Isabelle Olcott Mitchell

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Isabelle Olcott Mitchell (1835-1896) was the younger sister of Henry Steel Olcott and a friend of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.

Personal life

Portrait of Mrs. Mitchell

Isabelle Buloid Olcott, often called "Isabella" or "Bella," was born on February 12, 1835 in New York City to Henry Wyckoff Olcott and Emily Steel Olcott. She was the second child, just three years younger than her brother Henry. They were baptized in the Presbyterian Church. The family had two younger sisters and two brothers – Anna Wycoff, Emily Steel, Emmet Robinson, and George Potts.

In June, 1860, Bella married William Hinckley Mitchell[1], who worked in real estate and stock trading. For some years they shared a house in Orange, New Jersey with her father, younger brother George, and sister Emily. The Mitchells had four sons and two daughters: Henry Wyckoff, Mary Stuart, Louise Dupree, William Hinckley, Arthur Mouton, and Robert Emmet.[2]

William Mitchell died in 1882 and was buried in Rosedale Cemetery in Orange, New Jersey, near their home. Mrs. Mitchell died on June 1, 1896, Orange, New Jersey, and was laid to rest with her husband.

Involvement with Theosophical Society

When H. P. Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott lived in New York, Mrs. Mitchell and her husband frequently visited them at The Lamasery. The Mitchells took an apartment in the same building as Madame Blavatsky so that Bella could be near at hand during the preparation of Isis Unveiled for publication during 1876 and 1877. Mrs. Mitchell witnessed various phenomena during those years. On one occasion, when Mrs. Mitchell was holding a plain gold band called the "Rose Ring," HPB had her close her fingers around the ring, and a few moments later three small diamonds had been set into it.[3] Bella wrote an account of other experiences with Madame Blavatsky, including these:

Children were to her an annoyance, but she had a kind way of gratifying them. So, when on a visit to Albany she learned for the first time that there was a child in the family, she was disposed to give it pleasure. Her baggage consisted of a small hand satchel containing only articles of toilet. Yet from back of a folding door she produced a woolly lamb that was fourteen or fifteen inches high, and which she drew forward by a string.

For another child she made a whistle from some keys. With unbelieving eyes I saw her take them between her fingers, holding the ring that held them together, and manipulating them, and at the end of a few minutes producing the whistle. Counting the keys as I did before she handled them, I found that several were missing. For the same child she made a duck and, the wood of which it was formed was of walnut, the end was horn. Because it was peculiar in make and sound a member of the family visited many shops in search of something similar, but failed to find it.

She always said that it required a previous preparation of mind and body to peer into the secrets of the adepts, and warned those who desired to investigate them that it was far better to refrain from so doing. But a venturesome pupil, being fully persuaded of his ability to endure anything teased her to make him an exception. "Very well," she said, "upon your own head let fall the shock, if shock there be! Throw your handkerchief carelessly upon the table-now, take it up, carefully." He did so, and behold there was a small snake, coiled ready to spring. Her laugh was as merry as that of a child when she related how the would-be adept was so astonished that he fell backward to the floor, carrying the chair with him.

One day she said she would show me some pretty things; and going to a small chest of drawers that stood beneath one of the windows, she took from them many pieces of superb jewelry: brooches, lockets, bracelets and rings, that were ablaze with all kinds of precious stones, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, etc. I held and examined them, but on asking to see them the next day I found only empty drawers.

One other day I was sitting by her dinner table when the door bell rang, and immediately there passed up the private hall a figure that seemed to glide rather than walk. She turned to me and said, "You have desired to see one of the Brothers, and you are to be gratified. As you pass the room on your left look in." So I did. I saw a figure of a woman sitting beside a table. A straw bonnet fastened by a pink ribbon that was tied under her chin, her shoulders wrapped in a plaid blanket shawl, were all that I gathered in a hasty glance. For all my attention was claimed by a pair of coal-black eyes that held in their depths such a weird, unearthly expression that the eight years which have since passed have not had power to efface, and that leaves with the memory no desire to see just such another pair.[4]

After Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky moved to India and in 1879 established The Theosophist, Mrs. Mitchell subscribed to the magazine from its very first issue. Theosophist Laura Carter Holloway asked her friend Bella to contribute to The Home Library Magazine in 1887.

Mrs. Mitchell is recorded as becoming a member of the Theosophical Society on December 24, 1890, although she was clearly active in the Society from its inception.[5] In 1895 she visited her brother Henry in London, and they traveled together to Paris and Berlin, attending a séance at the palace of the the Countess of Caithness. In 1895 he wrote:

I had the joy of a re-union with my sister, after a number of years — the one who was so kind and considerate to H. P. B. during the old Lamasery times at New York. It was a delightful change to be able to withdraw one’s thoughts from present surroundings and recall the days of our youth and the many years of our happy family life with our noble parents. I took her to various interesting places in and about London, often with Dr. Mary Weeks Burnett, and once or twice with Madame Le Roux, a French nun, Mother-Superior of a Spanish Convent, who had been converted to Theosophy by a perusal of our literature, supplemented with the persuasive arguments of my friend Xifré...

I took my sister one day to Maskeleyn & Cook and saw that infamous libel on our Society, the play of “Modern Witchcraft,” about which I have spoken already. As she had a strong personal attachment to H. P. B. and a lasting friendship had been contracted between them, she was as indignant as myself in seeing our mutual friend caricatured in such an unpardonable manner. Richard Harte, who was a New York acquaintance of my sister as well as myself, came for dinner on the 16th of July and discussed metaphysics in his usual eccentric style, with Mr. Mead, Mrs. Mitchell, Dr. Weeks Burnett, and myself. On the 17th, my friend Xifré arrived from Spain, via Paris, and charmed our ladies by his finished courtesy and cheerful conversation.

During the ten days that Dr. Burnett, my sister, and myself were together, we did much sight-seeing and profited by every opportunity to gain information about hypnotic science and the phase of therapeutics that was specialised by Professor Charcot at La Salpétrière. [6]


Only one article in a Theosophical periodical has been identified as being from the hand of Mrs. Mitchell. "Madame Blavatsky" was published posthumously in The Word in February, 1905.[7]


  1. Henry Steel Olcott, The Descendants of Thomas Olcott (Albany, New York: J. Munsell, 1874), 106. This was a revised edition of the 1845 work by Nathaniel Goodwin.
  2. United States Federal Census records for 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880.
  3. Radha Burnier, "HPB's Signet Ring" The Theosophist 122 (June 2001), 367-369.
  4. Belle Olcott Mitchell, "Madame Blavatsky" The Word 1 (February, 1905), 182-187. Published posthumously.
  5. Theosophical Society General Membership Register, 1875-1942 at See book 1, entry 6412 (website file: 1C/12).
  6. Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves Fifth Series (1893-96), Chapter XXVII, 361-373. Available at this website.
  7. Belle Olcott Mitchell, "Madame Blavatsky" The Word 1 (February, 1905), 182-187. Published posthumously.