Why a Great Woman Says “I Do” to the Man She Does

Married 45 years. Together 47.

The day they met Mabel Hubbard wrote she “could never marry such a man.” Such a man as Professor Alexander Graham Bell. It gets better.

Or worse if you’re Aleck. She didn’t hold back from Dear Diary.

He dresses carelessly in a horrible, shiny broadcloth, which makes his jet black hair look shiny, too. Altogether, I do not think him exactly a gentleman. I make a distinction between teachers and gentlemen of means, lawyers, merchants, etc.

Mabel knew how she liked her men. . . with law degrees. Just like her daddy. But to end up with a Harvard grad would take Aleck’s expertise.

She changes for the better thanks to his influence.

Difficult to believe when homegirl came from one of the best families in Cambridge. I mean, she dreamed in German, her second language. You literally could hardly tell she was deaf.

Aleck could work with hardly.

Like you read, the Scotsman failed to meet her standards. His basement classroom (Um, gross.) didn’t help matters. His teaching did. On the daily, Aleck’s lessons entertained and excited Mabel to learn Visible Speech.

Next thing she knew, “Mr. Bell” shoves her off to some assistant instructor. The nerve!

He places her wellbeing before his own.

What Mabel didn’t know hurt her feelings and pride.

That was this: Her twenty-six-year-old teacher was distraught that he felt more than he should for his fifteen-year-old student. (The math comes out to exactly 10 years, 8 months, and 23 days between them.)

“While Miss Locke [her new teacher] might be pleasant enough in person, [Mabel] missed Professor Bell’s ingenious teaching methods, and his winning laughter when he had challenged her to produce the sounds he had pictured,” noted biographer Helen Elmira Waite.

“The day she braved a blinding snowstorm to attend class, and Mr. Bell insisted upon accompanying her home, she changed her mind slightly about his not being a gentleman.”

Those who know them best support the match.

Being a gentleman, Aleck goes to her parents.

I’m guessing he came off oddly formal to the Hubbards. He was a dear friend. The genius teacher they’d hired. The inventor they’d invested in. The bachelor they’d welcomed to their home every Sunday afternoon. But for this visit, he was the suitor in love with their daughter.

Pleased yet protective, the Hubbards made a request. His affection would be secret until Mabel turned eighteen. Well, almost.

His persistence requires her attention.

One Sunday Aleck’s secret kind of blushed out. (You’ll love this.) So, the girls insisted on walking to the garden. Loverboy was re-luc-tant to escort them, but acquiesced. Again, gentleman.

Mabel had her hand on his arm. The moon was aglow. Her eyes kept landing on his lips, because she’s reading them. The others—her sister and cousin—ran ahead, leaving them alone together.

It’s uncomfortably perfect.

Cue the sister and cousin. Aleck could tell by their impish grins. They knew. They knew and they had flowers with them to prove it. Wouldn’t Aleck and Mabel like to pluck their fortunes? Wink. Wink.

Glare. Glare.

Of course, his petals showed “She loves me.”

Mabel Oblivious Hubbard asked who he was thinking of. The scamps said they knew who, giggled, and looked to her. You’d think that would be her moment of enlightenment, but no.

No comment from Mabel.

Aleck was all in his head. He could not help himself from saying more. On the porch later that night, he blurted, “If you could choose a husband, what should he be like?”

Mabel played it off (we’re told) “prettily.”

Her companions were ugly about it though—teasing, ridiculing, hating. Let me tell you. Mabel left for a vacay with her girls to Nantucket. Cousin Mary included.

Cousin Mary was not Aleck’s biggest fan.

The guy knew it too. He stayed in Cambridge to give Mabel space. . . until he couldn’t. He couldn’t sleep. Didn’t eat. Wondered. Knew Cousin Mary was not being kind to him. With or without her parent’s blessing, Aleck had to go to Mabel, explain himself.

From Ocean House Inn, August 8, 1875, he wrote his heart out. One. Two. Three. Four. FiveSixSeven. Eight handwritten pages to his woman. Or she would be.

She witnesses his integrity time and again.

First eight pages had to be delivered.

Aleck made it to her door, then, well, Cousin Mary happened—need I say more? Mabel did indeed receive it, even if she didn’t receive him thanks to her bouncer.

Our boy left by the way. Like left left for Cambridge, unburdened that nothing was unwritten. He got back to sleeping and eating.

Mabel got to reading.

She learned of how he’d spoken to her parents a year prior; their request that he wait; and his pains of keeping quiet. Plus some. (It is eight pages.) His own words best represent his sentiments. . .

I merely wish that you should know my heart—and then I feel that I can leave you with the consciousness of having been true to myself—and just to you—and leave the rest all else to time.

She embraces her man for who he is—not for whom he may or may not become.

Things get sexy here. I mean it.

Up to this point, Mabel (love her) has been a bit of a snot as seventeen-year-olds and all-year-olds can be. I say we give her props for returning home early to Cambridge. The DTR (Define the Relationship) talk she and Aleck had in the greenhouse is a nice image. She tries.

All he wants is to have the honor of calling her his wife.

All her father wants is for his investment to come through. Not just for himself either. If Gardiner’s baby girl is going to marry Aleck, he wants her to be taken care of in the manner which she is accustomed to. (Not a bad dude.)

The ultimatum is explained in Chapter Ten of Make a Joyful Sound: “Become a sensible man, admit his telephone scheme was sheer fantasy, turn his Visible Speech classes over to someone else, settle down to telegraph projects in earnest and marry Mabel; or cling to the classes, go on with the telephone—and give up Mabel.”

Aleck defended his honor with humility and confidence.

He wrote to Gardiner Hubbard. Should Mabel come to love me as devotedly as I love her—she will not object to any work in which I may be engaged as long as it is honorable and profitable. If she does not come to love me well enough to accept me whatever my profession or business may be—I do not want her at all! I do not want a half-love, nor do I want her to marry my profession.

He is really owning this masculine thing. Is The Man.

Only Mabel had to decide if he would be hers.

The day after her father received the letter marked her eighteenth birthday. While Momma Hubbard understood her husband’s stance, Mabel, a woman now, needed to take her own. Which is what Momma Hubbard encouraged her to do.

The greenhouse made for the perfect place.

Mabel recorded, I told him that I loved him. . . and if he was satisfied with so much love I would be engaged to him that very day!

And so they were. Except, you know how it goes. First comes phones, then comes marriage.

With him, she envisions a great adventure in which she plays a vital role.

Aleck received another proposal. This one came from the U.S. Centennial Exposition to please come and display his contraption.

Hard pass. Ever a teacher, Aleck could hardly leave his students so close to exams.

Mabel could work with hardly.

How do I put this? She abandoned him at the depot. With a ticket, packed bag, and kiss on the cheek. Whatever protest he had fell on deaf ears when Mabel spun away. “I can’t hear you, Aleck. I can’t read your lips.” The sass!

He was going to have his hands full when he returned. . . from the expo where he received worldwide acclaim. Ring a bell?

Let me know your favorite historical power couple in a comment.

Proverbs 31:23 (ESV)

Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the leaders of the land.

“Letter from Alexander Graham Bell to Mabel Hubbard Bell, August 8, 1875.” The Library of Congress. Accessed March 25, 2020. https://www.loc.gov/resource/magbell.03400101/?st=gallery.

Waite, Helen Elmira. Make A Joyful Sound: The Romance of Mabel Hubbard and Alexander Graham Bell. Macrae Smith Company, 1961.

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How do you become a great woman? I'm asking. It's not rhetorical. You see, I'd like to be one. I intend to gain a fair blueprint by learning from inspirational women in history. You're welcome to join me.

7 thoughts on “Why a Great Woman Says “I Do” to the Man She Does

    1. She had several years to observe and experience his character. It’s not too often in history I find a woman who does the proposing.

      As of right now, that list for me is two: Queen Victoria and Mabel Hubbard.


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