Area 8 History
The Past is Prologue:
The Early Era of Handbell Ringing in the United States
Laurie Austin, Area 8 Historian
With the 70th anniversary of Handbell Musicians of America coming up in 2024, we will use the next several issues of Quavers to look at the history of handbells, particularly in what is now Area 8. Long before there was a national handbell musicians organization dividing our country into various regions there were handbell performances all around. This article will attempt to cover the early history of our instrument in the US, and particularly in Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, and Nebraska.
Arrival from England read more……
In writing her early history of the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers (AGEHR—now known as the Handbell
Musicians of America), Isabel Meldrum said that at the dawn of the 20th century, Whitechapel was casting a set
of bells that would be “the first English Handbells brought to this country.” She was talking about a set of bells that
Margaret Nichols (later, Margaret Shurcliff) brought from England to her home in Boston in 1902. Readers of my
previous article on handbell history (2023 Winter Quavers) will know immediately that Meldrum was mistaken.
Nichols was certainly not the first to bring handbells from England into the United States read more……
In our last edition of Quavers, we discussed Margaret Shurcliff
and the New England Guild of Handbell Ringers in the first
half of the 20th century. As the popularity of bell ringing
spread across the country, it became clear that a national
handbell organization could better serve the needs of North
American ringers. From that New England-based organization, read more……
Laurie Austin has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history and has been working professionally in archives and museums since 2002. She began ringing handbells in 1996. Combining her professional public history skills with her passion for handbell ringing, Laurie serves as the Area 8 historian.