Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell (July 14, 1868 - July 12, 1926) was an Englishwoman who, singlehandedly, invented the country which today is called Iraq. Little known and almost forgotten in the latter part of the 20th Century, Bell was a woman of extraordinary intellect, ability, daring and political skills. During her adventurous and varied life, she was the unrecognised brains behind the Arab revolt in World War I - for which Lawrence of Arabia was unfairly given most of the credit - and at the conclusion of the war, it was Bell who drew up the borders of the former Mesopotamia to include the three vilayets which became Iraq.
It was also Gertrude Bell who persuaded Winston Churchill to appoint Faisal, the recently deposed King of Syria, as the first King of Iraq, and until her death, she was the most senior and important female Civil Servant in the entire British Empire.
Gertrude Bell was born in Washington Hall County Durham, England to a family of great affluence. She showed extraordinary brilliance as a child, and at the age of 16, went up to Oxford University, where she gained a first class Honours Degree in History in only two years.
She then spent much of her time travelling around the world, mountaineering in Switzerland, and gaining a love of archaeology and languages. One of England's great explorers, Bell opened up the Arabian deserts to the western world with her vivid descriptions, and brilliantly written prose. She spent many years getting to know the Arab chieftains, Emirs and Sheiks, and at the outbreak of the First World War, she was in a particularly good position to advise the British War Ministry about the location and disposition of Arabic forces which could be encourage to join the British against the Turks. It was at this point in her life that she became an advisor to Colonel T. E. Lawrence, later known as Lawrence of Arabia. She was instrumental in British wartime efforts in Egypt and Mesopotamia, and was a profoundly talented intelligence officer, her work causing her to be specially mentioned for credit in the English Parliament. She was awarded the CBE.
Because of her knowledge of the country, she was part of the delegation to the Paris Conference of 1919 and was asked to draw up the boundaries for the new country of Iraq. However, after Paris, Bell was virtually ignored by the British, and was largely bypassed by the world, which caused her to be deeply depressed, especially as she saw so much attention being paid to Lawrence of Arabia, who had, compared to her, been more of a side-show than a serious player in the Arab revolt.
During her remaining few years, she created and was the first Director of the Baghdad Archaeological Museum.
Bell died July 12, 1926, in Baghdad, Iraq. She is thought to have committed suicide.