Famous Marriages Bertrand Russell & Alla Pearsall Smith Part 1

About the marriage between philosopher Bertrand Russell and Alla Pearsall Smith, history of their courtship and proposal.


Bertrand Russell and Alys Pearsall Smith

Courtship: Bertrand Russell and Alys Pearsall Smith met at her home in the summer of 1889. He was 17 and staying at his uncle's home in Hindhead, England, while he waited for classes to begin at Cambridge. An aristocrat, he had been raised by his grandparents, Lord and Lady John Russell, after he was orphaned in early childhood. Alys was five years older than Bertrand. She had been raised in America by Quaker evangelists who had recently resettled in England. Now she was visiting her parents during her vacation from college.

Reluctantly, Bertrand accompanied his uncle on a welcome call to their new neighbors. Dreadfully shy, he was afraid that his uncle would accept an invitation to supper. The Americans did ask them to stay for supper and his uncle accepted.

At the table the boy met the worldly Bryn Mawr student, Alys. She seemed more emancipated than any woman he'd ever known. She had gone to school on her own, she had crossed the Atlantic unchaperoned, and she was an intimate friend of Walt Whitman. Alys was also attractive and good-natured. "She was kind, and made me feel not shy," Russell later recalled. "I fell in love with her at first sight."

Over the next few summers he often walked the 4 mi. from his uncle's house to eat supper with Alys's family and spend the evening with them singing Negro spirituals around a campfire. The family's vigor and freshness, as well as--or in spite of--their "funny grammar" and the Quaker "thee" and "thou" that peppered their speech, invigorated Russell, who envisioned America as a romantic land of freedom. He admired the family's "absence of many prejudices" and "emancipation from good taste." More important, he found himself strangely devoted to Alys. He decided that if she were still single when he became 21, he'd ask her to marry him.

Proposal: He celebrated his 21st birthday in May, 1893, at Cambridge, and immediately gained control of pound 20,000 from his father's estate. Now a man of means, he went to Alys's home in Friday's Hill in mid-September and took her for an early stroll before breakfast, hoping to take advantage of the misty pastoral dawn. His nerve stuck somewhere in his throat. A few hours later, fortified by breakfast, he walked her into the nearby woods again, and this time, with "hesitation and alarm," he proposed to her. "I was neither accepted nor rejected," he said. "It did not occur to me to attempt to kiss her, or even take her hand." They simply agreed to keep on seeing each other and let time decide.

Seven months later, in snowy London, Bertrand finally got around to kissing Alys. And in the fall of 1894, a year after his proposal, she accepted him.

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