Backgrounder

Mabel Hubbard Bell made important contributions to the work of her husband, inventor Alexander Graham Bell, and was a community leader on Cape Breton Island. The active partner of her husband, she provided business and financial guidance to his work as an inventor and scientist, personally financing the Aviation Experiment Association (AEA). This association contributed to early aviation history by creating four airplane prototypes, including the Silver Dart which achieved the first human flight in Canada. She was also a leader in her adopted Canadian community of Baddeck, where she founded the Young Ladies’ Club of Baddeck in 1891, the first Montessori School in the country, and the Parents Association of Baddeck, which ultimately led to the founding of a national Home and School Federation. In addition, she coped with deafness from childhood and became successfully integrated into North American society, ably demonstrating the effectiveness of the oral method of educating the deaf, as advocated by her father and husband.

Mabel Bell was born in the United States on November 25, 1857 and at the age of five contracted scarlet fever, which resulted in a complete loss of hearing and impaired balance. Sign language was the preferred method of deaf education, but by using the oral method instead she continued to speak and learned to read lips. Her testimony in Massachusetts’ state legislature demonstrated the method’s effectiveness and helped secure the reform of deaf education.

In 1877, Mabel Bell married her speech teacher, Alexander Graham Bell, who was also an inventor. Alexander Bell and his father-in-law partnered to secure his telephone patent and they launched the American Bell Telephone Company. Mabel Bell understood and discussed the technical aspects of his inventions and experiments with him and always encouraged commercial applications. She also managed their household and finances. To assist her husband in his goal of achieving human flight through tetrahedral kite experiments, Bell recruited young engineers to guide his research and add more precision to his measurements. She also proposed the creation of the AEA in 1907 and funded it entirely, becoming the first woman to invest in aviation.

The couple and their children built a home in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, and Bell added considerably to the community’s cultural and intellectual environment. Mabel Bell died on January 3, 1923, leaving a broad legacy. She was an intellectual and financial partner to her inventor husband, while her leadership in health, education, and women’s affairs benefitted her adopted Canadian community.

Panels on Mabel Bell at Alexander Graham Bell Museum, Cape Breton
Panels on Mabel Bell at Alexander Graham Bell Museum, Cape Breton