William Sutherland Maxwell, November 14th, 1874 - March 25th, 1952 (Photo: courtesy of the Baha'i International Community)
William Sutherland Maxwell was a distinguished soul whose life is best summarized in the words of Shoghi Effendi. The Guardian cabled the following obituary to the Baha’is of the world on March 26, 1952:
With sorrowful heart announce through national assemblies that Hand of Cause of Baha’u’llah, highly esteemed, dearly beloved Sutherland Maxwell, has been gathered into the glory of the Abha Kingdom. His saintly life, extending well nigh four score years, enriched during the course of Abdu’l-Baha’s ministry by services in the Dominion of Canada, ennobled during the Formative Age of Faith by decade of services in Holy Land, during darkest days of my life, doubly honoured through association with the crown of martyrdom won by May Maxwell and incomparable honor bestowed upon his daughter, attained consummation through his appointment as architect of the arcade and superstructure of the Bab’s Sepulchre as well as elevation to the front rank of the Hands of Cause of God.
Ellen Tuller Beecher known affectionately as "Mother Beecher" (1840-1932)
In 1844 Siyyid Ali Muhammad, known to the world as the Bab, spent a quiet evening in His home, with Mulla Husayn. That evening, outwardly unnoticed, signified the birth of a new dispensation, era, and cycle in humanity’s history. Four years earlier, in the United States, a woman was born who was destined to become one of the spiritual progeny of the energy released into the world from that momentous conversation.
When, at the end of the 19th century, Ellen Tuller Beecher declared her belief in Baha’u’llah as the Manifestation of God for this Day, she was nearly 60 years old. At the time she was one of only several hundred individuals in the United States who were registered members of the Baha’i community. She immediately entered into correspondence with Abdu’l-Baha. Some of the letters from Him to Mother Beecher, as she came to be known, contain many well-known passages from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha regarding the importance of unity: Continue reading
Queen Marie of Romania (29 October 1875 – 18 July 1938)
O Queen in London!… We have been informed that thou hast forbidden the trading in slaves, both men and women. This, verily, is what God hath enjoined in this wondrous Revelation. God hath, truly, destined a reward for thee, because of this.
This passage is part of a Tablet that Baha’u’llah addressed around 1867 to the “renowned” Queen Victoria, “whose sovereignty” Shoghi Effendi characterized as “[extending] over the greatest political combination the world has witnessed.” Baha’u’llah likewise praises Queen Victoria for having “entrusted the reins of counsel into the hands of the representatives of the people,” and even includes in His Tablet advice on how the members of her Parliament should represent the people, should be trustworthy and just. What distinguishes this Tablet and another, written about the same time to “the omnipotent Czar of the vast Russian Empire,” Alexander II, from others Baha’u’llah addressed to the political and ecclesiastical rulers of His time, including Napoleon III, Pope Pius IX, William I, Francis Joseph, Abdu’l-‘Aziz, and Nasiri’d-Din Shah, is His commendation of acts the British and Russian monarchs had each performed during their reigns, directly or indirectly, that He indicated were well-pleasing to God. Continue reading
Emogene Hoagg (September 27, 1869 - December 15, 1945). (Photo: courtesy of the Baha'is of the United States, https://www.bahai.us/)
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. Continue reading
Curtis Kelsey (1894 - 1970). (Photo: courtesy of Carol Rutstein)
Curtis Kelsey was an American Baha’i who served in Haifa during the final weeks of Abdu’l-Baha’s lifetime and who installed the lighting equipment that first illumined the Shrines of Baha’u’llah and the Bab.
Curtis was born in 1894 in Salt Lake City. He was a simple, happy-go-lucky, pure-hearted and easy-to-laugh fellow who only had a grade 8 education. Like many others, Curtis became a Baha’i because of a profoundly spiritual experience. His mother, Valeria, was a Baha’i and she tried to share the teachings with her family but they weren’t interested. Confined to his bed by typhoid fever and its accompanying severe headache, Curtis was cured when he heard orchestral music from an unseen source. Curtis called for his mother and asked her what he had just experienced. She turned to the few Writings in her possession. Curtis couldn’t rest until his experience was explained – he even left his work in order to “camp out on the doorstep” of every Baha’i and study the Writings. While an answer was not immediately found, his examination led him to the Faith. Abdu’l-Baha later explained that he had heard the music of the celestial kingdom and that it had awakened him spiritually. Continue reading
Leonora Holsapple Armstrong (June 23, 1895 – October 17, 1980) on board the S. S. Vasari bound for Brazil in 1921. (Photo: courtesy of Kristine Leonard Asuncion Young)
“Leonora, what are you waiting for? Go!” Those were the words of May Maxwell to Leonora Holsapple Armstrong. Leonora wanted to go pioneering to South America but her resolve weakened in the face of her friends’ and family’s concerns.
Leonora, like Dorothy Baker, learned of the Faith from her grandmother and she attended the 1919 Baha’i Convention in New York City when the Tablets of the Divine Plan were unveiled. She wrote to Abdu’l-Baha, expressing her wish to pioneer and be of service. In His reply, He “expressed the hope that she might become a ‘spiritual physician,’ and this hope of His became her highest aspiration.” Martha Root encouraged her to go to Argentina and she began studying Spanish but a contact in Brazil interested in the Faith made her change her plans. Continue reading
Laura Dreyfus-Barney (30 November, 1879 - 18 August, 1974) and Hippolyte Dreyfus-Barney (12 April, 1863 - 20 December, 1928). These portraits of Laura and Hippolyte were done by Laura's mother, Alice, and the images are courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
In the year 1900, Laura Clifford Barney and Hippolyte Dreyfus met on the threshold of the Paris home of May Ellis Bolles. Laura was on her way to the visit the Canadian Baha’i in order to find out more about the Faith – which she accepted immediately, an unquenchable fire having been sparked in her heart. Hippolyte was departing May’s company. In the months that followed, Hippolyte became the first French Baha’i and in the years that followed he and Laura would both render priceless and invaluable services to the Cause. In honour of Laura’s passing which occurred 42 years ago on August 18th, I’d like to share some facts I’ve learned about them.
Laura was born on November 30th, 1879 in Cincinnati, Ohio to a wealthy family of artists and industrialists. She and her sister Natalie lived in luxury and privilege but owing to their parents’ strained marriage, they spent their childhood in both Paris and the United States. She studied the dramatic arts and sculpture, loved the theater and wrote 25 short stories and at least two plays. Laura was keenly intelligent, serious, inquisitive and insightful – qualities for which we are all grateful.
Between 1904 and 1906, Laura travelled to Akka multiple times. She was unmarried and in her twenties and the Master was still a prisoner of the Turkish government. Dr. Youness Afroukteh (whose wonderful recollections Memories of Nine Years in Akka is a delight to read) recorded these words: Continue reading
Mr. Thomas Breakwell (31 May, 1872 - 13 June, 1902)
I didn’t know who Thomas Breakwell was until recently, but once I heard his mysterious and heartbreaking story he became impossible to forget. He was born on May 31st, 1872 in Woking, England, became a Baha’i when he was 29 and passed away of tuberculosis when he was only 30. And yet, Abdu’l-Baha described him as “a lamp amid the angels of high Heaven”.
Thomas’ family immigrated to the United States and when he grew up he held a serious position in a Southern cotton mill that gave him a considerable income and so he spent his summer holidays in Europe. He was “of medium height, slender, erect and graceful, with intense eyes and an indescribable charm” and he was open minded and attracted to different religious ideas and philosophies. This thirst for knowledge of all things spiritual perked the ears of Mrs. Milner, whom he met on a steamer to France in the summer of 1901. Mrs. Milner had no interest in matters of the soul, but she was friends with May Bolles (who later became May Maxwell) who had found a truth that had given meaning to her life. Continue reading
On the evening of May 22, Baha’is throughout the world commemorate the Declaration of the Bab, which took place in the room pictured above in the Persian city of Shiraz in 1844 when the Bab met with and revealed His station to Mulla Husayn. The Bab announced there that His mission was to alert the people to the imminent advent of Him Whom God shall make manifest, namely, Baha’u’llah, the Founder of the Baha'i Faith. The observance takes place about two hours after sunset. To mark the Holy Day, Baha’is abstain from work on 23 May. The House of the Bab, where the Declaration occurred, was destroyed in 1979 during a wave of persecution that swept across the Baha’is in Iran following the Islamic revolution. (Photo: Baha'i World Centre)
In honour of the Declaration of the Bab, I have been thinking of that immortal hero who was the first to receive and embrace the truth of the Bab’s revelation: the young, pure-hearted, determined and devoted Mulla Husayn. We are indebted to Mulla Husayn because he left us with an account of that pivotal evening, unlike the Festival of Ridvan for which no historical records of the exact words or manner of Baha’u’llah’s declaration exists. In Release the Sun, William Sears tells us:
Never before in the history of religion have the exact words of such an unforgettable meeting been preserved by an eye-witness. Mulla Husayn, however, has left in everlasting language a memory of the first announcement by Ali Muhammad, the Bab. He could never forget the inner peace and serenity which he had felt in the life-creating presence of the Bab. He spoke often to his companions of that wondrous night.
What happened on that fateful evening and its impact on the world are sublime — attempting to comprehend it is like trying to imagine the size of the universe. Reflecting on Mulla Husayn’s story, however, helps me to get a better idea of the spiritual import of the Bab’s declaration. In thinking about Mulla Husayn, I am struck by 3 outstanding qualities that he demonstrated in the moments leading to and immediately following the birth of the Bab’s revelation: his purity of heart, his determination in pursuing his quest, and his devotion and faithfulness to the Bab, the object of his heart’s desire. Continue reading
In 1995 Ruhiyyih Khanum published poems she had written after the death in 1957 of her husband, Shoghi Effendi, who had been the head of the Baha’i Faith for 36 years.
On the dust jacket of her book, Poems of the Passing, she explains what she wanted to achieve by finally making the verses public.
It is the author’s ardent hope that in sharing them with others they may echo the grief of separation in this world from our loved ones, and the confident hope of reunion with them in an eternal realm of spiritual progress and mercy.
Anybody expecting an easy journey with gentle poems of love and light and describing a calm acceptance of death is in for a big surprise. Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum, who passed away 15 years ago, was unflinching in her realistic approach to life, and she applied the same approach to these poems.
In emotionally wrenching and spiritually challenging verses, she uses her sublime literary skills to lay bare an incandescent agony caused by the loss of her beloved.
So deep, so harrowing is the raw pain she describes – at one point writing of the “unspeakable poison of grief” — many people may find it difficult to keep on reading despite the great artistic beauty of the poetry. Tears are likely. Continue reading