Henrietta Emogene Martin was born in 1869 in California. When her father died early and her mother remarried, Emogene was sent to live with her uncle and aunt. Despite her family’s indifference to matters of religion, Emogene engaged actively with her local church from a young age, and she would later teach her mother, sister and brother-in-law about the Baha’i Faith.
In 1889 she married John Ketchie Hoagg. Nine years after her marriage Emogene Hoagg became the first Baha’i of California, learning of the Faith through Phoebe Hearst, Lua and Edward Getsinger. Although there is no record of his formal enrolment in the Baha’i community, it appears John was financially and morally supportive of his independent wife and her extensive travel for the sake of the Faith. Abdu’l-Baha would refer to him as His son-in-law – the husband of His ‘daughter’ Emogene.
Immediately after declaring her faith in 1898, Emogene returned to Italy where she had studied prior to her declaration. Over many years she would return repeatedly to that land for the sake of the Faith where she would teach extensively, translate and widely disseminate Baha’i literature.
At the start of the new century, in November and December 1900, Emogene made the first of many visits to the Holy Land, where she basked in the radiance of Abdu’l-Baha’s presence and dedicated herself with discipline to learning the Teachings accurately from the source. Many misconceptions were widely circulated during the early decades of the Faith in the United States, due to a lack of written materials and authoritative translations. Believers who had had opportunity to learn the truth in its pure form from the Master himself were valuable supports for the emerging Baha’i communities. From the Holy Land Abdu’l-Baha sent Emogene to Port Said to learn from the great scholar, and beloved of Abdu’l-Baha’s heart, Mirza Abu’l-Fadl.
After a month of daily instruction Emogene returned to Europe and thence to America. She continued to teach and serve until the arrival of Abdu’l-Baha in the United States. During His visit, Emogene travelled with Him whenever possible. After His departure she sought and gained permission to once again visit the Holy Land where she spent over ten months in the daily presence of the Master and His household. When Emogene arrived, she was weak and ill. In response to her request for a remedy, Abdu’l-Baha sent her two baked apples, with instructions to eat them at once. Emogene ate the entirety of the apples obediently – including the seeds, before going to bed. When she woke the following morning she was fully recovered.
Two successive events that occurred in 1918 and 1919 contributed to Emogene’s total consecration to teaching the Faith until her death in 1945. In 1918 her husband passed away, after which Emogene immediately sold all their property and possessions and used the funds to support her service. Then, in 1919 the Tablets of the Divine Plan were unveiled, which served as a personal directive for the remainder of her life.
In the preface to the printed Tablets of the Divine Plan Horace Holley wrote:
The most notable responses made to these Tablets were the unique services of Martha Root in Latin America, Europe and the Orient, by Mr. and Mrs. Hyde Dunn in Australia, and by Mrs. H. Emogene Hoagg and Marion Jack in Alaska.1
In the eight months following their unveiling, Emogene travelled six thousand miles to teach the Faith in Alaska – accompanied for much of the journey by Marion Jack. She continued after that to travel within America, to Europe and repeatedly to the Holy Land for the sake of teaching and learning about the Faith. She was present at the reading of the Will and Testament of the Master and immediately gave her full allegiance and absolute obedience to the 24 year old Guardian. She was among the dedicated Baha’is whom Shoghi Effendi gathered in the Holy Land to consult about the future direction of the Faith. When Emogene left the Holy Land to continue her teaching work, Abdu’l-Baha’s daughter, Munnavar Khanum, accompanied Emogene on some of her journeys to Europe.
In 1925 Jean Stannard founded in Geneva the International Baha’i Bureau and in 1928 Emogene was asked to relocate from Italy to Geneva to serve as its manager. The Bureau was a precursor to the Baha’i International Community. It served as a gathering place for Baha’is traveling to Geneva for the activities of the League of Nations and other international organizations and in 1929 the International Baha’i Bureau was recognized by the League of Nations. One of the staff working at the Bureau under Emogene’s management recalls her experience of working with her:
At that time both Miss Lentz and I were new to the spirit of the Cause and unused to team work. Mrs. Hoagg …trained us in both. In looking back on it now, I realize how wise she was and what a difficult “material” we were… She … made us shed one by one our personal habits and prejudices, and by the time she left, we were united as one soul in our common purpose to serve the Cause with complete disregard to ourselves.2
In 1931 Shoghi Effendi summoned Emogene to Haifa to assist him in the preparation of The Dawn-Breakers, where she remained for about a year before returning to serve the International Baha’i Bureau until 1935. The remaining nine years of her life – from 1935 to 1945 – saw Emogene travel teaching, and running Baha’i courses of unequalled depth and breadth. Her courses drew fully on the Writings of the Central Figures and of the Guardian and reduced to a minimum the presence of her own thoughts or personality.
At the age of 73, after teaching herself Spanish, she travelled to her final international pioneering post in Cuba in response to the call for Baha’i teachers to travel to Latin America. Three years later, at the close of her earthly life in South Carolina, she was in the care of a Baha’i friend, who describes the joy with which Emogene departed this world:
‘Come, Josie, quick! I’m going!’ She wore an expression of supreme happiness, which she kept until the end. There was a light in her eyes which seemed to envelop her entire face, and all the marks of age seemed to disappear. She lived on for more than an hour after that, and breathed normally. Then she called to me in a joyous mood, extended her hand and took mine, ‘Goodbye, I’m gone!’ She passed away in heavenly ecstasy at 9:30 o’clock on the evening of December 15, 1945. I was standing by her when she breathed her last, and it was without a struggle. Her glorious departure overshadows all other sentiments.3
Shoghi Effendi’s response to the passing of this spiritual giant, almost 71 years ago, was to send a cable stating:
Deeply grieved passing staunch exemplary pioneer Faith, Emogene Hoagg. Record national, international services unforgettable. Reward Abha Kingdom assured, abundant.4
- Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, preface [↩]
- Anne Lynch, Letters from Lynch to Laura Dreyfus-Barney: Materials for the Geneva Baha’i Bureau’s History, retrieved from http://bahai-library.com/linard_lynch_dreyfus-barney_letters [↩]
- Amine de Mille, “Emogene Hoagg: Exemplary Pioneer” published in Baha’i News, 511, p. 6-11, retrieved from http://bahai-library.com/demille_hoagg_exemplary_pioneer [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]