Women in the Shadows 


This regularly appearing column will introduce you to some of the women behind the men who are firmly cemented in historical records. The spotlight didn’t often find these women, but they played integral roles in their husbands’ success. Most of the recorded histories around the world, in America, and even family histories prior to the mid-twentieth century placed more importance on remembering men’s names and accomplishments rather than women’s, so this column shines a light on these lesser-known women.

Mabel Gardiner Hubbard

(1857 - 1923)


  • A bout with Scarlett fever left Mabel profoundly deaf at age five.

  • Her parents found tutors to teach her to lip-read and speak, so she was able to attend school with hearing children.

  • At the tender age of nine, she spoke before the Massachusetts legislature to support teaching deaf children how to speak, and she intelligibly answered questions about history, geography, and math. 

  • Mabel was teaching speech to deaf students when she met her future husband; she liked and disliked things about him. 

  • After he tutored her to improve her articulation, she fell in love with him.

  • They married in 1877 after a two-year engagement.

  • Mabel called her husband ‘Alec’. 

In 1879, Alec begged her to “make me describe and publish my ideas that I may at least obtain credit for them and that people may know that I am still alive and thinking… You are the mistress of my heart and sharer of my thoughts… so I send you a few ideas— as they come to me— to be added to the list of unwritten inventions and upon my return to be written out by us.” 

Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, 66

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

  • Mabel worked as a homemaker, a venture capitalist, and a social reformer.

  • Independently wealthy, she used $35,000 of her own money to finance an organization that pursued powered flight, which made her the North American aviation industry’s first financial backer.

  • She was the one who managed her family’s finances.

  • Mabel’s favorite project was helping establish one of Canada’s first woman’s clubs.

  • She bought a former Methodist church and donated it to Baddeck, Nova Scotia, for its first library.

  • She loved camping out, and continued to do it until months before her death.

  • Mabel died of cancer six months after her husband passed.


Mabel said, “I believe thoroughly in you, Alec dear.” She also declared that she was both proud and jealous of the work of her husband, Alexander Graham Bell. 


Donna Van Cleve

May 2020

Archived under "Women Behind Successful Men" (WBSM) & "Profiles of Women"

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