The Daughter of the Desert

The story of the dashing British officer, known as Lawrence of Arabia, credits him with leading the Arab revolt against the Turks during World War I. He’s a legend of history. Yet, there is another whose story we should know. The “Daughter of the Desert,” Gertrude Bell, made archeological, sociological, and political contributions to history. Significant enough, we should recognize her name along with (or more than) Lawrence of Arabia’s. Yet, history forgot or overlooked her story, a woman’s story, for years.

Early Life

Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell, CBE, was born on the 14th of July 1868 in Washington, England. She had the good fortune of being born into a wealthy British family. Her grandfather was the Ironmaster Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell (1816-1904), an industrialist and a Liberal member of Parliament. Her father, Sir Hugh Bell, 2nd Baronet, (1844-1931) was a progressive capitalist and mill owner. He made certain his workers were paid fair wages and had paid sick days. Her mother, Maria (née Shield) Bell, died after the birth of her second child, Gertrude’s brother, Maurice. Gertrude was three.

Gertrude’s father married Florence Ollie, a playwright and author) when Gertrude was seven. Florence eventually gave birth to Gertrude’s three half-siblings, Hugh, Florence, and Mary3. Gertrude, already close to her Father, grew close to her step-mother as well.

She was outspoken and independent and enjoyed horseback riding, among other activities. Her father and stepmother realized Gertrude wasn’t like the other girls. When she wasn’t reading or writing, she engaged in various “naughty behaviors” like scaling cliffs and other heights3. Unlike the parents of most girls of her class, who were tutored at home, her parents sent Gertrude to school.


At first, fifteen-year-old Gertrude was unhappy at Queen’s College, a girl’s school in London. But her insatiable appetite for learning helped her adjust. She excelled at her studies. 

Normally, at seventeen, girls in her class were presented at court and introduced to society. Society expected them to find a husband within three seasons. 

Gertrude completed her schooling at Queen’s College in 1886 and asked her father for permission to continue her studies at Oxford, which had recently allowed females to be included in certain programs. She first met T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) during her studies there. In 1888, she was the first woman to graduate in Modern History at Oxford. Hers was an honorary degree. Only males received academic degrees.

Social Life & Travel

She went to Bucharest with her uncle, Sir Frank Lascelles, and his family. Visits to Paris and other European cities followed. 

From 1890 to 1892, she made the rounds of London’s balls and banquets where young ladies met eligible bachelors, but didn’t find her match.

Gertrude’s uncle, Lascelles, became British minister at Tehran, Persia (Iraq). She joined him in May 1892, where she studied the Arabic and Persian languages. Describing Persia as “paradise,” Gertrude spent six months there and wrote a book, Persian Pictures, about her time there.

She took advantage of her privilege and family wealth to travel widely. Her travels include a world tour with her brother Maurice and a trip to Italy with her father. During her Alpine climbing adventures, she recorded ten new paths or first ascents in the Bernese Alps. Once she suffered frostbite after she and her guides clung to a rope on the side of a cliff for forty-eight hours during a terrifying storm of snow, hail, and lightning. 

Gertrude traveled to Turkey, Germany, and Jerusalem. She visited ancient sites in Syria, Lebonon, and Athens. All the while, she studied languages. She mastered Arabic, Persian (Farsi), Italian, French, German, and Turkish.

She Loved the Desert

But the Mesopotamia was the area she returned to over and over. She hired a guide, Fattuh, who became her confidante.

Throughout her travels to the desert, she learned about the people and cultures, established close relations with inhabitants and tribes. Being a woman, she could meet the wives and daughters of local notables. She didn’t take as much advantage of this as she might have. Her principal focus was meeting the shaikhs and leaders of Arab society.

Love Life

It was in Tehran that she met one of her uncle’s secretary, Henry Cadogan. She and Cadogan bonded over their love of poetry by Hafiz. They spent a lot of time together and eventually announced their engagement. Unfortunately, Cadogan was poor and in debt. Gertrude’s father would not approve the match. She returned to England to convince her parents to give their permission for her to marry Cadogan. While in England, Cadogan had died of pneumonia2 in 1893. Gertrude was heartbroken. She left England for Italy and Switzerland.

Her second chance at love came fourteen years later. She met the married British officer, Charles “Richard” Doughty-Wylie, in 1907. They never acted upon their feeling but exchanged letters expressing deep devotion to each other. He was killed in action at Gallipoli in April 1915. 

Some claim Gertrude, not Mrs. Doughty-Wylie, laid a wreath on his grave in November of that year.

Writing & Photography

In 1886, Gertrude published Persian Pictures, a photographic account of her trips to the Persian area. 

She published a book of poems translated from Persian to English, The Divan of Hafez, in 1897. It continues to be regarded as the best translation of that poet’s work in existence3

During her first solo journey through the desert in 1899, she photographed ancient sites, including Petra, Palmyra, and Baalbek. Once she learned photography and how to develop her photographs, she always took her camera and photographic equipment on her trips. Some of her photographs are the only remaining evidence of some antiquities that were destroyed later. 


Her grandfather died in 1904 and left her a large inheritance. She used the money to fund an archeological trip through the Near East. During the latter part of that trip, she hired Fattuh, her guide and confidante who traveled with her through the desert for years. 

In 1907, she published Syria: The Desert and the Sown, a book of her photographs and observations about the Middle East. She explored and mapped a swath from the remotest parts of Syria to the Persian Gulf. 

She co-wrote The Thousand and One Churches with Sir William M. Ramsay in 1909.

She published Amaranth to Amaranth in 1911 and The Palace and Mosque of Ukhaidir: A Study in Early Mohammadan Architecture in 1914.


A black and white photograph of the Gates of Ha'il taken by Gertrude Bell. The wall with it's open gate looks similar to a castle wall only with tooth-like projections from the top of the wall. To the left is a tall rectangular wall with small square windows. The top of the building has the same style projections on the top. To the right the wall bends at a forty five degree angle then turns op degrees and continues off the picture. At some distance behind that turn is a conical tower like structure. There are people standing in front of the wall near the open gates but they are too distant to see distinctly.

Gertrude met archaeologist David Hogarth in Italy during a trip there with her father. It was then she began an in-depth study of Greek antiquities3.

In Binbirkilise, she worked with Sir William M. Ramsay, an archeologist and New Testament scholar. Gertrude, Ramsay, and their staff excavated destroyed churches and buildings from the Byzantine era. 

Also in 1909, in the Hittite city of Carchemish, Gertrude met art historian Josef Strzygowski. He believed that Near East art, architecture, as well as religious and cultural concepts, influenced those of Europe. She worked with him on in writing about the influence of Armenian architecture on Europe.

It was also in Carchemish that she met her old school friend T. E. Lawrence again. Their friendship rekindled. They exchanged letters for years.

In 1909, Fattuh led her to the Fortress of Al-Ukhaydir (c750-775 CE), which no Westerner had yet seen. Gertrude mapped, measured, and photographed Ukhaydir. She wrote home about how her discovery would make her name a recognized archeologist2.  On her return, she visited archeologist Robert Koldewey’s site and team at Babylon. She told them of her discovery. Several of them quickly went to the fortress, photographed it and published their work in 1912, beating her publication date of 1914.

World War I

In August 1914, the British entered World War I. The Ottoman Empire entered the war in late fall. After a highly placed friend’s recommendation, the British War Office asked Gertrude for her assessment of the situation in Ottoman Syria, Mesopotamia, and Arabia. Her response detailed her thoughts.

Gertrude volunteered with the Red Cross in France and England. She served as part of the Wounded & Missing Enquiry Department that coordinated communications about the wounded and casualties between army, hospitals, and worried families.


The leaders of the Arab Bureau summoned her to Cairo in November 2015. Headed by Colonel G. Clayton and Lt. Cmdr. David Hogarth (the archeologist and historian she’d worked with). T. E. Lawrence was also there. He had joined the Arab bureau in late 1914. 

As part of the Arab Bureau, she spent part of her time in British India, then in Basra. She joined the staff of Chief Political Office Perry Cox. She traveled the region from Basra to Baghdad, assessed the locals reactions, wrote reports, and drew maps. An unpaid position at first, it became a formal paid position in June 1916. She became the first and only female political officer in the British forces2. There was no established way to address females. They addressed her as Major Miss. She impressed many, others mocked her.

To win against the Ottomans, the British promised Sharif Hussein arms and advisers. They sent T. E. Lawrence to help conduct a guerrilla war against them, focusing on the railway. Later, David Hogarth credited Gertrude’s intelligence on the region for the success of the Arab Revolt. 

Oriental Secretary

On March 10, 1917, the British forces took Baghdad. Cox called Gertrude back to Baghdad and made her Oriental Secretary.

Despite a secret agreement in 1916 between the British, Italians, and Imperial Russians to divide the land between them, Gertrude argued for the free Arab state promised to Hussein. In April 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour issued the Balfour Declaration, which promised Palestine to the Zionist movement as an autonomous Jewish state. Hussein understood he would receive Palestine while the French thought it promised to them in 1916.

In late 1917, Gertrude stayed in the hospital for exhaustion.

The war ended November 1918. 

They assigned Gertrude to “sort out the Middle East Problem”. She wrote up an official report, “Self Determination in Mesopotamia” which detailed the creation of an independent state, Iraq. British officials didn’t believe the people were capable of self-government.

A New Country 

A black and white photograph of the sphinx in the background with members of the Cairo Conference on Camelback in the foreground. Gertrude Bell sits on a Camel between Churchill and Lawerence.

After the Iraqi Revolt in 1920, Gertrude and T. E. Lawrence suggested Faisal bin Hussein (r. 1921-1933), son of Sharif Hussein, be the King Western-friendly Iraq. The Cairo Conference of 1921 approved of this idea. It became Gertrude’s responsibility to advise Faisal I on how to govern. She encouraged him to preserve the history of Mesopotamia. In 1922 she helped Faisal establish the Baghdad Antiquities Museum (now the Iraq Museum) with artifacts donated from her own private collection. She drew the boundaries of the newly founded country, which also established the boundaries of Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Many of her friends left Iraq in the early 1920s, including Percy Cox. Gertrude stayed on as the Oriental Secretary when Henry Dobbs became the new High Commissioner. But Dobbs consulted her less frequently than Cox. She was no longer consulted as much by Faisal, either. This may have left her depressed.

By 1925, she returned to England with severe health problems for a brief stay. 

The war and subsequent coal strikes had exhausted her family’s fortune. They planned to move out of their mansion to reduce costs. About that time, Gertrude returned to Baghdad.

She developed pleurisy soon after.


On July 12, 1926, her maid discovered Gertrude dead of an overdose of allobarbital sleeping pills. It is unknown whether it was an accidental overdose or intentional suicide. She had asked to be awakened in the morning, but she’d also made arrangements for her new dog to be looked after and had written to her mother about how lonely she was. 

A large crowd attended her funeral. King Faisal watched the funeral procession from his balcony. They buried her in the Anglican cemetery in Baghdad’s Bab al-Sharji district4.


Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell, CBE, left an astounding legacy. The boundary lines of Iraq that she drew remain today. Her work documenting archeology in the desert is priceless by many. Scholar, author, translator, and adventurer, Gertrude’s books, military documents, and personal letters remain fascinating. 

Dedicated to her memory, a stain glass window is in St. Lawrence’s Church, East Reunion, North Yorkshire. 

In the 2010s, John Miers, the cartoonist, and a team from Newcastle University released a comic book version of her life.

An exhibit at the Kirkleatham Museum in Redcar memorializes her family home. 

Newcastle University’s Gertrude Bell archive was added to UNESCO Memory of the World Program in 2017.

A new genus of wild bees discovered in Saudi Arabia were named Belliturgula najdica to honor her.

Films that include portions of her life include: A Dangerous Man: Lawrence of Arabia (1992), the film, Queen of the Desert (2015), chronicles her life (though not all of it is factual), and the 2016 documentary, Letters from Baghdad

Besides the books Gertrude wrote, her step-mother curated and published the first of two volumes of Gertrude’s correspondence in 1927.

Final Thoughts

The Daughter of the Desert is an address some Arabian people gave Gertrude. She may not have been born there, but she cared enough about the area to spend much of her time and energy there.

This blog post, though long, doesn’t truly do justice to her work and influence. Her mix of interests, her zest for adventure, her willingness to buck the system, made her an amazing woman of history. 

If you liked this post, you may like my other posts about women of history.

Had you heard of Gertrude Bell before? Did you know she was a contemporary of Lawrence of Arabia?


1. “The Controversial Story of Gertrude Bell, the British Desert Queen of Iraq,” Yesterday is History.

2. “The Woman Who Made Iraq,” The Atlantic.

3. World 


Image Credits:

  1. Eight yr old & father : Edward Poynter, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons  
  2. Bell & Fattuh outside a tent, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 
  3. The Gates of Ha’il, Gertrude Bell (1868 – 1926), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  4. Under the face of the Sphinx and from left to right : Winston Churchill, Gertrude Bell and T.E. Lawrence Image by GM Georgoulas,  via Wikimedia Commons 

The Unsolved Murder of Alberta Odell Jones 

Black and white photograph of Alberta O. Jones smiling, she has her hair up in a knotted braid circling her head, is wearing a necklace, and a light colored v-necked suit.

Alberta Jones, was making her mark in Louisville, Kentucky in the 1960s. She was an African American equal rights trailblazer and the city’s first female and black prosecuting attorney. Then, on August 5, 1965, she was brutally murdered. Her case remains unsolved. 

Early Life

Alberta Odell Jones was born in Louisville, Kentucky, November 12, 1939 to Sarah (Sadie) Frances Crawford and Odell Jones. They lived in the West End of Louisville, a predominantly black community. 

She had a brother, Calvin. Her sister, Lutisha, (“Flora” Shanklin) was five years and nine months her junior. Flora says of her sister, “She was my second mom.”


She attended Central High School. Her sister reported that Alberta and her best friend had plans to become medical doctors. They visited the local hospital together. That’s where Alberta fainted at the sight of blood. She didn’t think anyone who fainted at the sight of blood could be a doctor. So she went to law school. 

She attended the Louisville Municipal College for Negroes. When LMCN merged with the newly integrated University of Louisville in 1951, she became the first African American to attend U of L. She earned her bachelor’s degree, third in her class at U of L. Then she went to Howard University School of Law in Washington D.C. 

In 1958, she graduated fourth out of 70 in her class at Howard University. The following year, she became the first, or one of the first, females of any race to pass the Kentucky bar. 

A lot of people told me ‘You’ve got two strikes against you, you’re a woman and you’re a Negro.’ Yeah, but I’ve got one strike left, and I’ve seen people get home runs when all they’ve got is one strike.” 

Alberta O. Jones (Courier Journal 3/4/64)

Her Career

Alberta opened a law office in downtown Louisville in 1959. A young lawyer, Darryl Owens, shared the office with Alberta. 

She was friendly and outgoing. Alberta was a member of Phillips Chapel CME Church, the Fall City Bar Association, the Louisville Bar Association, the American Bar Association, and Zeta Phi Beta and Iona sororities.. Her law practice was successful.  

In 1960, a young, unknown boxer named Cassius Clay hired her. (You probably know him as Muhammad Ali.) Despite the eleven white male millionaires they were dealing with, she made sure that the contract protected Clay from spending his money unwisely (as many young athletes did), by including a clause that put a percentage of all his proceeds into a trust he could not touch until he was 35. (That contract hangs in the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville.)

She Loved Children

Her niece and nephew called her Auntie. When they were little, they waited on the porch for Auntie to come home from her law office. Then, she’d take them door to door collecting money for an annual fundraiser that helps children with special needs. 

Alberta opened a trust fund to collect donations for a seven-year-old boy who tried to save a puppy under a train. The train started moving. He lost both his arms. She filed a $350,000 damage suit for the boy in August 1964. They settled the suit after her death.

A Role in the Civil Rights Movement

Close up image of a dictionary entry "Civil rights" - the definition runs out of the picture.
civil rights word in open book

Alberta was a registered Democrat but voted independent. An advocate for educating African Americans on political participation via their votes, she created the Independent Voter’s Association, which registered 6,000 African American voters.

Depending upon which source you read, she rented (or had a neighbor make cardboard facsimiles) voting machines and held classes in her office on how to use the machines to cast independent and split party votes. In 1961, black voters helped oust the mayor and many of the city’s alderman. That led to a city ordinance that made it illegal to discriminate based on race in any place of business open to the public, a first for any major city in the south. 

She took part in the 1963 civil rights marches in Louisville and in the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. 

In 1964, she became the first female city attorney in Jefferson County, Kentucky. The following year, they appointed her prosecutor. She was the first female prosecutor of any race in Louisville. As the prosecutor for the Domestic Relations Court, she prosecuted mostly white men for spousal abuse. 

The Night of the Murder

On August 5, 1964, Alberta was at home with her mother and sister. She was reading about the assassination of JFK and quipped, “Hope I don’t get assassinated.” To which her sister replied, “Don’t you worry about it, you’re not the President of the United States.”

Alberta got a phone call between 10 and 11 pm from Gladys Wycoff, a friend. Gladys ran a beauty salon in the neighborhood.

According to the newspaper, in the days following the murder, Gladys said she called to tell Alberta that the wig Alberta had ordered had come in. She said she told Alberta to come and have it styled at her convenience. 

Alberta agreed to visit Gladys that night. Alberta’s mother offered to go with her, but Alberta told her to go to bed. Then, Alberta left to meet Gladys in a rental car. Her Thunderbird was in the shop for repairs. 

She never came home. 

The Next Morning

Alberta’s mother had lain awake all night, listening for her daughter’s return. Around seven am, after she and Flora confirmed Alberta hadn’t come home, they called Gladys. 

Gladys’s daughter answered the phone. She said Gladys had gone downtown on business. 

They called the police and reported Alberta was missing. 

The Sad Discovery

Two boys reported they saw a body floating in the Ohio River near the Old Fountain Ferry Amusement Park at 10:35 a.m. that day. 

The police retrieved the female body. Her shoes were missing, and she had no ID, but otherwise was fully clothed. According to Louisville’s paper, The Courier-Journal, the police said the “two small cuts which were on her face could have been inflicted accidentally.”  

Alberta’s mother called the Louisville Crime Prevention Bureau at 1:30pm and reported her daughter missing. 

Darryl Owens identified her body. 

On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, guaranteeing African Americans the right to vote. 

The Investigation

Gladys reported Alberta had left her home and salon around 2 a.m. 

The next day, they found Alberta’s rental car on Del Park Terrace, ten blocks southeast of where her body was found. Louisville police found fingerprints, a lot of blood, and pieces of brick in the back of the car. 

On August 8th, they found her shoes near the south exit of the Sherman Minton Bridge on the Shawnee Park Golf Course. Police theorized that she’d been hit in the head with a brick and thrown off the nearby Sherman Minton Bridge. An autopsy confirmed her head injuries, but she had been alive when she was thrown in the river. She drowned. 

Over the course of the investigation, police interviewed hundreds of people. 

Two witnesses said they’d seen two men force a screaming woman into a car that matched the description of the rental Alberta had driven that night. One report said the men were black and that three men were in the car.

At 145 am a convenience store clerk says a woman matching Alberta’s description came in and bought some soft drinks (not just one?), then went out and talked to two men. 

At 215 am a local family heard screams and saw two black men forcing a woman into a car. One man picked up something from the street and got in the car with three other men and drove away.

Not until three months after they found her body, is her death declared a homicide. The police thought Alberta was the victim of a robbery gone wrong. Her mother and sister dismissed that because Alberta didn’t wear jewelry, “not even a wristwatch” and she carried very little money.

Seven months later, a grand jury heard the case against two men. But there was not enough evidence for a grand jury to deliver a “True Bill.” 

The case went cold.

Three Years Later

On July 17, 1968, four boys were climbing the substructure of the Sherman Minton bridge and found Alberta Odell Jones’s purse. The substructure extended out about a foot further than the Louisville-bound lanes. The purse was in “exceptionally good shape.” Inside the purse were Alberta’s wallet without money, identification, credit cards, a $200 check she’d made out to herself, a partial dental plate, and several key rings. 

Police theorized that when Alberta had been thrown off the bridge, her purse was tossed in after her. It got caught in the substructure where it stayed. They hoped to get fingerprints off of it. Louisville Homicide Squad Sergeant Herman H. Mitchell Jr. said the police had continued to investigate the murder intermittently during the previous three years. 

Yet, they did not arrest anyone for Alberta’s murder.

Her case went cold.

Nine Years Later

Image of a dusted fingerprint showing whirls of a finger and smudges of black powder on a white background.

Detective Terry Jones, of the Louisville homicide unit’s cold case squad, began working on the case. He asked the FBI to check six fingerprints that were collected from Alberta’s rental car. They found a match.

The prints matched a man who had lived in Louisville but moved to Orange County, California. Detective Terry went out to Orange County in December 2008. He interviewed the man. 

The suspect denied knowing Alberta and denied having anything to do with the murder. But the suspect’s brother said they knew Alberta. 

When the detective told the man about the fingerprint match, the suspect said it was probably because he’d rented the car the previous week. He was 17 at the time of the murder. 

Finally, the suspect failed a polygraph test. However, a polygraph isn’t admissible in court and the police did not have enough evidence for a conviction. They never arrested the man.

The police turned over their case to Kentucky’s commonwealth attorney, R. David Stengel’s office, as part of a new practice used when the police had exhausted a cold case investigation. Stengel’s office sent a letter to the police in 2010. The letter said that a conviction was unlikely because most of the material witnesses, the original investigating detectives, no blood samples remained for DNA testing, and they could find no evidence in the property room. Because the evidence was missing, there was no record of where the fingerprints were found. The prospects of finding new information was more and more unlikely. 

Eleven Years Later

During the 1976 investigation, Gladys changed her story. She said she had called Alberta to ask for help with a legal matter, a lawsuit either against another beautician or against the city or state for laws discriminating against her or her salon.

Although the paper reported that Alberta’s sister, Flora, initially said Gladys called about a wig, she now says the call was about a lawsuit Gladys was facing. Alberta said there was nothing she could do. (True: it is against the law for city or state prosecutors to take private clients.) Alberta told Flora Gladys said, “Since you’ve got this position, you’ve gotten so uppity that you don’t have any time for your friends.” 

According to Flora, Alberta “did not want her friends who were less educated than her to think that she was above them.” 

Gladys also said that about 130 am, after “the wig was fitted,” they went to a restaurant on North 4th Street & W River Road. They got sandwiches and lemonade. After they finished eating, they went back to Gladys’s house and talked for a while.

Except, at some point, Gladys changed the story again. They had shrimp, which they ate in the car in the parking lot. While in the parking lot, a car of young black men harassed them. After a while, Alberta was feeling dizzy, so they went back to Gladys’s house. Gladys styled Alberta’s new wig was wearing the wig when she left for home. 

Why did they drive 2.4 miles northeast to the restaurant? Why didn’t they eat at Gladys’s house? Was the restaurant serving sandwiches or shrimp? Or both? 

Then there’s the fact that Alberta had to go to work the next day. Would she really have wanted to have a wig styled after midnight? Would she have stayed if she were dizzy?

When they recovered Alberta’s body, she was not wearing a wig. No wig has ever been found.

Was Gladys lying? Did she know something and was afraid of being hurt? 

Finally, there is no record that Gladys ever sued anyone. 

She has since died, so perhaps we will never know what really happened at her house that night.

A New Investigator

A few years later, Lee Remington, a professor at Bellarmine University in Louisville, began a project she’d wanted to pursue ever since a photograph caught her attention during her first year as a law student at the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville. It was one photograph amid a row of portraits of African American pioneers in Kentucky law, all males except for one. That one was of Alberta Odell Jones. 

Remington’s research led her to believe that Alberta not only deserved justice for her murder, but she deserved recognition for the many ways she was a trailblazer. 

The research led Remington to question the investigation into Alberta’s case. She discovered that not all the witnesses were dead. And at least one detective who had worked the case was alive. He had decided that providing long-term support for his family wasn’t possible as a police officer and had quit the field. She found him. Then she began urging the Louisville police and the federal government to reopen Alberta’s case. 

Case Reopened

In 2017, they reopened her case, funded by the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act. 

In 2018, the FBI added Jones to its list of cold cases. 

Her murder remains unsolved.

Who Killed Alberta?

One can only speculate. There are lots of theories and lots of questions about the murder.

Why didn’t the Louisville police solve the crime at the time? Was it a case of racial discrimination by white police officers? Given the time when this murder occurred, it would not be surprise if the police were “slow” to follow up on her case. 

Was it a robbery gone wrong? If it was, why didn’t the robbers keep her purse and dispose of it somewhere else? Why didn’t they take her credit cards? 

Some suggested a serial killer took Alberta’s life. There were five other black women killed in Louisville that year. But serial killers usually work alone and multiple witnesses reported seeing two or more men seen with Alberta on the night of her murder.

Could it have been a political “hit?” The old guard members of the NAACP had ingratiated themselves with the political machinations of the city as best as a Black organization could in the 1960s. They did not appreciate Alberta’s educating the community to vote independently. 

The Ku Klux Klan was very active back then. Could it have been a Klan member?

Was it a racially motivated hate crime? Except all the suspects were black. Still, given the time, one has to wonder.

Perhaps it was an accused in a case she prosecuted. Domestic violence victims and perpetrators are unpredictable for police, social services, and prosecutors. 

It’s been fifty-eight years. Witnesses really are dying or dead. Time is running out. Will we ever find out who killed Alberta Jones?

Her Legacy

Thanks largely to Ms. Remington, we can celebrate Alberta’s life and contributions and her legacy is growing. Alberta’s portrait hangs in the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville.

She holds a place of honor at her alma mater, Central High School, with a classroom courtroom named the Alberta O. Jones Courtroom. 

There is also a scholarship at Bellarmine University named in Alberta’s Honor. Ajla Hakalovic (b 1991 in Bosnia) won the first scholarship in 2014.

On an October day in 2017, Louisville’s Mayor, Greg Fischer, led the celebration of Alberta Jones’s legacy with a Hometown Heroes banner. They hung the banner on the side of River City Bank at the corner of Sixth Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard. 

Her photo is also in the county prosecutor’s office. Her portrait also hangs in Bellarmine’s library.

In 2020, the community planned to name a park after her. 

Final Thoughts

Alberta Odell Jones was a woman of courage, determination, and strength. She did a lot of good during her brief life. Had she lived, what else might she have accomplished? 

Had you heard of Alberta Jones before?

Will they ever bring her murderer to justice?

Image Credits:

Top Photo of Alberta Jones: By unknown – Original publication: unknown Immediate source: WHAS11 , Fair use

Second & third images purchased from

Resources (in no particular order):

The Rosa Parks of the Modern Trans Movement

Sylvia Rivera (far right in illustration above) hated labels almost as much as she hated discrimination. Of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent, she lived alone on the streets from the tender age of eleven. Despite her hard life, she rallied, protested, caucused, and got beaten and arrested for the inclusion and recognition of transgender individuals. Some call her the Rosa Parks of the Modern Trans movement.

Early Life

Born to a father from Puerto Rico and a mother from Venezuela in New York City on July 2, 1951, assigned male at birth, her parents named her Ray. Her birth father disappeared early in her life. 

Rivera’s mother remarried. The marriage was rocky. Rivera’s stepfather threatened to kill Rivera, her mother, and her sister. At twenty-two years of age, her mother committed suicide. 

Rivera was three when she went to live with her grandmother. Her grandmother voiced disapproval of Rivera’s mixed background (Venezuelan and Puerto Rican) and darker skin color. When Rivera began experimenting with clothing and makeup, her grandmother berated and beat Rivera for behavior that was too effeminate for a boy. Her grandmother’s disapproval and beatings increased after Rivera’s step-father took her half-sister away

They shuffled Rivera between her grandmother’s home, Catholic boarding schools, and friends’ homes. She started wearing makeup to school in fourth grade. Bullied and mocked, she was the victim of many playground fights and even school suspensions.

Her uncle had her earn extra money with sex work. It’s no wonder that by the age of eleven, Rivera ran away from home, never to return.

Life On the Streets

In New York City, 42nd Street was “home to a community of drag queens, sex workers, and those who were hustling inside and outside of the gay community of New York in the early 1960s.” Rivera ran from home to this area. Here, a group of young drag queens adopted her. They taught her how to eke out a living with sex work and live on the streets, often changing sleeping location every night. Like many young homeless queer youth and older LGBT people in New York City, Rivera and her friends hung out in places they could feel safe and part of a community. Most of those places were Mafia-run bars.

In 1963, twelve-year-old Rivera met Marsha P. Johnson, an eighteen-year-old, “African American self-identified drag queen and activist battling for inclusion in a movement for gay rights that did not embrace her gender.” Rivera said Johnson was like a mother to her.

Fighting for Transgender People

The Riot

The Stonewall Inn was a gay bar in Greenwich Village in lower Manhattan. It was a place where young men hustled and people from all over the city hung out after work and on weekends. The Inn is famous for being the setting for what’s now known as the Stonewall Inn Riot on June 28, 1929. 

Rivera’s presence and involvement in the Stonewall Inn Riot, like Stormé DeLarverie, is debatable. Some sources quote her as saying she didn’t throw the first Molotov cocktail, but threw the second one. Many sources cite she refused to go home or go to sleep for seven days because she didn’t want to miss a minute of the revolution.

After the Riot, Rivera laid low for a few months. When she heard about newly formed activist groups, such as the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), she enthusiastically tried to get involved. But her gender identity troubled the members of those groups. 

Exclusion and Discrimination

The first Pride Parade happened in 1970, but the organizers discouraged trans people, including Rivera, from joining the parade. Rivera was passionate about equal rights for trans individuals but faced relentless discrimination, even from the gay community.  

In 1971, Rivera and Johnson started the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a group focused on giving shelter to queer, homeless youth. They hustled the street to rent a building they named Star House. It provided a safe space to discuss transgender issues. They fed, clothed and sheltered “our other kids.” Though short-lived (STAR died by 1973), 19-year-old Rivera was a like mother to those kids. 

Determined, Rivera fought against discrimination. She even attempted, in a dress and heels, to climb through a window into a “closed door council meeting” discussing trans and gay rights. It wasn’t the only time she was arrested, fighting for inclusion.


Finally allowed to take part in the 1973 Gay Pride Parade. Officially, she could not speak. Outraged, she grabbed the mike and said, 

If it wasn’t for the drag queen, there would be no gay liberation movement. We’re the front-liners.” She was booed off the stage.

She fought for trans inclusion in the GAA’s campaign to pass New York City’s first gay rights bill. (It passed in 1986, disappointingly without including trans individuals’ rights.)

Discouraged by rampant discrimination, Rivera attempted suicide. Johnson brought her to the hospital and helped her get well. After that, Rivera left the city, her activism limited to low-key events in her area.

Return to Activism

Rivera returned to the city in 1992, after Johnson’s body was found floating in the Hudson River. She and the gay rights movement (expanded to include trans and others) reconciled. In 1994, she honored in the 25th Anniversary Stonewall Inn march.

She started Transy House, modeled after STAR, in 1997. 

Her determination remained. “Before I die, I will see our community, given the respect we deserve. I’ll be damned if I’m going to my grave without having the respect this community deserves. I want to go to wherever I go with that in my soul and peacefully say I’ve finally overcome.” She continued working up to her death.


With her partner, Julia Murray, at her side, Rivera died from complications of liver cancer at 50.


Recognized after her death, Silvia Rivera has a street bearing her name near the Stonewall Inn in New York City. LGBT community organizations across the country and the world pay tribute to her.  In 2015, they hung Rivera’s portrait in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., making her the first transgender activist to be included in the gallery. The Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) continues her work to secure the rights of gender non-conforming people. And the number of tributes continue to grow.

Rivera experienced abandonment, abuse, homelessness, drug addition, and incarceration. Poor, trans, a drag queen, a person of color, and former sex worker, she embodied “otherness” and fought discrimination her entire life. Metaphorically, she sat at the front of the bus and earned the honorific, the Rosa Parks of the Modern Trans movement.

What did you know about Silvia Rivera before reading this post?

Image Credits

First Image by Dramamonster at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Middle image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Final image by Gotty, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Shifting Reality into Fiction

From the behavior of certain politicians to the war in Ukraine to the leaked draft of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe vs. Wade, the real world and the fictional world of The Fellowship Dystopia series are moving closer and closer together. When I started writing this series, it was fun shifting reality into fiction. Today, it appears we are shifting reality again. History became fiction and now fiction appears to be shifting into reality. You may see it too when you know the actual history that I shifted and sifted into a fictional world for my books, My Soul to Keep and If I Should Die.

Neutrality First

World War I, often called the Great War, began when a Bosnian Serb nationalist assassinated Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria, and his wife, Sophie, on June 28, 1914. Back then, most Americans believed the nation shouldn’t get involved in foreign affairs. They watched the conflict uneasily but weren’t concerned because the war was an ocean away. Then On May 7, 1915, an Imperial German Navy U-boat sent a torpedo into the passenger ship, the RMS Lusitânia, sinking it and killing 1,198 passengers, including 128 Americans.

Image is a black and white illustration of the passenger ship Lusitania being struck and destroyed by the U-boat torpedo an act shifting reality for many Americans

This unprovoked attack on civilians raised the concern of some Americans. In addition, news reports of atrocities perpetrated by Germans against Belgian civilians reached American papers. Some reports were accurate, some were exaggerated. They stirred anti-German sentiment in the United States. A sentiment that concerned President Woodrow Wilson, who believed the nation shouldn’t get involved.

On August 4, President Wilson gave a speech about how he felt the nation should react to the growing conflict in Europe.

The United States must be neutral in fact as well as in name during these days that are to try men’s souls. We must be impartial in thought as well as in action…”

President Woodrow Wilson

The nation’s policy may have been neutrality, but that didn’t stop commerce. Over the next three years, American businesses and banks made huge loans to the Allies fighting the Germans.

As the war dragged on, it was clear that America would lose a lot of money if Europe lost the war with Germany.

The End of Neutrality

In January 1917, the British intercepted and decoded a telegram from the German Foreign Secretary sent to the German diplomatic representative in Mexico. It proposed a secret alliance between Mexico and Germany should the US enter the war. “The British passed the document to Washington, and it appeared on the front page of American newspapers” on March first.

During February and March 1917, the Germans resumed their aggressions at sea. German submarines sunk several US cargo vessels without warning.

On April 2, 1917, President Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war. On the fourth, 82 of 88 U.S. Senators and 373 of 423 members of the House of Representatives voted to declare war.

The first US infantry troops landed in France on June 26, 1917. And so the U.S. entered the Great War.

The End of the Great War

Black and white photograph of Woodrow Wilson in tailed coat onboard a Navy ship on the way back from peace talks after the Great War ended shifting reality once again

World War I, the Great War, ended on November 11, 1918 (now called Armistice Day or Veteran’s Day in the U.S.)

Some experts estimate that military and civilian deaths on both sides combined reached 24 million people. Of those, about 117,000 were Americans. The numbers are arguable, but the fact is a massive number of people died and the property loss was tremendous.

Many veterans and survivors of the war suffered disabilities or were “shell shocked.

It should be no surprise that by the 1920s, many Americans swore their nation should never enter another foreign war.

In 1928, the United States signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact renouncing war as a part of national policy.

The Isolationist Movement

Image of an orange flyer from an America First Rally scheduled for April 4, 1941

During the 1930s, the losses of the Great Depression (1929-1933) and the physical, mental, and emotional scars of the Great War visited most Americans. Many of them vehemently advocated non-involvement in European and Asian conflicts and international politics. Called Isolationists, they felt the US needed to focus on issues at home like rebuilding the nation’s economy. By 1941, they held America First Rally’s across the nation.

The Isolationists had historic precedence to bolster their position. America’s founding fathers saw the ocean separating them from Europe as an ideal situation to create a new nation. Even President George Washington had advocated for non-involvement in European wars and politics.

The Isolationists also had the support of many powerful Americans. Pilot Charles Lindbergh strongly and vocally supported isolationism. Former Presidents Herbert Hoover and James Monroe each voiced support for isolationism. As the Isolationist movement grew, another movement was sweeping through America.

The Third Great Awakening

The Third Great Awakening (1850-1920s) was a period of religious activism in America. Dwight Moody (1837-1899), Billy Sunday (1862-1935), and Father Charles Coughlin (1891-1979) were some of the major players.

During his 1932 bid for the presidency, Franklin D. Roosevelt welcomed Father Coughlin’s support and influence over urban Catholics. But Father Coughlin soured on FDR after the president did not give Coughlin a position on the president’s cabinet.

In 1933, Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and Dachau, the first concentration camp, opened.

FDR worried about the rise of fascism and totalitarianism and wanted the US to be more involved in Europe and Japan. Most Americans were overwhelmingly against such action.

In 1935, Congress passed the first of a series of neutrality acts to protect the United States from world problems.

Father Coughlin began expressing anti-capitalist, anti-banker, anti-Wall Street, and anti-Semitic views. He blamed those ‘forces’ for America’s entry into World War I and worried those same forces would involve America in the turmoil in Europe.

Shifting Reality to Create a Fictional World

In the Fellowship Dystopia’s history, Giuseppe Zangara assassinates FDR before he can take office. This empowers the Isolationists and the Third Awakening. They join and become a religious-political machine, the Fellowship.

In tents and on the streets, a preacher’s sermons are full of the message that the Great Depression is punishment for America’s sins. People desperate for relief flock to his revival tents. The Fellowship seizes the idea and opportunity. They declare the preacher a prophet and “the way” to peace and prosperity. The Fellowship becomes a source of solace, a source of rules guaranteed to bring relief. With each passing year, more and more laws remove the people’s power and freedom.

America never enters World War II. Europe struggles valiantly, but the Federation of Germany assumes power. Japan rules Asia and the Pacific. And in America, the Fellowship and its Councilors grow more and more powerful.

Miranda, daughter of America’s premier preacher-politician, lives a charmed life as one of the Fellowship’s elite. Until she faces a life that will rob her of all rights.

The story of the Fellowship Dystopia is a story of a fight against tyranny in all its forms. The fight isn’t easy. It ranges from tiny and very personal to national to global. Miranda’s fight starts small and grows in My Soul to Keep. But it frightens her, so she chooses another path and in If I Should Die, events force her to choose different paths. And every path is a test that costs her dearly.

Pre-order If I Should Die now.

And The World Goes Round

At first, the changes in American sentiment over the past handful of years surprised me. I was shocked by how we seem to be on the way to creating a theocracy in reality. Reviewing my notes, reviewing our actual history… I am no longer surprised. I am saddened that we can’t seem to learn lessons bought with blood and tears.

The Pendulum Swings

To anyone who studies history, it is apparent that human behavior and belief systems, especially political ones, swing from one extreme to the other. It’s a pattern we follow to the detriment of us all.

Perhaps that’s where we are in today’s shifting reality. Perhaps we’re being tested. Will we pass these tests?

What choice will our nation make? What choice will you make?

Image Credits
  1. Illustration of a torpedo hitting the Lusitania: Winsor McCay, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  2. Front page of newspaper, Houston Post, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  3. President Woodrow Wilson on Navy ship: Naval History & Heritage Command, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  4. Flyer for 1941 America First Rally: America First Committee, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
  5. Father Coughlin on Time Magazine Image: Keystone, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Rebel Soldier, Spy, or Swindler

Loreta Velázquez, aka Lieutenant Harry T. Buford, recorded her adventures in a 600-page book, The Woman in Battle: A Narrative of the Exploits, Adventures, and travels of Madame Loreta Janeta Velázquez, Otherwise Known as Lieutenant Harry T. Buford, Confederate States Army. Her book weaves a fantastic story of deception and danger. Is it fact or fiction? Was she a rebel soldier, a spy, or swindler?

black and white side by side images of Loreta Juneta Velazquez on the left  as Confederate soldier Harry T. Buford and on the right as herself.

Early Life

Born in Havana, Cuba on June 26, 1842, her father was a wealthy Cuban official and her mother was French American. Loreta was the youngest of their six children.

Her father resigned his position in Cuba when she was two and moved the family to Texas, which was part of the republic of Mexico. In 1846, the Mexican-American war began. Her father shipped the family to the West Indies, joined the Mexican military, and fought against the Americans. The United States won the war in 1848. The treaty between the two countries cede the Velázquez land to the U.S. 

Loreta’s father moved the family to Puerto de Palmas in Mexico. He made a fortune in the sugar, tobacco, and coffee trades there. 


Tutored by an English governess, Loreta was sent to live with her aunt and study in New Orleans. There she learned all the skills expected of a young woman of her class. She wanted more. She loved stories of heroism and dreamed of being a grand hero like Joan of Arc. 


Her father held a deep resentment toward the United States after the Mexican-American war. This animosity grew to estrangement when fourteen-year-old Loreta avoided a “marriage of convenience” by eloping with John Williams, a United States Army soldier from Texas. Initially, she continued to live with her aunt in New Orleans. After she and her aunt quarreled, Loreta joined her husband as he moved from post to post. 

She and her husband had three children who died in infancy. Loreta’s desire for a life of glory and heroism grew. 

The Civil War

In her book, Loreta claims her husband resigned his U.S. Army commission and joined the Confederate Army. Loreta wanted to dress as a man and enlist. She tried to convince her husband to help her. He included her, disguised as a male, on a guys-night-out, certain their behavior would dissuade her. She didn’t change her mind. When he wouldn’t help her enlist, she waited for him to leave for the front.

After he left, Loreta got two uniforms, became Harry T. Buford and moved to Arkansas. In four days, she recruited more than 200 men, then presented them to her husband in Pensacola, Florida as her command. Her accomplishment impressed her husband enough he let her stay with him in disguise.


Her husband died in an accident a short while later. Rather than stay in Pensacola, Loreta traveled with some of her husband’s friends to Virginia. The First Battle of Bull Run was her first combat experience. A few months later, she also fought at the Battle at Ball’s Bluff. Her Confederate friends inflicted so much violence on the retreating Union soldiers it horrified her. 


Later, she gave up her disguise and made her way to Washington, D.C. She knew no one would suspect a woman of being a Confederate spy and found her late husband’s former Army friend. Through him, she learned military secrets that she passed on to the Confederate Army.

Black and white image of a woman in a bustle dress, standing beside a cloth covered table, reading a document, while holding a broom is she a rebel soldier, spy, or swindler.

Later she fought at the siege of Fort Donelson in Tennessee until the surrender. She received a wound in the battle, but she kept her true identity hidden. 

She went to New Orleans, where the authorities arrested her as a suspected Union spy. After they released her, she enlisted to get away from the city. After the battle at Shiloh, she helped bury the dead and a stray shell hit her. An army doctor examined her and discovered she was a woman. 


After the war, Loreta reconnected with one of her brothers and toured Europe and South America with him and his family. 

Sometime later, she moved back to the United States. She married two more times and gave birth to a son. The Woman in Battle: A Narrative of the Exploits, Adventures, and travels of Madame Loreta Janeta Velázquez, Otherwise Known as Lieutenant Harry T. Buford, Confederate States Army was published in 1876. Loreta claimed she wrote her memoirs to support herself and her son. 

Book cover the The reprint of The Woman in Battle has the effect of two identical covers torn on an angle and revealing the top half to be cream and brown with a central red seal and the bottom half being a green and gold cover with a gold and green seal.

Truth or Fiction

Soon after its publication, “former Confederate General Jubal Early denounced the book as an obvious fiction.” (Note: I could not discover whether he was supposed to have been her commander.) To date, they have found no historical records to confirm Loreta’s story. One reference cites a newspaper report that mentions a Lieutenant Bensford arrested and discovered to be a woman who gave her name as Alice Williams, an alias attributed to Loreta. 

Even the death of Loreta Janeta Velázquez remains a mystery. Some claim she died in 1923. Historian Richard Hall states her death is unknown. William C. Davis claims Loreta was not Cuban or a Confederate soldier, but was a thief, a swindler, a con artist, and a prostitute. He says she died as Loretta J. Beard on January 26, 1923 at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the Insane, Washington, D.C. 

Rebel Soldier, Spy or Swindler

We know from various diaries and records that many women joined their husbands and brothers on the battlefield during the Civil War. Medical exams to enter the military were brief and incomplete. Many soldiers were young, with high-pitched voices and smooth cheeks. It’s possible there were many women on the battlefield who escaped detection. Was Loreta Janeta Velázquez one of them? Was she a rebel soldier, spy, or swindler, or all three? We may never know. 

Do you think former Confederate General Jubal Early could have denied Loreta’s story to save himself from the shame of never knowing a woman served under him? 


NY History


KCPT PBS Learning Media

Image Credits

Top image by Jeremiah Rea of Philadelphia, Engraver, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Second image Loreta Janeta Velazquez, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Third image Loreta Janeta Velazquez, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons