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Emily Rowena Bell

(1843-1913)

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Emily Rowena Bell
Emily Rowena Bell
Historic Hillsborough Commission

At a Glance

Born in 1843 in Plymouth, NC, Emily was the fourth child of Dr. James W. Bell and Mary Eliza Walker. A Bell granddaughter, Mrs. Ruth H. Bateman, described Emily as  "pretty and amiable and especially talented in music. Her mother gave her piano lessons, but she had her academic lessons with a tutor who lived with the family." [1]

Story

At the age of eleven, Emily's sister Mary Marcia Bell died. The tragedy left Emily inconsolable. This turn of events partially led to the decision to send both Emily and her older sister Jane Williamette Bell  to the Burwell School to further study music. Because their mother was a close friend of Mrs. Burwell, the two sisters stayed in the Burwell family home.

Apart from her time at school in Hillsborough, NC, she spent most of her life in Plymouth, NC. In 1861, at the age of fifteen, Emily married James F. Norman of Plymouth, NC. Directly after the marriage, James F. Norman left for the Confederate army and Emily lived with her family in Plymouth, NC until their home was burned during the Battle of Plymouth in 1864. Her only child was stillborn in 1863 which left her heartbroken.

In 1869, she and her husband purchased the land on which her parents' home had stood and built a new house. It was after this that Emily gave singing lessons, organized a  "singing school,"  and organized the first choir of the Plymouth Methodist Church.

After visiting her sister Jane Williamette Bell  in Halifax County, NC in 1875, Emily became attached to her two-year-old niece, Hope Hunter. Although Hope was not the biological daughter of Emily Rowena Bell, Emily raised her niece as her own daughter. She took the little girl home with her, and Hope remained permanently with the Normans and became the daughter of the house.

Emily continued to give music lessons until her death in 1913 despite being confined to her wheelchair by her ill health. Data for Emily Rowena Bell was originally supplied by Mrs. Ruth H. Bateman [1].

Biographical Data

Important Dates

Emily Rowena Bell was born in 1843. She died in 1913.

Places of Residence

  • Plymouth, NC, between 1843 and 1913. Emily Rowena Bell spent the majority of her life in Plymouth both before and after her marriage. She did however live in Hillsborough, NC for a time during her time at the Burwell School. After her original family home was burned during the Battle of Plymouth in the American Civil War, she and her husband purchased the land and rebuilt a house that she lived in until her death [1].
  • Hillsborough, NC, from 1857. Emily Rowena Bell lived in Hillsborough when she attended the Burwell School in the company of her older sister Jane Willamette Bell after the death of their sister Mary Marcia in 1854. The two girls attended for advanced musical instruction [1].

Schools Attended

  • Burwell School, from 1857. Emily Rowena Bell attended the Burwell School in the company of her older sister Jane. Emily had taken piano lessons from her mother and received academic lessons from a tutor. She was sent to the Burwell School to receive advance musical instruction. Their mother was a close friend of Mrs. Burwell's and both Emily and Jane lived in the Burwell home [1].

Occupations

  • Singing teacher, between 1869 and 1913. After she and her husband rebuilt a house in 1869 on the land previously occupied by her parents home before the American Civil War, Emily gave singing lessons, organized a  "singing school,"  and also organized the first choir of the Plymouth Methodist Church. Even after her ill health confined her to a wheel chair, she continued to give music lessons to her students until her death in 1913 [1].

Relatives

  • Parents: James W. Bell [1] and Mary Eliza Walker [1].
  • Spouse: James F. Norman, married in 1861. Directly after their marriage in 1861, James Norman joined the Confederate army. During this marriage, Emily had a stillborn child in 1863. The experience left her heartbroken [1].
  • Siblings: two sisters, Mary Marcia Bell (d. 1854) [1] and Jane Williamette Bell (1841-1911) . Mary died when Emily was only 11. The tragedy left Emily inconsolabe and led to the decision to send both Emily and her older sister Jane to the Burwell School for further instruction in music [1].
  • Other: Hope Hunter (niece) [1]. Although Hope is not the biological daughter of Emily Rowena Bell, Emily raised her niece as her own daughter. After visiting her sister Jane in Halifax County in 1875, Emily became attached to her two-year-old neice. She took the little girl home with her, and Hope remained permanently with the Normans and became the daughter of the house [1].

References

  1. Mary Claire Engstrom. The Book of Burwell Students: Lives of Educated Women in the Antebellum South. (Hillsborough: Hillsborough Historic Commission, 2007).