National Geographic : 1965 Jul
© NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY In lace and black velvet, three-year-old Elsie posed for French artist Timoleon Marie Lobrichon. At ease in her new role of wife and partner to Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor, Elsie found time for club work, lectures, and civic duties. Often she scouted interesting speakers to find material for possible National Geographic lectures or articles. Looking back upon those years of dedicated service, I often think of Elsie Grosvenor in terms that her famous father, Alexander Gra ham Bell, used to describe an inventor: "The inventor is a man who looks around upon the world and is not contented with things as they are. He wants to improve what ever he sees; he wants to benefit the world." Among the letters that flooded in after her death, I received expressions of sympathy from geographical associations, civic organi zations, charities, explorers' clubs, universi ties, and scores of other professional groups each mourning the loss of a valued colleague. Yet for all the range of Elsie Grosvenor's interests, her heart lay closest to the National Geographic. In the Society's days of trial and uncertainty, her faith and quiet courage brought it hope. Later she helped to lift it from obscurity into a world-wide force for knowledge, with a membership of four and a half million. When in 1899 I was engaged as managing editor-and the only paid employee-of the faltering young NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, the Society was small and poor. But with Mr. Bell as its President, it was rich in vision. Stout Ally in Early Struggles Geography, the telephone's inventor be lieved, could be made a fascinating subject not a musty collection of textbook treatises, but a living and endless adventure in discov ery about man and the universe that sur rounds him. "Geography," he once said, "is the world itself and all it holds." Moreover, Mr. Bell pointed out, the increase and spread of geographic knowledge would draw men and nations together in common purpose and understanding of one another. Such a magazine, he insisted, should not rely upon subscriptions or newsstand sales; instead, it should seek members in a nonprofit society, men and women eager to learn, inter ested in increasing human knowledge, and willing to help support exploration and re search through modest annual dues. To me the logic of Mr. Bell's argument was overwhelming. Unfortunately, it met with fierce opposition among some of the Society's more conservative Trustees. The whole char acter-and perhaps the very existence-of the National Geographic Society hung pre cariously in the balance.* In addition to Mr. Bell, who left the crusade for his idea largely in my hands, I had one *See "The Romance of the Geographic," by Gilbert H. Grosvenor, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, October, 1963.