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. Continue reading

A Life of Firsts: Discovering Elsie Austin

Knight of Baha'u'llah Elsie Austin (May 10, 1908– Oct 26, 2004). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community

Elsie Austin’s passion for racial equality was in her DNA. Her parents taught at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, an African American educational establishment headed by Booker T. Washington. Even as a girl, Elsie was outspoken, incensed that a textbook failed to recognise any black people for their contribution to history.

“I was taught…that Africans worked iron before Europeans knew anything about it,” she announced to her class. “I was taught that they knew how to cast bronze in making statues and that they worked in gold and ivory so beautifully that the European nations came to their shores to buy their carvings and statues.” While her protest was met with barely suppressed snickering, Elsie was undeterred. “If there had been no protest,” she later said, “what ingrained prejudice and hostility would have been implanted in the minds of those children, and what humiliation and degradation would have been stamped upon us.”

Similarly, when she and seven other African American women students were admitted to the University of Cincinnati, they were warned to be inconspicuous and have low expectations. “That speech traumatized us,” Elsie remembered. The eight resolved to prove their worth, and by the end of the year each took home an honor.

Elsie was angry about prejudice—often justified by religion—towards race. She told her father she was not able to “believe anymore in these religions that are all separate, all fighting with each other, all enforcing prejudice against some group, and yet they say God is the father of all mankind.” George Austin knew something of the Bahaʼis, thought they had interesting views, and encouraged her to investigate this new Faith. Guided by Louis G. Gregory and Dorothy Baker, Elsie joined the Baha’i community in 1934. Continue reading

Baha’i Blogcast with Rainn Wilson – Episode 57: Juliet & Novin

Hello and welcome to the Baha’i Blogcast with me your host, Rainn Wilson.

In this series of podcasts I interview members of the Baha’i Faith and friends from all over the world about their hearts, and minds, and souls, their spiritual journeys, what they’re interested in, and what makes them tick.

In this episode, I’m joined virtually by Novin and Juliet who are based in the UK and are the founders of Oneworld Publications, an awesome boutique publisher that punches way above their weight with tons of awards to their name! We talk about working in the circus, becoming a Baha’i, living in Cyprus, starting Oneworld, and the power of books in creating social change and also showing us what’s possible for the future. I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did! Continue reading

A Tribute to Robert Hayden

Robert Hayden: 4 Aug 1913 - 25 Feb 1980. (Photo: US National Baha'i Archives)

Poetry and the literary arts hold special significance in the Baha’i writings. Some early Baha’is sent poetry to Abdu’l-Baha and here is an excerpt of a Tablet sent in reply:

O thou maid-servant of God! Thy poetry was received. The context was elegant. The words were eloquent and the theme, the Manifest Light. Consequently, it was highly appreciated. Endeavor, so far as it is possible for thee, that day by day thou mayest string the pearls of poesy with sweeter rhythm and more eloquent contents, in order that it may become conducive to the perpetuity of thy name in the spiritual meetings. Upon thee be greeting and praise!

In this article I attempt to pay tribute to a Robert Hayden, a Baha’i who made outstanding contributions to the art of poetry. Continue reading

73 Books & Literary Works Featured on Baha’i Blog So Far

Over the years, we’ve highlighted new Baha’i-inspired books and we’ve had the privilege of getting to know so many brilliant and creative writers! We’ve also been honoured to write about volumes of the Baha’i Writings, or about statements and books written by the Universal House of Justice. In honour of International Literary Day, we thought we’d celebrate all the books we’ve featured on Baha’i Blog so far. We hope this list, and the snippets of their accompanying articles or interviews, inspires you to add some of these titles to your reading lists!  Continue reading

New Books About the Hands of the Cause for Children & Youth

Two new biographies are available about the lives of the Hands of the Cause for young readers! These books, published by the Baha’i Publishing Trust of India, are the result of true team-effort and international collaboration between Elika and Tarrant (Tarry) Mahony and Vered Ehsani. The first volume describes the lives and heroic acts of service of Amelia Collins, Dorothy Baker and Tarazu’llah Samandari, the second; Martha Root, Enoch Olinga and Rahmatu’llah Muhajir. A third volume is currently in progress. All are meant for a young audience — which makes them all the more special!  Continue reading

Women Inspiring Women in Baha’i History: Tahirih’s Lineage

On March 8th, we celebrate “the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women” and acknowledge the urgency of “accelerating gender parity.” As much as International Women’s Day is a celebration, it is also a monument to centuries of discrimination.

For as long as systemic discrimination has quashed individuals’ potential, some have refused to accept their assigned inferiority. Wherever sexism has caged women, resistance has arisen. Countless such efforts have gone unrecorded, lost to history, leaving humanity only scattered memories of women who spearheaded social transformation.

Yet, stirred by Baha’u’llah’s teachings on the equality of women and men, Baha’is have a tradition of recording women’s contributions. Thanks to the efforts of Baha’i historians, we can enjoy lengthy biographies of groundbreakers: Lua Getsinger: Herald of the Covenant, Martha Root: Lioness at the Threshold, and From Copper to Gold: The Life of Dorothy Baker. We can also read briefer portraits of prominent women like Hands of the Cause Keith Ransom-Kehler and Amelia Collins in collections such as A Love Which Does Not Wait and Portraits of Some Baha’i Women.

Continue reading

‘The Calling’: A New Book About Tahirih

Hussein Ahdieh and Hillary Chapman have just released an insightful and exciting new book titled The Calling: Tahirih of Persia and Her American Contemporaries. This dynamic duo was behind Awakening: A History of the Babi and Baha’i Faiths in Nayriz and have most recently worked together to produce a captivating history of women’s suffrage and the women’s rights movement in both Iran and the United States in the 1840’s. Dr. Dorothy Marcic of Columbia University has praised the book with these words:

Moving back and forth between the two struggles in such distant lands, the authors skillfully illustrate the common themes of what might otherwise seem as disparate social phenomenon. The book reads smoothly, and the reader wants to keep turning the page to find out what happens. How unusual is such writing in a work as thoroughly researched and referenced as The Calling. Writing such as this is not easy, and yet the authors make it appear as effortless as an autumn leaf blowing in a chilly wind.

Hussein graciously agreed to tell us more about his new book and the history it uncovers.  Continue reading

Ellen “Mother” Beecher: A Sheaf of Light

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