Alexander Melville Bell and his wife Eliza had three sons; Melville James (Melly), Edward Charles (Ted), and Alexander Graham. Alexander was the middle son and is shown on the far left in the photo above. Eliza was thirty-four years old when they married and was nearly deaf. She used a long ear tube in order to hear. She homeschooled the boys and also taught them to play the piano. Eliza taught Alexander a finger-spelling alphabet, and he and his mother could communicate well that way.
Alexander, his father, and his grandfather all had the same name. Alexander had no middle name, and he said the name Alexander Bell was not nearly substantial enough to suit him, so he took the name Alexander Graham, the name of one of his father's former pupils.
Alexander was not a serious student, and when he was fifteen he was sent to London to spend a year with Grandfather Alexander. He later said, "That year with my grandfather converted me from an ignorant and careless boy into a rather serious student."
While he was in London with his grandfather he met Sir Charles Wheatstone who had invented a speaking machine. Alexander was fascinated. When he returned to Scotland, he and his brother Melly set out to invent a better apparatus to reproduce human speech.
When he was only sixteen he became a student/teacher at Weston House Academy teaching music and speech. Some of his students were older than he, but it was not obvious when you saw him in his fancy London clothes and top hat. His pay for the year was ten pounds sterling (about $75) and he was furnished a place to live, food to eat and Greek and Latin lessons.
When he returned to his home in the summer he learned that his father had, after fifteen years effort, invented something called Visible Speech. He taught it to his sons and they gave demonstrations of how it worked.
Ted, his brother not yet nineteen, died of tuberculosis, and Alexander moved back home to help his parents.
Susanna Hull, one of his father's former students had a school for the deaf in London. She had heard of Visible Speech and asked if someone could teach her four young students. Melville sent Alexander to help her. He drew a picture of the mouth and tongue on the chalkboard and showed the girls how to shape their mouths to make certain sounds. After only five lessons the girls knew the complete alphabet and could make sounds. One of the girls, Kate, who was eight years old learned to say for the first time, "I love you Mama."
Alexander had found his life's work; teaching the deaf to speak.
Tragedy struck the family again. First Melly's baby son died of tuberculosis, then Melly, Alexander's brother also died of the disease. His parents were afraid Alexander himself would also die, so the family moved away from Scotland and went to Canada to live.
Work a Jigsaw Puzzle
Bell and family
for the deaf
Bell and Mr. Watson
The Bell Family
on a telephone
The Bell estate
The Silver Dart
Bell and sheep
Bell and Elsie
May Bell Grosvenor
Biography of Alexander Graham Bell
Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site of Canada
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