Anyone that says you shouldn't carry a handgun in bear country is misinformed about a lot of things. Better would be a .12 gauge shotgun with slugs, but let's deal with the handgun issue. Sure, bear spray is good to have, and we all like to have recourse to non-lethal measures, but if it comes to playing dead or shooting a bear in self-defense, I'll shoot every time. I've camped, backpacked, and provided services as a guide in grizzly country...and I grew up in the Ouachita Mountains of Southeast Oklahoma where black bears are common and you run into them all the time. I like bears, and I'm not scared of them, but I respect them. Still, let's not let Disney or Nat Geo inspired sympathies and fantasies cloud good judgement--a firearm is a tool, and a useful one when used properly.
It's nonsense that a handgun can't kill a bear. There are plenty of handgun hunters that do just that. And let's dispel the nonsense about you not being able to hit a bear because you're nervous--as if you'll be any less nervous and better able to direct bear spray, which is both less ergonomic, harder to hold onto, harder to aim, and harder to deploy. It's much easier to bring a handgun to bear than bear spray when waking from sleep, whether in a tent or out on open ground. As a former Infantryman, and having worked in the firearms industry and trained others in the use of firearms, emergency preparedness, survival, and being the sort of guy who likes to camp under the stars on the ground or in a hammock rather than in a tent, I've had not only the experience but situations arise to convince me the 'bear spray-only' crowd are essentially bait-in-training. Are you sure you aren't going to have that bear spray splashing back in your face inside your tent when a bear is coming through that thin netting that was previously your entrance? I wonder how many people have actually discharged their bear spray, or any bear spray, and know the best way to bring it into action or what to expect from the spray pattern and range?
Additionally, a handgun discharged will generally frighten away a bear that is outside your bear spray range, but is displaying an unwelcome interest or appears like it might be weighing the prospect of further aggression, when a shout or stick or rock tossed its way did not have the intended effect.
A handgun is handy not just for bears, but for providing you with food, and for defense against other critters that your bear spray was not designed for, including but not limited to the two legged variety that conduct criminal activity in every park, forest, or range frequented by outdoors enthusiasts, hunters, campers, backpackers, and so forth. It also is handy for signalling, and three shots fired has long been one recognized signal for help. Faced with a moose or bison intent on doing you harm, you may regret having only bear spray at hand.
That said, let's look at the appropriate round(s) you're looking for. Given your specific requirements for small framed shooters. Look at the .45 Long Colt. It has a larger diameter than the .44 Magnum, can take heavy loads that will penetrate deeply, has been long proven for hunting large game, and most importantly for your considerations--will have a lower recoil impulse than a .44 Magnum. You can fire similar loads of similar bullet weights and muzzle energy, but the smaller case diameter of the .44 Magnum means a higher impulse than the .45 LC, which means a sharper recoil. The .45 LC will feel like a heavy push, where the .44 Magnum will feel snappy, jerky. The .41 Magnum is a good round, but it too has a high recoil impulse. A .357 Magnum loaded with heavy 180 grain hard cast, flat nose rounds will give deep penetration and make it through thick gristle and help smash bone better than the common 158 grain hollow points. Check out Buffalo Bore ammunition for appropriate, heavy loads. For higher capacity, if you must go with a .357, check out Coonan Arms' semi-auto pistol, which will also lessen felt recoil.
There are other suitable handgun rounds, but the recoil makes them unpleasant to practice with, especially for smaller shooters. That said, a handgun like a Freedom Arms revolver in .454 Casull will kill bears, moose or just about anything else you care to shoot. A revolver that takes .45 LC/.410 shotgun shells is a good utility handgun as well, and makes your handgun even more versatile should you want to add small game to your pot or need something quick and easy in rattlesnake country or paddling low overhang areas where cottonmouths can drop from branches. Bear spray isn't so handy for snakes, criminals, crazies, dope growers, meth labs, cowboys looking for someone who just stole tack or cattle, jihadist or Aryan Brotherhood compounds you stumble across from time to time.
It happens, folks. I'm not alone in having those kinds of encounters. Don't be a victim, not even for bears. We're creative animals--it's what makes us human. Without tools like blades and firearms, whose creation and use are part of what it means to be human, you go from apex predator to weak link in the chain.