Bell, Catherine Atkinson [Kate] (1907–2003)


By: Brandon Render

Type: Biography

Published: June 29, 2022

Updated: June 29, 2022


Catherine "Kate" Atkinson Bell, a teacher and educational administrator, was born on June 29, 1907, in Groveton in Trinity County, Texas, to Ida Belle (Hart) Atkinson and John Irving Atkinson. Bell grew up in a middle-class home. Her father owned a barbershop, then became an insurance agent. Her mother stayed at home and took care of Bell and her siblings, Fred, Marvin, and Ruth. Bell attended local public schools and graduated from high school in 1925. She received a bachelor’s degree in education from Baylor University in 1931. While completing her degree, Bell taught English classes at night. Upon graduation, she was hired as a teacher by the Houston Independent School District, which marked the beginning of her forty-seven-year career as an elementary teacher, principal, and assistant superintendent. On June 6, 1934, Atkinson married Will Enoch Bell, who had been county attorney of Trinity, Texas, before he moved to Houston in 1933. The couple first met at First Baptist Church in Houston. They did not have any children.

Bell earned a master’s degree and doctorate in education from the University of Houston. As she earned recognition for her innovative teaching methods, she took leadership roles in programs directed by the Texas State Board of Education and served as a lobbyist for statewide education initiatives (see TEXAS EDUCATION AGENCY). She belonged to Delta Kappa Gamma International, an organization comprised of women in education, and was elected president of the Texas State Teachers Association in 1954. The following year, she was chosen by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to be a part of the White House Conference on Education, a role that she also held in 1960. Bell’s husband, who had served as a corporation court judge since 1948, died in Houston on December 10, 1963.

Kate Bell served on other organizational and leadership teams throughout her teaching and administrative career. She represented the United States delegations at the World Confederation of Organizations of the Teaching Profession in Paris, France; Dublin, Ireland; Abidjan, Ivory Coast; and Sydney, Australia. In mid-1977 Bell retired from teaching but remained active in the profession as a member and president of the Houston Association of Retired Teachers. Houston mayor Fred Hofheinz and Governor Dolph Briscoe, Jr., honored her commitment to education by designating “Kate Bell Day.” and the Houston Independent School District named an elementary school after her. The Kate Bell Elementary School opened in the fall of 1978 in the Braeswood Place area in southwest Houston. Bell was among the first twelve women inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame in 1984. At the ceremony, she was honored along with Christia V. Daniels Adair, Jeane Porter Hester, Oveta Culp Hobby, Amy Freeman Lee, Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson, Barbara Jordan, Vivian Castleberry, Clotilde P. Garcia, Sarah T. Hughes, Mary Evelyn Bragg Huey, and Lila Cockrell. She served on the advisory board of the Baylor University College of Education from 1982 to 1985 and was named a Baylor University distinguished alumni in 1987. She also endowed a scholarship for education students at Baylor.

Kate Atkinson Bell died on February 25, 2003, at a Houston hospital after she was injured in a mugging. Her memorial service was held at the First Baptist Church of Houston, and she was buried at Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery in Houston.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram, August 2, 1984. Houston Chronicle, June 1, 1963; December 11, 1963; May 17, 1977; June 19, 1977; August 15, 1978; February 25, 1987; March 1, 2003. “Spotlights: Catherine ‘Kate” Atkinson Bell,” School of Education Centennial, Baylor University (https://www.baylor.edu/soe/100/index.php?id=961214), accessed May 24, 2022. Texas Women’s Hall of Fame: Kate Atkinson Bell, Texas Woman’s University (https://twu.edu/twhf/honorees/kate-atkinson-bell/), accessed May 24, 2022.

Categories:
  • Education
  • Board Members
  • Educators
  • Politics and Government
  • Religion
  • Baptist
  • Women
  • English and Journalism
  • School Principals and Superintendents
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
Places:
  • East Texas
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • Houston

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Brandon Render, “Bell, Catherine Atkinson [Kate],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/bell-catherine-atkinson-kate.

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June 29, 2022
June 29, 2022

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