By CHERYL McCULLERS
Descendants of Alexander Graham Bell convened at the Library on Nov. 3 for a presentation on the Library's collection of the Bell Family Papers. The Bell Family gathering was organized by Edwin Grosvenor, Alexander Graham Bell's great-grandson, who has spent many hours working with the collections while researching his book Alexander Graham Bell: The Life and Times of the Man Who Invented the Telephone.
"We're very excited to have all of the collection in one place," said Mr. Grosvenor. "Going through the collection is like personal archaeology." Sharing in the excitement was Bell's granddaughter, Elsie Alexandra Carolyn Grosvenor-Myers. "I'm having a great time," she said. " I wouldn't have missed this for the world."
Associate Librarian for Library Services Winston Tabb opened the program in the National Digital Library Learning Center by thanking the Bell family for allowing the Library to be custodian of the collection. "We wouldn't be able to be custodian of all of this wonderful material, if, over the Library's 200 years, we hadn't been the beneficiaries of such great and generous people."
Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on March 3, 1847. His mother, Eliza Grace Bell, excelled at piano and painting despite being deaf. The Bell patriarch, Alexander Melville Bell, was an expert and author in the field of speech and deafness. Alexander Graham Bell emulated his father's work by inventing techniques for teaching speech to the deaf and establishing the Volta Laboratory for research in the field of deafness. His work led to his invention of the telephone, for which he was granted a patent in 1876. The Bell Telephone Co. was formed in 1877 by Bell, Thomas Sanders, Thomas Watson and Gardiner Greene Hubbard.
Hubbard, who founded the Clark School for the Deaf in Massachusetts, had employed Bell as an instructor for his daughter, Mabel, who was deaf since age 4. The relationship between teacher and student grew, and the two were married in 1877.
In addition to being a successful lawyer, Hubbard was the first president of the National Geographic Society. Established in 1888, the society's charge was to "diffuse geographic knowledge." The first issue of National Geographic would be published that same year. Following his death in 1897, Hubbard's widow donated his collection of prints and photographs along with a bequest to purchase additional prints to the Library of Congress.
The responsibility of heading the National Geographic Society was inherited by Alexander Graham Bell after the death of his father-in-law. In 1899, Bell appointed his son-in-law, Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor, as editor of the organization's magazine. Though Grosvenor had no editorial experience, his rearing in Turkey and early exposure to diverse cultures convinced Bell that he was the right man for the job. Under Grosvenor's leadership, the magazine was transformed from a pedantic compilation of scholarly articles to an informative magazine featuring stories and photographs depicting various cultures and locations. Grosvenor has been called the "father of photojournalism" and is credited for the addition of photographs to National Geographic, which attracted millions of new readers.
The Prints and Photographs Division houses the architectural design drawings for Hubbard Memorial Hall and the National Geographic Society building in Washington, D.C. Beverly Brannan, curator of photography in the Library's Prints and Photographs Division, told Bell family descendants about the significance of the Hubbard collection. Ms. Brannan, who has worked with the Hubbard, Bell and Grosvenor photographic collections for 25 years, noted that the Prints and Photographs Division has more than 30,000 photographs of the Bell immediate and extended family. "The family has continued to give to the Library over many generations," said Ms. Brannan.
Marvin Kranz, manuscript historian, displayed treasures from the Bell Family Papers and various other collections that reside in the Library's Manuscript Division. Leonard Bruno, curator of scientific collections in the Manuscript Division, treated the family to a sampling of the online Bell Family Papers collection.
"With the generous support of AT&T, the Library has been able to digitize a representative portion of the Bell Family Papers," said Mr. Bruno. The materials selected for digitization are reflective of Bell's creative processes, inventive genius and humanity.
The Bell Family Papers and the Gardiner Greene Hubbard collections are both available on the Library's Web site (www.loc.gov). For information on Alexander Graham Bell and Gilbert H. Grosvenor, visit the Library's new Web site for children and families, www.americaslibrary.gov.
Ms. McCullers is on a detail to the Public Affairs Office.