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Alexander Graham Bell's design sketch of the telephone, ca. 1876.

[Detail] Alexander Graham Bell's design sketch of the telephone

The Victorian Era: A Social History

The personal letters in Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers provide students with the opportunity to examine the personal beliefs and attitudes of Bell and members of his immediate family. From this information, students can also gain insight into aspects of the social history of the Victorian Era.

Students can browse the Family Papers series. They will find such items as the earliest record in this collection: a letter from Alexander Melville Bell to his son who has left home in Scotland to assist his grandfather in London. The letter instructs Aleck, a 15-year-old, on proper behavior and reveals the senior Bell's concern for his young son away from home for the first time. Letters, dated March 2, 1863 and March 2, 1864, pour out a father's love for his son as he celebrates his 16th and 17th birthdays away from home. In 1870, Bell received a letter informing him of his brother's death from tuberculosis. In this poignant letter, Alexander Melville Bell, urges his son to take care of himself.

  • How was young Bell expected to behave away from home? What social values are reflected in his fathers' instructions?
  • What responsibilities did Bell have to his family, especially after the death of his brother?
  • What topics did the family discuss? What were their major concerns? What did they celebrate?