Hand of the Cause of God Agnes Baldwin Alexander (1875-1971). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.
In this article, I’d like to share a little of what I’ve learned about Hand of the Cause of God Agnes Alexander from when she first heard about the Baha’i Faith, to her efforts to deepen herself in its teachings, to how she established a Baha’i community in Japan. I’d like to share some lessons I’ve learned from her life.
Agnes was born in Hawaii in 1875. Her parents were Christian missionaries who moved to Hawaii from the mainland United States. Although her family was not wealthy, she was able to travel and studied at Berkeley in the United States in the 1890s.
In 1900 Agnes visited Europe and while staying with an aunt in Rome she met an American Baha’i, Charlotte Dixon, who had recently been on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She gave Agnes a prayer, but did not actually mention the Baha’i Faith, as many Baha’is in those days did not feel comfortable talking about the Baha’i Faith without knowing if someone was genuinely interested. After having a spiritual dream Agnes asked her for more information, and after discussing it together, she came to believe in the teachings and principles of the Baha’i Faith. As was the custom at the time, she sent a letter to Abdu’l-Baha to declare her belief and received a Tablet in reply which encouraged her to establish the Baha’i Faith in Hawaii. Here is an excerpt:
Be, therefore a divine bird, proceed to thy native country, spread the wings of sanctity over those spots and sing and chant and celebrate the name of thy Lord, that thou mayest gladden the Supreme Concourse and make the seeking souls hasten unto thee as moths hasten to the lamp and thus illumine that distant country by the Light of God.
Early Australian Baha'i Ethel Dawe (1902-1954) Photo courtesy of the the Australian National Baha'i Archives.
The first generation of Australian and New Zealand Baha’is included a number of extremely capable women, who excelled at sharing the teachings of the Baha’i Faith through public speaking and writing, and who also learnt about the administration of the Baha’i Faith by serving on and establishing Spiritual Assemblies and committees, from local to national levels. They included Hilda Brooks, Margaret Dixson, Emily Axford, Maysie Almond, Dulcie Dive, Thelma Perks, and Gretta Lamprill. In celebration of the centenary of the Baha’i Faith in Australia, this essay reviews the life of yet another of these early heroines, Ethel Dawe.
Ms Dawe was born in Kadina, South Australia on October 17, 1902. She was educated at the Methodist Ladies College, was an accomplished pianist and singer, and her recitations, as well as her participation in Adelaide society, was regularly mentioned in the newspapers’ social columns. In 1931 Ethel heard of the Baha’i teachings from her mother’s aunt, Maysie Almond – who together with her husband Perce had been the first South Australians to accept the Baha’i Faith after hearing Hyde Dunn speak in Adelaide in 1924. Continue reading
The heroic life of Tahirih—Fatimih Umm-Salamih (1817- 1852)—has long been celebrated by playwrights, historians and Persian social reformers, especially those advocating women’s rights in present-day Iran. Though a 19th century poet of superb eloquence and variety, she is better known as a woman of dauntless faith, courage and resilience, whether by the Persian community in general or by the followers of the Baha’i religion, for whom she looms as one of the most memorable figures of the Heroic Age of the Baha’i Faith (1844-1921). Continue reading
The image above is a drawing of the city walls of Zanjan, Persia, by French orientalist, Eugène Flandin. The drawing would have been done some time around the mid-1800s, a time when members of the Babi faith faced severe persecution. [Image copyright: Public Domain]
From their earliest years, generations of Baha’is have prayed: “Make of me a shining lamp and a brilliant star.” Shining lamps and brilliant stars are only necessary, and only visible, in times of darkness. The women of Zanjan, a city in north-west Persia, who recognised the truth of the claim of the Bab, shone as brilliant stars through the darkness of the “most violent and devastating” of “the great conflagrations” which consumed the followers of the Bab in the East, South, West, and capital of Persia in the middle of the 19th century. Through the long months that came to be recognized as one of the most remarkable episodes in the history of the Babi Revelation, they struggled side by side with the Babi men, serving, sacrificing, suffering. The sole purpose of the men, as repeatedly stated by their leader Hujjat, was to preserve inviolate the security of the women and children from the attacks heaped upon them for their beliefs. At the same time the sole purpose of the women was to provide the means by which the men could continue to defend the community. They were part of one heroic interdependent whole. Continue reading
Hand of the Cause of God Martha Root sitting front and center, with a group of women in Melbourne, Australia, c. 1924. Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community
A century ago, on July 22, 1919, Martha Root embarked on a 20-year journey to destinations in Europe, Australia, Asia, the Americas, and Africa. These travels were motivated by a desire to share Baha’u’llah’s teachings with diverse audiences through public speaking and writing. Before setting out, she had honed her rhetorical skills during her career as a journalist, performer, and teacher. You can learn more about Root’s purpose-driven life from this earlier Baha’i Blog article.
Root is a role model for participating in the discourses of society; she wrote countless articles and speeches applying Baha’i teachings to a host of issues, including new media (radio), intercultural communication, women’s rights, international relations, and economic inequality. For a research project, I studied 25 of her speeches. I was particularly struck by “Culture and World Peace” (also titled “What Is Culture?”), which she delivered during her final trip around the world. Between 1938 and 1939, Root gave this talk to audiences including college students in India and women’s organizations in Australia. When you read the speech (below), you will observe that she appealed to these audiences by discussing women’s role in society and higher education, among other themes. Continue reading
Laura Dreyfus-Barney (30 November, 1879 - 18 August, 1974). This portrait of Laura was done by her mother, Alice, and is courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
May 16, 1909, New York City: a group has gathered to hear Laura Clifford Barney speak. Her name is familiar to the audience from Some Answered Questions, which was published last year. This book brought Abdu’l-Baha’s commentary on subjects ranging from the New Testament to criminal justice to the newborn Baha’i community in the United States. Barney, the book’s compiler and translator, has spent most of the past decade far from this, her homeland, living in Paris and Akka. But now she has returned to visit—and to share what she has learned from her sojourns with Baha’is in the Middle East. One audience member has a pen poised above a stack of lined paper, ready to transcribe Barney’s words. Thanks to this anonymous scribe, we have a record of Barney’s comments that day, divided into two talks: the first, on her journey to Persia, and the second, on her observations of Abdu’l-Baha.
Barney had a long, productive life, which you can learn about in this Baha’i Blog article on her relationship with Hippolyte Dreyfus, whom she married in 1911. I’ll focus on her efforts as a young woman to build a bridge between continents. Continue reading
Abdu’l-Baha on the steps of 7 Haparsim Street, His home in Haifa, May 1921. Photo: courtesy of the Baha'i International Community
May 16, 1909, New York City: a group has gathered to hear Laura Clifford Barney speak. Her name is familiar to the audience from Some Answered Questions, which was published last year. This book brought Abdu’l-Baha’s commentary on subjects ranging from the New Testament to criminal justice to the newborn Baha’i community in the United States.
Barney, the book’s compiler and translator, has spent most of the past decade far from this, her homeland, living in Paris and Akka. She lived for months at a time in Abdu’l-Baha’s household—a “village” bustling with Baha’is of all ages, as she fondly recalls—from 1904 to 1906, when she compiled Some Answered Questions. During these Akka sojourns, she had many opportunities to interact with and observe Abdu’l-Baha.
“It is not what I think [that] is of much importance but what I saw…of the characteristics and habits of Abdu’l-Baha,” she tells her New York audience. One attendee has a pen poised above a stack of lined paper, ready to transcribe Barney’s words. Thanks to this unnamed scribe, we have a record of Barney’s comments that day. For this post, passages have been arranged by topic: first, anecdotes of Abdu’l-Baha; second, reminiscences of life in His household; and third, reflections on His attributes and guidance. These excerpts have been lightly edited for readability. Continue reading
Resting Place of the Greatest Holy Leaf (1846 - July 15, 1932), Bahiyyih Khanum, the daugher of Baha’u’llah, in the Monument Gardens on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel. Photo: courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.
Dearly-beloved Greatest Holy Leaf! Through the mist of tears that fill my eyes I can clearly see, as I pen these lines, thy noble figure before me, and can recognize the serenity of thy kindly face. I can still gaze, though the shadows of the grave separate us, into thy blue, love-deep eyes, and can feel in its calm intensity, the immense love thou didst bear for the Cause of thine Almighty Father, the attachment that bound thee to the most lowly and insignificant among its followers, the warm affection thou didst cherish for me in thine heart.
The tenderness and profound love in the description of those “blue, love-deep eyes” is one that has stayed in my mind and heart years after I read Shoghi Effendi’s moving and poignant love letter in remembrance of his beloved great aunt, the Greatest Holy Leaf, Bahiyyih Khanum.
Described by her Father, Baha’u’llah, as “one of the most distinguished among thy sex”, with “a station such as none other woman hath surpassed”, Bahiyyih Khanum is regarded as the most outstanding heroine of the Baha’i dispensation. Continue reading