Here’s why we continue to celebrate the love and lasting contributions of Alexander Graham Bell and his Mabel Gardiner Hubbard.
Who Was Mabel Gardiner Hubbard?
Mabel Gardiner Hubbard was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on November 25, 1857. She was the daughter of a patent lawyer, Gardiner Greene Hubbard, and his wife, Gertrude Mercer McCurdy.
Just before her fifth birthday, Mabel suffered an illness thought to be scarlet fever. She recovered with her life, but the illness destroyed her sense of hearing. The condition rendered her completely deaf and challenged her sense of balance.
Her family supported Mabel despite her hearing loss in every way possible. First, her father helped create the Clarke School for the Deaf. It was the first oral school of its kind in the United States in 1867. Then, later that year, Mabel Gardiner Hubbard spoke to the Massachusetts State Legislature. She brought attention to the need to provide access to oral education for deaf children.
At that time, children who were deaf were not allowed to attend public school.
Mabel’s parents were dedicated to keeping Mabel integrated with the community. They believed the best way to do so was by teaching her spoken language. They moved to Germany during her school years so Mabel could attend public school with her peers. She learned to read lips and continued to use spoken language throughout her lifetime. She even learned German fluently.
Mabel Gardiner Hubbard grew to become a confident, lively, statuesque teenager. She was slender and tall, with gorgeous locks of sunkissed brown hair and dazzling gray eyes.
How Did Alexander and Mabel Meet?
In 1872, Bell was invited to give a demonstration of Visible Speech at the Clarke School for the Deaf. It was then that Alexander Graham Bell met Gardiner Greene Hubbard. He demonstrated his extraordinary teaching talent, that impressed Hubbard.
In 1873, Mabel Gardiner Hubbard met Alexander Graham Bell for the first time. Her father engaged him to improve her speech skills. Mabel was fifteen years old. Mabel recalled, “I both did not, and did like him…He dressed carelessly in a horrible, shiny broadcloth, which made his jet-black hair look shiny.” (Gray, 2006).
However, Mabel sensed something extraordinary about her new teacher. She couldn’t seem to dismiss him once he started talkin,. She was quickly captivated by his quick-witted conversation and enthusiasm.
Alexander was impressed at the speed with which Mabel caught on to his Visible Speech system. He came to realize the intellectual strength she possessed. Their relationship remained that of pupil and teacher throughout Mabel’s school-aged years. Alexander’s mind remained preoccupied with the development of telephony.
How Did They Fall in Love?
Alexander entered into a business relationship with Mabel Gardiner Hubbard’s father. He made frequent visits to the Hubbard home. Mabel, no longer his student and now a lovely young woman, grew to become his confidant and friend.
In the summer of 1875, Alexander realized the young woman had made an impression on his heart.
In a letter confessing his feelings for Mabel to his mother, he wrote – “It was useless striving longer against Fate – I must either declare myself or lose her. I did not know what to do.” (Gray, 2006)
Alexander also penned a letter to Mabel Gardiner Hubbard’s mother describing his feelings for Mabel. Gertrude Hubbard politely requested that Alexander wait one year before confessing his feelings. Gertrude felt Mabel deserved a chance to enter into society and meet other young men.
Alexander tried desperately to adhere to Gertrude’s wishes. But his passion for Mabel bubbled over. He decided to confess his love directly in a letter to Mabel, whom he felt was woman enough to decide for herself.
“You do not know, you cannot guess, how much I love you – how much I desire to have the right to shield and protect you,” he wrote (Gray, 2006).
Their relationship soon blossomed. Mabel Gardiner Hubbard realized that she too had developed feelings for Alexander. She confessed as much to him in November of that year. After acquiring the blessing of Mabel’s parents, the two were married on July 11, 1877, 155 years ago today.
It’s easy to see why Alexander felt such respect and endearment for his new wife. Mabel convinced Alexander to exhibit his newly crafted telephone device at the U.S. Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876.
She went as far as to buy his ticket and pack his bags, leaving him no choice but to take a chance on his new device. Alexander’s telephone invention would skyrocket him to international acclaim.
What Was Their Marriage Like?
The newlyweds complimented each other. Alexander was a passionate, impulsive genius. He was tempered by the more stable, grounded nature of Mabel’s demeanor.
Alexander once wrote to Mabel, “You are the mistress of my heart and sharer of my thoughts.” The letter is a testament to the couple’s endearing intellectual and romantic bond.
Mabel Gardiner Hubbard and her husband had four children together throughout their marriage. Their two daughters, Elsie May and Marian Hubbard, grew up in Washington, DC, and on Beinn Bhreagh, the Bells’ estate in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Sadly, the Bells endured the devastating loss of their two sons, Edward Bell and Robert Bell, who died shortly after birth.
However, they managed to find solace in each other through their grief. They devoted the rest of their lives to family, the spirit of ingenuity, and service to their community.
What Legacy Did They Leave Behind?
Throughout their marriage, the Bells worked together to leave a lasting mark on the world. Mabel Gardiner Hubbard helped Alexander found the Volta Laboratory. The organization was dedicated “to the increase and diffusion of knowledge relating to the deaf.”
Mabel also played a crucial part in the development of Alexander’s many inventions. After marrying Mabel, Alexander invented the graphophone, photophone, vacuum jacket, audiometer, and metal detector. He too supported Mabel in her life work. Mabel initiated the first Women’s Club in Canada and the first home-school association. She also pursued scientific research in her gardens.
The two also worked together to found The American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf. Later, it was renamed the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The AGBell organization remains a worldwide leader in advocacy for spoken language for people who are deaf.
What the Bells envisioned in 1890 continues today. The AGBell Association has grown with the times. It has become a global leader, offering the latest research and certification in the Listening and Spoken Language Speciality.
The couple was married for 55 years until Alexander Graham Bell died on August 02, 1922. Mabel passed away shortly after that on January 3, 1923. The Bells were interred together at their Beinn Bhreagh estate in Nova Scotia.
In Bell’s words, “An inventor is someone who looks around the world and is not content with things the way they are; he wants to improve what he sees; he wants to benefit the world.” Mabel Gardiner Hubbard and Alexander Graham Bell embraced this idea throughout their loving life together.