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Who was Geneva Bell? Here's a look at her long, storied legacy in Louisville | Women's History Month

Geneva Bell is featured in the Frazier Museum's "West of Ninth" exhibit, alongside clothing from her life on loan from the Filson Historical Society.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Geneva Bell, a lifelong Kentuckian, was born in 1905.

"She passed away in 2013 so she lived a very very long life," Shelby Durbin with the Frazier Museum said. 

Bell dedicated her 108-year life to serving her community, with a focus on West Louisville.

"It's really hard, over the course of a number of years, to really say how many lives they've impacted or how many lives they've saved," Durbin said. 

Bell was married to Jesse Bell, a nationally-recognized doctor and key figure in the state's African American community.

"He primarily focused on chest diseases and he actually was one of the individuals to set up the first screening program for individuals in Kentucky to screen them for high blood pressure," Durbin said. 

The couple worked tirelessly to help low-income children get access to health education and care.

"Through these examinations, folks were able to get these diagnoses much earlier on in life so it's really hard to even qualify the impact that these individuals had," Durbin said. 

Geneva Bell was a dedicated member of Mount Lebanon Missionary Baptist Church and a teacher in the public school system. 

Her advocacy for children and the community also spread to other causes.

“This was at a time when Louisville was segregated and so Geneva Bell actually refuse to patronize any of these Louisville businesses because of these segregation issues," Durbin said. 

An impeccably fashionable woman, Bell made her point clear, refusing to buy clothing from segregated businesses. 

"It was kind of her active resistance against these unfair laws," Durbin said. "She would actually special order her clothing from a place called Utah Tailoring Mills."

“Louisville was segregated, these businesses, up until 1963 with the passage of the Open Access Ordinance in which all of these businesses were desegregated," Durbin said.

“She dedicated her long life to service and to community and also just trying to live out her values every day, not only in the work that she did, but also in the businesses she chose to patronize.”

Though her name isn't in every history book, Durbin said her story deserves more recognition.

"We're still learning so much about the life of Geneva Bell because she's really not a figured that's widely discussed," she said.

"Who is deciding what stories get to be told it's really important that we see multiple perspectives," Durbin added.  “Who knows who we will inspire just by putting different voices and diverse perspectives in the spots in our museums?" 

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