Dr. Susan Moody: A Dedicated Pioneer Doctor

Dr. Moody with some friends in Tehran, 1920. Photo courtesy of the Baha'is of the U.S. (www.bahai.us)

Seated in the center is Dr. Moody with some friends in Tehran, 1920. (Photo courtesy of the Baha’is of the U.S.)

On November 20th, 1851 a remarkable person was born into this world. Susan Isobel Moody would grow up to dedicate herself wholeheartedly to bringing medical care and education to women and girls in Iran from 1909 to 1934. Born and raised by a respected Protestant family in New York, Susan studied the fine arts and singing. She taught and then attempted to become a doctor but the dissection of cadavers proved too much and she did not complete her training. She was a “spinster-mother” and helped to raise five of her young relatives1. While these are all wonderful accomplishments, they pale in comparison to her champion pioneer work in her later years.

In 1903, Susan’s life took a dramatic turn. She became a Baha’i, having learned of the Faith from Isabella Bittingham in New York City (Abdu’l-Baha called Isabella the “Baha’i maker” because of her efficiency at teaching the Faith).2 In private prayer, Susan vowed: “I hereby devote, consecrate and sacrifice all that I am, and all that I have and all that I hope to be and to have, to Thee, O Divine Father, to be used in accordance with Thy Purpose”3. She began teaching children’s classes (the first to be offered in Chicago) and hosting meetings in her home.4 Bracing herself, she returned to medical school, completed her degree and set up a small practice. She was now a 52-year-old Baha’i doctor.

Abdu’l-Baha wrote to her to request that she practice medicine in Iran, where Muslim women couldn’t unveil themselves before male doctors and were in desperate need of medical care. Susan’s family objected loudly. Describing her resolve, Susan wrote: “Abdu’l-Baha had summoned me. I was ready”.5

En route to Iran, Susan visited Abdu’l-Baha for three days in October of 1909. Everything in Susan’s entire life led to these three days in Abdu’l-Baha’s presence, and everything afterwards was nourished by them.6 He told her that she would need “patience, patience and more patience” and that she would succeed if she worked for the love of God. Just before her departure from His presence, she chanted a prayer in Persian. “Very good”, Abdu’l-Baha congratulated her.7

Dr. Susan Moody, gentle and white-haired, was described as “uncompromisingly selfless, detached, and humble, with a keen sense of justice and a rare capacity to equably and fairly approach situations” and she treated acquaintances as old friends.8

Janet Ruhe-Scheon writes that the journey to Tehran was epic, “involving fast galloping through high-altitude passes with quick stops to change horses, and many joyous Baha’i gatherings” and practicing medicine along the way – in Qazvin she saw patients from 6 am to 11:15 pm.9

Within days of her arrival in Tehran, Susan leased a house, set up her practice and began planning on opening the Unity Hospital with five other male doctors. After it opened, Dr. Moody continued to treat the poor at home, as hospital rates were expensive. Ruhe-Scheon writes, “and since many women, rich and poor, stayed indoors because of tradition or affliction, she made countless house calls”.10 There was more work than Susan could do alone. She tried to train Iranian women, but lack of education and an understanding of hygiene slowed them down.

Susan became involved in establishing the Tarbiyat School for Girls, a formal school administered by the Tehran Baha’i community open to female students from all religions.11 She became fluent in Persian and loved the people of Iran. She described that she found the custom of sitting on the floor to eat an easy thing to do – but getting up afterwards was much harder.12

Dr. Moody with Baha'i women in Tehran, 1910. These women were some of the first to appear in public without veils. (Photo courtesy of the Baha'is of the U.S. - www.bahai.us)

Dr. Moody with Baha’i women in Tehran, 1910. These women were some of the first to appear in public without veils. (Photo courtesy of the Baha’is of the U.S.)

Abdu’l-Baha had warned her that her that Iran would be a difficult place to live and that the conveniences would not be same as what she was used to.13 This was acutely so during World War I, when imports to Iran were cut off and mail was interrupted. Susan did not falter and I am reminded of the words of Abdu’l-Baha: “To the loyal soul, a test is but God’s grace and favour; for the valiant doth joyously press forward to furious battle on the field of anguish”.14 In addition to these challenges, the Baha’is of Iran faced intense persecution. In 1924, political unrest and anti-American sentiments forced Susan to return to the United States, where she worked to raise support for Iran’s Baha’i schools. Three years later, accompanied by Adelaide Sharp (a schoolteacher) she returned home to Iran and continued her work. Although her health prevented her from being as active as before, she nevertheless continued to see patients and to hold a free clinic.15

On October 23rd of 1934, Dr. Susan Moody passed away. She was 82. Ruhe-Schoen writes, “shortly before her death, when one of her many visitors asked her to say something about her life, something that could be preserved for posterity, all she said was, ‘Let it go. Let it pass into the infinite'”.16


  1. R Jackson Armstrong-Ingram, “Susan Moody” Research Notes in Shayki, Babi and Baha’i Studies, No. 2 (June, 1997 []
  2. Janet Ruhe-Schoen, A Love Which Does Not Wait, p.172 []
  3. Ibid. p.170 []
  4. R Jackson Armstrong-Ingram, “Susan Moody” []
  5. Janet Ruhe-Schoen, A Love Which Does Not Wait, p.170 []
  6. Ibid. p.169 []
  7. Ibid. p.171-2 []
  8. Ibid. p.173 []
  9. Janet Ruhe-Schoen, A Love Which Does Not Wait, p.174,176 []
  10. Janet Ruhe-Schoen, “Susan I Moody: Pioneer Physician and Educator in Early 20th Century Iran”, www.bahai.us []
  11. R Jackson Armstrong-Ingram, “Susan Moody” []
  12. Janet Ruhe-Schoen, “Susan I Moody: Pioneer Physician and Educator in Early 20th Century Iran”, www.bahai.us []
  13. Janet Ruhe-Schoen, A Love Which Does Not Wait, p.171 []
  14. Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha p.183 []
  15. R Jackson Armstrong-Ingram, “Susan Moody” []
  16. Janet Ruhe-Schoen, A Love Which Does Not Wait, p.197 []

About the Author

Sonjel Vreeland

In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a mother, a wife and a bookworm but professionally she is a museologist and a library technician. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.

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Discussion 4 Comments

  1. Very, very moving Sonjel. Thanks.

    The real champions have preceded us

    Prima facie it seems to me that the ‘steed of the first valley’ is most evident in those pioneers who persevere at their post in foreign lands

    As ever and always, though the virtues accompany the pioneers into the next world, it’s the fundamental principles of the Faith manifest in the individual that result in the triumph of the Cause here on earth.

    Given Dr. Moody’s accomplishments what’s to be said about the all time Baha’i champion par excellence and her mates, Agnes Alexander, Marion Jack and Lidia Zamenhof etc etc!

    Being a resident of South Australia whose capital (Adelaide) is one of few named in honour of a woman I’m inquiring about Adelaide Sharp??? Athens, Warsaw, Sofia, come to mind as ‘feminine’ capital cities. How about Havanna? Are there yet more? Were Baha’is allowed to wager I’d bet London to a brick there ain’t many.

    Baha’i love
    Paul

    BTW Queen Adelaide was William IV’s consort in a happy royal marriage .

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