Remembering Dorothy Baker

Around the 12th of January 1954, a sodden purse was found on a seashore. The purse had belonged to a woman travelling on a flight from Rome to London. The plane had crashed into the sea two days earlier, killing all passengers on board. Inside the purse was a pamphlet with information about the Baha’i Faith. The pamphlet was given to her by another passenger – Dorothy Baker – moments before both the giver and recipient were killed. Thus to the very end of her life Dorothy Baker was sharing the Healing Message of Baha’u’llah. Her wish to “die in her runners” was fulfilled when she died, teaching the Faith and on the way to meet her husband at their international pioneering post, at the age of 55 years.

The inspiration of Dorothy Baker’s life lies not only in the service, sacrifice and spiritual qualities she shared with her fellow Hands of the Cause. Her story also inspires through the hope it offers to those of us who have had the privilege of knowledge of Baha’u’llah’s Teachings, but who have not yet allowed the Faith to move to the centre of our lives. For Dorothy’s transformation into the “distinguished Hand of the Cause, eloquent exponent of its teachings, indefatigable supporter of its institutions, valiant defender of its precepts”[1], as she was described by the Guardian she adored, was neither instant nor linear. In her early life, despite being the granddaughter of a staunch and renowned Baha’i – Mother Beecher – and despite meeting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at the critical age of thirteen years, she was at times distracted by the world around her.

Dorothy would complete her education, marry, bear two children, bury a young stepdaughter, and be diagnosed with tuberculosis before making a firm commitment to serve the Faith. Dorothy believed she had only months to live due to the spot on her lung and lump in her breast when, with a sorrow-laden heart, she attended the annual national Baha’i convention in 1929. A friend, aware of her physical and emotional state, asked her if she was “willing to leave this world without rendering some great service to the Cause?”[2] Later that same day Dorothy described herself as a spiritual criminal, having “lived uncommitted”[3], and later again Dorothy would sit in prayer at the place where the Master had laid the cornerstone of the Mother Temple of the West and pray with such fervor that she would later write of that time: “The few minutes at the shrine will never be forgotten. How my throat ached. What those moments taught me cannot be put into words. I think my heart was laid at the Master’s feet there.”[4]

Immediately after this Dorothy was called upon to address the Convention, as the granddaughter of Mother Beecher. It was her first large public address, and the beginning of a lifetime of following the directive of the Master to:

Speak, therefore; speak out with great courage at every meeting. When thou art about to begin thine address, turn first to Bahá’u’lláh, and ask for the confirmations of the Holy Spirit, then open thy lips and say whatever is suggested to thy heart; this, however, with the utmost courage, dignity and conviction. It is my hope that from day to day your gatherings will grow and flourish, and that those who are seeking after truth will hearken  therein to reasoned arguments and conclusive proofs. I am with you heart and soul at every meeting; be sure of this.

Just over twenty years after ‘laying her heart at the Master’s feet’, in 1951, the National Spiritual Assembly of Iran requested a record of Dorothy’s service. The report sent testified to Dorothy’s transformation through prayer, study of the Writings, service and sacrifice. She was then able to report that she had served as a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States for 14 years including several years as (first female) Chair  and Vice Chair of the Assembly. She had served on nine national committees – for Assembly development, Louhelen School, Child Education, Radio, Race Unity and many others. She had visited 15 countries in Latin America, 14 in Europe and three provinces of Canada. Dorothy reported that she had spoken in one hundred and forty American colleges and universities.

Foundational to Dorothy’s transformation from “living uncommitted” to “distinguished Hand of the Case”, from a “gnat” unto an “eagle” was her deep study of the Writings and her hours spent in prayer. Her children recalled that they would head off to school leaving their mother surrounded by the Writings she was studying and return to find her in the same position, having studied the entire day, and this would go on for days, weeks, months on end.

One Baha’i friend has placed on record the intensity of the   experience of praying with Dorothy.  As Dorothy was driving with Javidukt Khadem, Dorothy asked her to join her in reciting the Remover of Difficulties 95 times for a potential pioneer. Javidukt recounts:

She said it very slowly, and with each word the tears poured down. She didn’t even notice me. I looked at her. I had never experienced anything like this. The tears covered her face, and dropped onto her clothes. I did not even count the number of prayers she said, but when she finished she pulled the car over to the side of the road, and she passed out…After about 10 minutes she opened her eyes, and was so happy!… I asked her, “Is this the way you always pray?” She answered, “Is there any other way?[5]

These two habits – of deeply studying the Writings, and of prolonged, fervent, daily prayer underpinned the service that ultimately consumed Dorothy, stripping her of ego and self, and rendering her a hollow reed through which the power of God could flow to countless souls.


[1] Obituary for Dorothy Baker by Shoghi Effendi, cited in http://bahaikipedia.org/Dorothy_Baker

[2] Gilstrap, D., 1999, From Copper to Gold, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, p.115

[3] Ibid.

[4] Gilstrap, D., 1999, From Copper to Gold, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, p.116

[5] Available from http://obligatoryprayers.blogspot.com.au/2009/01/awaiting-mercy-lop-i-notes-1-9.html

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Discussion 13 Comments

  1. Thank you for this beautiful post, it’s been too long since I read the book From Copper to Gold but this has whetted my appetite for sure! So much of what we do in our lives seems to be important until we ” take ourselves into account” and we realize that the truly important actions were those devoted to making the world around us a better place. But without a clear vision of how we can do that ( by knowing ourselves better and better through our actions and subsequent reflections) I find myself floundering around like a fish out of water. It’s not easy taming our egos!!!! So thanks for this lovely, gentle reminder; I will try much harder.

  2. Infinite thanks, Melanie. The memory of this exceptionally precious soul remains engraven in my very being. The first vague memory when on one of her countless teaching trips she was a guest in our home – I was but a junior youth at the time and as yet had not fully embraced the Faith. Later about the time I embraced the Faith, January-February 1954, as I was reading the Buffalo Evening News my eyes lit upon her blessed countenance, there on the left hand column of the front page. Her earthly life had parished in that tragic Comet crash over the island of Elba in the Mediterranean. Never up to then had we ever witnessed something on the front page of a major newspaper with major headlines about the Faith. She was still teaching, though her earthly existence had by then been extinguished. Subsequently, as a pioneer to Sardinia, I remember spending precious hours in the Haziratu’l-Quds in Rome, then home of Hand of the Cause, Ugo Giachery and his dear wife, Angeline. I heard then from their very lips of the incredible stories of her last days and the events in and around Elba as she and the other passengers were laid to rest in a common resting place – her name the very first on that headstone. Many times have I visited that island and prayed at that spot, watched as other fine souls have served the Cause on that island and all of the Mediterranean area as I travelled its waters. Her blessed family provided beautifully, leather-bound copies of Baha’i prayers, the Hidden Words etc. to Baha’i centres in the islands of the Mediterranean – the Baha’i library of Cagliari, Sardinia holds to this day its copies. Yes, I too will go back to ‘From Copper to Gold’ now, Melanie. Your article has been like a beautiful, fragrance-laden breeze of joy to my being today.

    1. Thanks for a great article Melanie! Jim, can you tell me where the monument is located? I go to Italy to see family and have been wanting to visit but didn’t know exactly where it is. Any info would be appreciated!

  3. I loved reading this…. I feel like I am being awakened increasingly each day and can only hope to attain the same fervour one day of devotion of prayer and deepening… I found this account to be very inspiring indeed. Thank you.

  4. I first read “From Copper To Gold” while I was pioneering in Grenada. It was to my utmost surprise and delight that I learned that we had attended the same high school!!! And that she was on her way to join her husband in Grenada when her life ended – well, that was a bit spooky to me. Spooky in a good way – I assume she had a hand in guiding me to pioneer in Grenada and pray that she continues to guide me in this world…Thank you for this wonderful post!

  5. Dear Melanie and Friends,

    Agnes Hayes, a believer from Jamaica, whom I remember from my childhood in Toronto, told me that looking at Dorothy Baker made her feel as if she were looking at Mary, the mother of Jesus. Such was the illumination cast by her face. Jack McLean in Ottawa

  6. Wow!!!! i love reading stories of the early believers in Canada & the U.S. The book about Dorothy Baker “From Copper to Gold” is simply soul-stirring as is this brief story. It is so inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Thank you so much. Is there more I can read? I remember a Homecoming session at Louhelen Baha’i School in the late 80′s or very early 90′s where he daughter came and shared many many stories of Dorothy. To this day I remembered one of the prepatory things she said Dorothy did before praying. She visualized herself in the presence of her Beloved and did not begin her prayer until she felt as if she were present with her Lord. I took solace in that “aid” and I too began to “center” myself before I began my prayer and have found this to be most fulfilling.

    Also being from the Buckeye (Ohio) state she became my personal Hand of the Cause. :)

  8. Comments of:
    DOROTHY BAKER, HAND OF THE CAUSE OF GOD
    There are a few; there are! Those who could give all, everything; there are! All that you have learned, all that has passed in swiftly changing pictures before you on the screen of life, all this has led up to the place where you now stand. You have been born in the Day of God, heralded for centuries. Others, hearing of it, oppose it or stand idle while knowing its Advent. You are conscious, and you have bowed down before its Splendor, saluting its mighty King, and risen up to call in His Name to the sleeping nations… That you may have the greatest joy in every passing moment… I want to make sure. I have only two rules to give you. One is this: Look not to the creatures. Let your heart be supremely attached to our Beloved; then you can serve all of His children with detachment and joy, and never fail any of them, no matter what they do. When people make mistakes, you are only witnessing moments that are lapses between states of consciousness. It does not matter. The second rule is this: Make a joyous thing of the little services, because you can never tell which is little and which is big in God’s sight. Bahá’u’lláh said: “A single deed done in My Name is equal to the deeds of a hundred thousand years; nay, I ask pardon of God for this limitation, for such a deed is without limited reward”. So when you speak His Holy Name, rejoice, be quiet in your heart, and know that this is a Very Great Occasion, and occasion of pure joy. He verily is the Lord of Hosts, and will assist you at all times. And now if I never see you, touch you, speak alone to you again in this world, soldier, know now that the march is all that matters; THE MARCH IS ALL THAT MATTERS! And when the march is over, through all the worlds of God, the miracle of it all will be continuously unfolded before us, and there will be no separation.

  9. I was pioneering In India during 1980s and I saw the book “FROM COPPER TO GOLD”, The Life of Dorothy Baker, on the desk of Mr. Vahedi at Baha’i House, New Delhi. I borrowed and read it over night. Next day, I paid for The Book and up to know I read three times. this book inspired my soul. Thank you Mr. Vahedi.

  10. From the Unveiling to this Queen…the First elected chairman national assembly …tears tell me,thank God, her guidance & example are corroding away some of my copper…such a marriage East & West mapping out our promised transformation…primary advice personal devotions opening the faucet of ecstasy for anyone commitited enough to apply these gifts

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