Financier 

While the Wright Brothers may have been “first in flight,” Mabel Bell was the first person to invest financially in the aviation industry. One of Dr. Bell’s many areas of interest and a personal passion of his was exploring how to make things fly. Through the use of large kites and kite-like structures, he developed the tetrahedral kite, a strong and light structure that was suitable for flight.

Believing in her husband’s research, she used her own money to finance the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA) in 1907. Dr. Bell headed up the development end and Mabel both managed and financed the group. In just two short years, the AEA would launch the first manned aircraft in Canada: the Silver Dart. The aircraft was the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to fly in Canada.

Although the AEA only existed for a few short years, the aircraft designs and innovations propelled forward the aviation industry as we know it today.

Tireless Activist 

Mabel Bell was an enthusiastic activist and supporter of women’s and children’s education and rights. She spent a lot of time encouraging and enabling women to effect changes in their communities.

She established the Young Ladies Club of Baddeck, which continues today as the Bell Club and is the longest, continuing women’s club in Canada. This club, along with many others across the country, encourage the education of women and support charitable works in their communities.

Interested in innovative teaching methods, she founded the Parents Association of Baddeck. This provided parents an opportunity to participate in their local education system. Her interest in improving education led to her opening the first Montessori school in Canada, called the Children’s Laboratory.

Mabel’s satisfaction with the teaching methods and outcomes led her to open a second Montessori school that same year in Washington, D.C. She would later serve as the first president of the Montessori Educational Association of America, continuing to expand this teaching approach across the country.

Mabel Bell supported and contributed to the work of her husband, but is often overlooked for her own achievements and scientific pursuits. The impacts of her work and passion can still be seen today.

Mabel Bell: científica, inventora y activista

Por Melody Bertrand

La gran mayoría de personas conoce a Mabel Hubbard Bell por ser la abnegada esposa del Dr. Alexander Graham Bell. Si bien no cabe duda de que dedicó mucho tiempo a apoyar el trabajo de su esposo, además de hacerse cargo de las actividades cotidianas del hogar, Mabel Bell fue científica, inventora y activista por derecho propio.

Científica de corazón

A Mabel Bell le apasionaba el cultivo y el mantenimiento de jardines y huertos, por lo que no dejó de estudiar y crear maneras de conseguir un mejor desarrollo de las plantas, lo que en la actualidad se conoce como polinización entre especies.

Cuando veraneaba en Canadá, Mabel solía asomarse por encima de los setos y admirar las flores, frutas y hortalizas de los jardines de sus vecinos. Empezó a estudiar sus propios cultivos y a realizar bocetos y anotaciones detalladas sobre su crecimiento y producción. Sus bocetos muestran detalles del buen crecimiento de determinadas hortalizas cuando se plantaban junto a tipos específicos de flores. En las notas de Mabel también se incluían menciones del papel de las abejas en la polinización de los árboles frutales y las hortalizas. En realidad, es bastante reciente el reconocimiento y la aplicación de estas ideas comercialmente en la industria agrícola actual.

Además, trabajó con su yerno, David Fairchild, para experimentar con el cultivo de plantas foráneas e inusuales procedentes de otros lugares del mundo. Gracias a esta colaboración, el Sr. Fairchild fue capaz de plantar y cultivar en Washington D.C. los famosos cerezos de flor japoneses.

En la actualidad, los visitantes del sitio histórico nacional Alexander Graham Bell de Nueva Escocia (Canadá) pueden contemplar recreaciones de los huertos de Mabel. Se han diseñado intencionadamente para continuar su legado y mostrar lo fácil que es cultivar alimentos sostenibles para consumo propio.

Inventora e inversora

Mientras que los hermanos Wright fueron los «primeros en volar», Mabel Bell fue la primera persona que invirtió en la industria de la aviación. Uno de los numerosos intereses del Dr. Bell y una de sus pasiones personales era explorar la manera de conseguir que los objetos volaran. Mediante el uso de grandes cometas y estructuras similares, desarrolló la cometa tetraédrica, una estructura fuerte y ligera que era apta para el vuelo.

Apostando por las investigaciones de su esposo, en 1907 invirtió su propio dinero para financiar la Aerial Experiment Association (AEA). El Dr. Bell dirigía el desarrollo de la asociación y Mabel la gestionaba y financiaba. En solo dos años, la AEA lanzaría el primer avión tripulado de Canadá: el Silver Dart, que fue la primera máquina propulsada más pesada que el aire que voló en Canadá.

Si bien la AEA solo existió unos años, sus diseños e innovaciones impulsaron la industria de la aviación tal y como la conocemos en la actualidad.

Activista incansable

Mabel Bell fue una entusiasta activista y defensora de la educación y los derechos de las mujeres y los niños. Dedicó mucho tiempo a animar y a capacitar a las mujeres para que realizaran cambios en sus comunidades.

Fundó el «Club de señoritas de Baddeck», que sigue existiendo con el nombre de Bell Club y es el club femenino más antiguo de Canadá. Este club, junto con otros muchos en todo el país, fomenta la educación de las mujeres y apoya las obras benéficas en sus comunidades.

Guiada por su interés en los métodos de enseñanza innovadores, fundó la Asociación de padres de Baddeck, facilitando a los padres y madres la oportunidad de participar en el sistema educativo local. Su interés en la mejora de la educación le impulsaría a abrir la primera escuela Montessori de Canadá, llamada Children’s Laboratory.

Mabel se sentía tan satisfecha con sus métodos de enseñanza y sus resultados que abriría una segunda escuela Montessori ese mismo año en Washington, D.C. Más tarde sería la primera presidenta de la Asociación Educativa Montessori de América y continuaría expandiendo este método de enseñanza por todo el país.

Sin ninguna duda, Mabel Bell prestó apoyo y colaboración al trabajo de su esposo, pero a menudo se pasan por alto sus propios intereses y logros científicos. Las repercusiones de su trabajo y su pasión todavía se pueden apreciar en la actualidad.

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