National Geographic : 1965 Jul
First Lady of the National Geographic By GILBERT HOVEY GROSVENOR, Litt.D., LL.D., Sc.D. Chairman of the Board, formerly President, National Geographic Society, and Editor of its magazine, 1899-1954 S HORTLY AFTER the death of Elsie May Bell Grosvenor on December 26, 1964, a letter arrived in my office at the National Geographic Society from the sixth grade class of a school in Illinois. It expressed sorrow over my wife's passing and ended: "We are all sorry we lost her." "Dr. Grosvenor," wrote a Roman Catholic nun to my son Melville, "pardon an utter stranger for getting personal; I believe your mother, Mrs. Elsie Bell Grosvenor, belonged to all of us members." As the letters poured in from every part of the world, I felt a growing sense of hands outstretched, not merely from friends but from a vast family. Many of the messages bore familiar signatures; countless others be gan simply, "You do not know me...." Linked to Four Presidents of the Society Such an experience moves a man beyond mere gratitude. To me it reaffirms the unique spirit of the National Geographic Society as my wife and I envisioned it together nearly seventy years ago-the spirit of a great and enduring family dedicated to knowledge and understanding. From her early childhood to her last year at 86, Elsie Grosvenor's life was uniquely linked with our Society. She was the granddaughter Young globe-trotter, Elsie May toured Japan in 1898 with her mother and father, Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone. "Elsie was equally at home with a coolie or a mandarin," a friend said of her, "for she was interested in the viewpoints of both. By her responsive attitude, she would have each of them trying to explain his life experiences to her." of its principal founder and first President, Gardiner Greene Hubbard; the daughter of its second President, Alexander Graham Bell; the wife of a long-time President and Editor; and the mother of its present President-Editor, Melville Bell Grosvenor. Thus in a very real sense she did indeed belong to all of us who are members of the Society. Elsie Grosvenor's restless energy led her in to many fields. She became a tireless traveler, a gifted author and lecturer, a champion of the friendless and the handicapped. To her, in justice and man's need for knowledge offered endless and irresistible challenge.