BELL, MYRTLE JOHNSON (November 17, 1895-September 2, 1978), teacher, administrator and community activist, was the first African-American assistant high school principal in the CLEVELAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Bell was born in Warrensville, Ohio, the third youngest of eight children, and moved to Cleveland when she was seven. She graduated from CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL at sixteen and from the College for Women, Western Reserve University (WRU) (now CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY) in 1916. Bell taught mathematics at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and in Clarksburg, West Virginia, before returning to Cleveland. Denied a permanent teaching position on the basis of her race, she substituted in the Cleveland Public Schools for a few years. Her first regular assignment came in the late 1920s. During her years as a teacher, Bell taught mathematics, African-American history, and human relations. While a teacher at Kennard Junior High in the 1930s, Bell created the Question Mark Club, where black students could study "Negro life and history." She later introduced a similar organization at Central High School in 1942.

After her marriage in 1934 to L. Frank Bell, she lost her fulltime position at Central: school policy at the time prohibited married women from teaching if their husbands could support them. Bell served as a substitute teacher until securing a permanent contract during the Fall 1935 semester. She received a master's degree from WRU in 1937. The next fall, Superintendent Charles Lake (see LAKE, CHARLES H.) appointed Bell Central High Assistant Principal for Girls, a position she held for the next twenty-eight years (for fourteen years at Central and fourteen years at EAST TECHNICAL HIGH SCHOOL, after the two schools merged in 1952). For most of that time Bell was the system's only black assistant high school principal.

Bell participated actively in community affairs, serving on the city's advisory board on playgrounds (1936), on the Community Relations Board (1945-49), as special projects committee chair for the BUSINESS & PROFESSIONAL WOMEN'S CLUB OF GREATER CLEVELAND, and, with her husband, on the GLENVILLE YMCA board. Bell died at the MARGARET WAGNER HOUSE of the BENJAMIN ROSE INSTITUTE.


Black, white and red text reading Western Reserve Historical Society

Finding aid for the Myrtle J. Bell Papers. WRHS.

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