Press Releases

CBU to Honour Mabel Hubbard Bell at a Special Convocation

Cape Breton University will posthumously award an Honorary Doctorate of Letters to Mabel Hubbard Bell at a Special Convocation ceremony on July 30, 2015, at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck, NS.

Mabel Hubbard Bell’s incredible drive and personality were instrumental to the international fame and impact experienced by her husband, Alexander Graham Bell. Yet, Mabel had her own remarkable, independent and unique qualities.

“Cape Breton University hopes that in recognizing Mabel Bell, young innovative minds, in particular young women, will be encouraged to follow their dreams, appreciate the value of education and know what is possible when people persevere through adversity,” says Dr. David Wheeler, President of Cape Breton University.”

Mabel’s early education began at home with her mother as her teacher. The speech and vocabulary she had as a five-year-old child, before she became deaf, were not only preserved but expanded, and she became a skilled lip reader. When she was nine years old, Mabel appeared before the Massachusetts Legislative Assembly to demonstrate that a deaf child could learn to lip read and speak effectively.

Mabel came to Baddeck, Cape Breton, with her family in 1885, and it was here that she demonstrated her genuine and deep interest in the well-being and prosperity of the people of Baddeck. The townspeople of Baddeck showed their respect and admiration for Mabel by passing an ordinance giving her the right to vote in municipal elections.
In 1907, Mabel became the first woman to invest in the aviation industry. Believing that her husband’s aeronautical experiments could lead to heavier-than-air flying machines, she organized, financed and recruited members, such as J.A.D. “Douglas” McCurdy and F.W. “Casey” Baldwin, to form the Aerial Experiment Association. Two years later, the AEA launched the first manned flight in Canada.

“We, her descendants are thankful to Cape Breton University for bestowing our great-grandmother with an honorary ‘Doctor of Letters’,” says Joan Sullivan, great-granddaughter of the Bells. “CBU is the first to honour her as an individual and recognize what we already know- Mabel Hubbard Bell’s creativity, ingenuity and progressive thinking, changed lives for the better.”

To encourage women in Baddeck to, “acquire knowledge and promote sociability,” Mabel formed the Young Ladies Club of Baddeck in 1891. Now the Alexander Graham Bell Club, it is the oldest continuously operated women’s organization in Canada. This is just a sample of her many accomplishments.

“We are fortunate to have a wealth of information in the letters of Mabel Bell. There are hundreds of volumes of her words written to her husband, her parents, her daughters and others,” says Marian Weissman, great-granddaughter of the Bells. “It is through these inspiring words that we know how strongly she felt about women’s rights and about helping others. She remains an inspiration almost a century after her death.”

Ms. Bell will also be honored with the presentation of the Bell Aliant Women in Education Awards. Bell Aliant’s gift of $20,000 supports the special convocation event and also provides awards of $2,500 to female students during the upcoming 2015-2016 academic year. The awards will be presented by Bell Aliant at the annual President’s Dinner.

“We’re very proud of our connection to the Bell story and our roots as the Bell Telephone Company of Canada,” says Glen LeBlanc, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, BCE and Bell Canada, and CBU alumnus. “Mabel Bell’s story clearly demonstrates the value of higher education and it is our hope that these awards not only ease some of the financial burden for these students, but inspire and encourage a new generation of leaders and innovators.”

A selection of music from The Bells of Baddeck – the Alexander Graham and Mabel Bell Story (Lorna MacDonald /Dean Burry) will also be performed at the special convocation.

Dr. Wheeler and Ms. Annette Verschuren, Chancellor of Cape Breton University will preside over the public ceremony at 1:00 p.m. at Water Hall at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum.