The information below has been compiled from a variety of sources. If the reader has access to information that can be documented and that will correct or add to this woman’s biographical information, please contact the Nevada Women’s History Project.
At A Glance:
Born: Sept 1850 (Belfast ME)
Died: 9 Sept 1925 (Oakland CA)
Burial: Reno NV
Maiden Name: Mary Poor (Poore)
Race/Nationality/Ethnic Background: Caucasian
Married: 9 July 1872 (Reno NV)
Children: Agnes, Fernald “Mamie” and Frank
Primary City and County of Residence and Work:
Major Fields of Work: First Lady
Other Role Identities: Wife, Mother
Obituary: Not Released
Mary Poor Bell was Nevada’s First Lady from September 1, 1890 through January 5, 1891. Frank Bell was often referred to as Nevada’s “accidental governor” because he was neither elected as Governor or Lieutenant Governor, but became Nevada’s governor after the death of Governor Charles Stevenson.
Mary Perces Poor was born in September of 1849 (1) to James Johnson Poor and Mary Fernald Waterman Poor in Belfast, Maine where James operated a saw mill. Little is known of Mary’s early years in Belfast but appears that education was important to the family as Mary P. and her siblings Annie, Rebecca, Mary, and Clara, attended Mount Holyyoke College in Massachusetts and James W. and Franklin both attended Bowdoin College in Maine.
The Poor family (also spelled Poore) can be traced back to 1634 when the family came to America. One of the early family members was given a charter by King Charles of England for land in Massachusetts which is now the site of the city of Lawrence. Mary’s grandfather, Benjamin Poor moved to Belfast, Maine where he built several saw mills in a business area that became known as Poor’s Mills. Son James Johnson Poor (J.J.) and his brother, Benjamin V. Poor, came to California in 1854 by steamship to Panama, walked across the isthmus to take a steamship to San Francisco. J.J. prospected in California for several years and then moved to Aurora to build a quartz mill with his son, James W. Poor. Mrs. Poor joined her husband in Aurora, California with her four daughters Annie (Anna), Rebecca, Mary, Clara, and son Franklin. The Poor family had moved to Reno by 1869.
J.J. became a successful rancher and bought a tract of land west of Reno that extended from what is now the Chism Trailer Park on East Second Street to the present day Mountain View Cemetery. An area within it became a popular picnic spot and was known as “Poor’s Grove.” J.J. was elected and reelected Justice of the Peace in Reno for many years, and many referred to him as “Judge Poor.” The family attended the Congregational Church with the daughters contributing to the aid society. Evelyn Miles in her book Nevada’s Governors, states that Mary and Clara Poor were among the founders of the Congregational Church in 1871. Mary and her sisters were known for their musical talent and were active in charitable, church and civic affairs. The Reno Evening Gazette in May 31, 1887 states that Mary and Clara, as part of the Fourth of July celebration committee in 1887 “were appointed to help decorate a car of state and a floral car.” (2)
Annie and Mary were married in a double wedding ceremony on July 9, 1872 to Irving Ayres and Frank Bell respectively. Ayres and Franklin Poor owned a large cattle company that operated in California, Oregon, and Nevada. Sister Clara married C.C. Powning, editor of the Nevada State Journal and land developer. Powning Park in downtown Reno and Powning Addition, an early Reno housing development, are named after him.
Francis Jardine Bell, better known as Frank, was born January 28, 1840 in Toronto, Canada and became orphaned at the age of eight while living in Michigan. He was distant cousin of Alexander Graham Bell. In 1859 Bell supervised workers stringing telegraph lines from Carson City to Virginia City and he helped transmit the text of the Nevada Constitution to Washington, D.C. on October 26, 1864. When Frank set up a telephone line between his home at 110 N. Sierra and the home of his brother-in-law, C.C. Powning at 128 Second Street, Mary became one of the first Reno women to have home telephone service in Reno.
Frank and Mary’s two daughters, and one son; Agnes (1873-1955, Fernald (1875-1954), and Frank (1878-1879) were born in Reno. Agnes graduated from the University of Nevada and taught at Reno High School for almost forty years. She died in Carson City. Fernald sometimes called Mamie, married accountant and later San Francisco banker, John M. Gregory. She also died in Carson City. Their son, Frank Bell Gregory, later became District Judge of the First Judicial District Court of Nevada from 1953 to 1978.
Frank Bell was active in the Washoe County Republican Party in various capacities. He was serving as warden at the Nevada State Prison in Carson City when he was appointed to the State Lt. Governor’s position.
The circumstances that led him to the office of Governor, and Mary as Nevada’s First Lady was most unusual. In August of 1889, Lieutenant Governor Davis died. Samuel W. Chubbuck was then appointed Lieutenant Governor in September, but resigned November 30, 1889. That same day Governor Stevenson then appointed Warden Frank Bell as the new Lieutenant Governor. In September 1890, ailing Governor Stevenson went to San Francisco for medical treatment. He signed over temporary state governance (Disability Certificate) for Lt. Governor Bell to govern as of Sept 1, 1890. Stevenson died unexpectedly in San Francisco less than three weeks later and “Acting Governor Bell” filled in that position until January 5, 1891 when Governor Roswell Colcord was sworn into office.
As the governor’s mansion in Carson City had not yet been built and for the brief time he was in office, the governor lived in a private Carson City home. Mary never had the opportunity to be hostess of the “people’s house” as later first ladies did.
Mary Bell, considered one of the pioneers of the state and of Washoe County, died September 9, 1925 at her daughter Fernald’s home in Oakland, California after a short illness. A September 11, 1925 obituary stated that Mary “took a prominent part in the social life of Reno in the early days of Western Nevada” (3) and that she was active in the Daughters of the American Revolution. “At Frank Bell’s funeral two years later, friend, Judge Moran in his tribute to Frank, quoted Frank as saying following Mary’s funeral: “Just think of it. We had been together over fifty years, my good wife and I, and no unkind word was passed between us.” (4) The article continued on to say that Moran also stated Mary was “waiting on the other side to be by her husband’s side.” (5) Frank and Mary Bell are buried at the Masonic Cemetery located at Mountain View Cemetery in Reno, Nevada.
Researched and written by Joyce M. Cox.
- Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900, Redding, Shasta, California; Roll: T623_112; Page: 13B, line 92, enumeration district: 108, Ancestry.com [database on line]. Provo, Utah. Retrieved on 2011-10-10.
- “Fourth of July.” Reno Evening Gazette, 31 May 1887:3.
“Mrs. Frank Bell Dies in Oakland.” Nevada State Journal [Reno]11 Sept. 1925:2. Print.
- “Governor Frank Bell Funeral Rites Are Largely Attended.” Reno Evening Gazette 15 Feb. 1927:8. Print.
- “Bell-Poor-in Reno July 2, Frank Bell to Mary Peroes Poor.” Nevada State Journal [Reno] 6 July 1872, sec: The Alter: 3. Print.
- “Ayres-Poor-in Reno, July 2, Irvin Ayres to Anna Poor.” Nevada State Journal [Reno] 6 July 1872, sec: The Alter. 3. Print.
- “Bell-in Reno July 8 to the wife of Frank Bell, a daughter.” Nevada State Journal [Reno] 9 July 1873. Sec. The Cradle: 3. Print.
- “Very Sick.” Daily Nevada State Journal [Reno] 19 Oct. 1879:2. Print.
- “Jottings.” Reno Evening Gazette 4 Nov. 1879:3. Print.
- “Died.” Reno Evening Gazette 20 Oct. 1879:3. Print.
- “A Victim of Scarlet Fever.” Reno Evening Gazette 20 Oct. 1879: 3. Print
- “For President James A. Garfield.” Reno Evening Gazette 20 Oct. 1880:2. Print.
- “The Literary Club.” Nevada Weekly State Journal [Reno] 24 Dec. 1881:4. Print
- “Town and Country, Brevities.” Nevada State Journal [Reno] 28 Mar. 1883:3. Print.
- “Town and Country, Brevities.” Nevada State Journal [Reno] 20 May 1883:3. Print.
- “Mrs. Frank Bell was a passenger for Oakland last night to attend the wedding of her brother. . .” Reno Evening Gazette 18 Nov. 1886. sec. Personals:4. Print.
- “Personal: Mrs. Poor and daughter, Mrs. Frank Bell, left this morning for Fort Bidwell…”. Reno Evening Gazette 18 Nov. 1886. Sec. Personals: 4. Print.
- “Golden Wedding Anniversary.” Daily Nevada State Journal [Reno] 4 Sept. 1887: 3. Print.
- “Reno Public School.” Reno Evening Gazette 28 Apr. 1888:2. Print.
- “Poor-In Reno, Nevada, September 11, 1890, Mrs. James Poor, a native of Camden, Maine, aged 74 years.” Reno Evening Gazette 11 Sept. 1890, sec. Died: 1: Print.
- “A Useful Life Ended.” Reno Evening Gazette 11 Sept. 1890: 1:4. Print.
- “Death of James Poor.” Reno Evening Gazette 11 Sept. 1890: 1:4. Print.
- “Personal.” Reno Evening Gazette 3 Oct. 1890:3. Print
- “Brevities.” Nevada State Journal 10 Aug. 1892:3. Print.
- “Sale of Residence.” Nevada State Journal 10 Aug. 1892:3. Print.
- “Brevities.” Weekly Gazette and Stockman [Reno] 24 Nov. 1892:3. Print
- “Death of an Old Resident.” Weekly Gazette and Stockman [Reno] 20 Apr. 1893:2. Print.
- “Death of a pioneer.” Daily Nevada State Journal [Reno] 19 April 1893:3. Print.
- “Brevities.” Reno Evening Gazette 29 July 1893:3. Print.
- “Brevities.” Daily Nevada State Journal [Reno] 6 Dec. 1893:3. Print.
- “Brevities.” Daily Nevada State Journal [Reno] 20 Dec. 1893:3. Print.
- “Personals.” Weekly Gazette and Stockman [Reno] 8 Mar. 1894:3. Print.
- “Frank Bell has been Fired.” Weekly Gazette and Stockman [Reno] 31 Oct. 1895:7. Print.
- “For Sale.” Daily Nevada State Journal [Reno] 7 Nov. 1896:4. Print.
- “Brevities.” Weekly Gazette and Stockman [Reno] 21 Apr. 1898:5. Print.
- “Frank Bell and family.” Daily Nevada State Journal [Reno] 28 Dec. 1898:3. Print.
- “About You and Others.” Reno Evening Gazette 27 Sept. 1899:3. Print.
- “Returned to Reno.” Daily Nevada State Journal [Reno] 14 May 1899:2. Print.
- “Miss Bell Married.” Reno Evening Gazette 18 Sept. 1901:2. Print.
- “Funeral Mrs. Ayres will be Held Monday.” Nevada State Journal [Reno] 9 Sept. 1918:6. Print.
- “Mrs. Frank Bell Dies in Oakland.” Nevada State Journal [Reno] 10 Sept. 1925:2. Print.
- “Wife of Governor Bell Passes Away in Oakland.” Reno Evening Gazette 10 Sept. 1925:8. Print
- “Former Governor’s Wife Dies in California.” Carson City Daily Appeal 10 Sept. 1925:1. Print.
- “Gov. Frank Bell is Dead at 87.” Reno Evening Gazette 14 Feb. 1927:5. Print.
- “Gov. Frank Bell Funeral Rites are Largely Attended.” Reno Evening Gazette 15 Feb. 1927:8. Print.
- Scrugham, James G. ed. Nevada: A Narrative of the Conquest of a Frontier Land, Vol. II. Chicago: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1935, 248-249.
- Douglas, Mrs. Thurlow. “Nevada Family Traces Back to Revolution.” Nevada State Journal [Reno] 11 August 1940:5. Print.
- “Pioneer Family Member Passes.” Reno Evening Gazette 22 Feb. 1954:11. Print.
- “Retired Nevada Educator Agnes Bell Dies in Carson Following Lengthy Illness.” Reno Evening Gazette 26 Jan. 1955:13. Print.
- Myles, Myrtle T. “Nevada’s Governors, Part III.” Las Vegas Review Journal 3 May 1964, Sec. The Nevadan: 26. Print.
- Sawyer, Bette. “Nevada’s 100 Years of First Ladies.” Nevada Centennial Magazine 1964: p. 126. Print.
- Myles, Myrtle Tate. “Frank Bell.” Nevada’s Governors, From Territorial Days to the Present, 1861-1971.” Sparks, NV: Western Printing & Publishing Company, 1972, 44-46.
- Steinauer, Bill. “Brymer Judge ‘Around Forever’.” Nevada State Journal [Reno] 5 Oct. 1977:1. Print.
- Earl, Phillip I. “Frank Bell’s Early Telegraphy and Telephones.” Reno Gazette Journal 19 Oct. 1986:2E. Print.
- Earl, Phillip I. “Frank Bell: Governor by Accident.” Reno Gazette Journal 26 Oct. 1986:2E. Print.
- Deming, Meryl. Highlights. Reno, NV: First Congregational Church of Reno, 1986.
- Nylen, Robert A., and Guy Louis Rocha. “Mary (Poor) Bell.” State of Nevada: The Historical Governor’s Mansion. Carson City, Nevada: Dema Guinn, the Nevada Commission on Tourism, Nevada Magazine, and the Nevada Department of Cultural Affairs, 2005:27. Print.