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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leonora Armstrong: Spiritual Mother of South America

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 Baha’i 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

‘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

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

Man of the Trees – A Book about Richard St. Barbe Baker, the First Global Conservationist

One of the early pioneers of the global environmental conservation movement was British Baha’i, Richard St. Barbe Baker. Often referred to as St. Barbe, much of our understanding of environmental conservation, and many of the practices used today, can be directly attributed to his efforts, and so I was excited to discover a new book about St. Barbe’s life called Man of the Trees: Richard St. Barbe Baker, the First Global Conservationist written by Paul Hanley.

It’s been a delight to touch base with author Paul Hanley once again since we last interviewed him about his fascinating book called Eleven. With issues around climate change and the environment making headlines daily, I was eager to hear about Paul’s wonderful biography about Richard St. Barbe Baker.

Baha’i Blog: Hi Paul! Can you tell us a little bit about the book?

Well, for starters, there are actually two books to talk about. Both tell the story of a truly one-of-a-kind man, a pioneer of the environmental movement, who traveled the world incessantly trying to convince people to plant trees—billions of trees—to save the planet, and civilization.

The first, ‘Man of the Trees: Richard St. Barbe Baker, the First Global Conservationist’, is a full biography. Later, I was approached to write a version for children: ‘Richard St. Barbe Baker: Child of the Trees’ is a shorter, illustrated biography aimed at the middle school or junior youth age group. Continue reading

The Life of Effie Baker

Life of Effie Baker

Euphemia (Effie) Eleanor Baker, 25 March, 1880 – January 1, 1968.

As most of the world celebrates the new year, January 1st also commemorates the passing of someone special: Effie Baker. In fact, if you visit bahaullah.org (a wonderful photographic narrative of the life of Baha’u’llah) you’ll notice that many of the photographs of 1930’s Iran are credited to Effie Baker. A western Baha’i woman photographer in Iran in those days? I was a fish on a hook and needed to know more.

Effie (a nickname for Euphemia) Eleanor Baker was born 25 March, 1880 in Goldsborough, Australia. She was petite but energetic and had brown hair and blue eyes. Her childhood was spent with her grandparents in Ballarat. Her grandfather founded the Ballarat Observatory and if you visit it today, you can still see a specimen of his award-winning astronomical work: a 26 inch telescope called “The Baker”. Effie inherited an enthusiasm for science, a facility with technical instruments, and a keen observing eye from her grandfather. For a turn-of-the-century country girl, Effie was very well educated and when she wasn’t at school, she could be found exploring the countryside on a white pony named Nugget.

Effie studied and then worked as a visual artist. Armed with a formal understanding of colour, light and composition, Effie became enamored with photography. She also excelled at toy-making at a time when imported toys were scarce in Australia. In 1914 she published Australian Wild Flowers, a small volume of hand-painted photographs of local flora.

The turning point in her life was when she heard Hyde Dunn speak publicly about the Baha’i Faith in 1922. He and his wife Clara responded to the Master’s Tablets of the Divine Plan by moving to Australia two years prior. Effie noticed something radiant about Hyde’s face and during his talk, she wholeheartedly accepted the Baha’i Faith. Continue reading

Baha’i Blogcast with Rainn Wilson – Episode 34: Judge Dorothy Nelson

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 visit the Honorable Judge Dorothy Nelson in her home in California. Judge Dorothy W. Nelson is a Senior United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and is an active member of the Baha’i Faith who served on the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of United States for many years. She tells me about the fireside she’s been running in her home since 1961, and about her late husband Jim and how they both became Baha’is. She shares tips on having a happy marriage and integrating everyday life with your faith. We talk about the importance of ‘active’ listening, mediation and arbitration, and rehabilitation as an alternative to the justice system. She shares where she sees the Baha’i community going and reminds us that we’re a ‘learning community’, and she tells us the key to happiness. I hope you enjoy the conversation with this remarkable woman! Continue reading

BWNS Podcast – Man of the Trees: Pioneering Environmentalist Remembered

The International Tree Foundation is in the midst of an ambitious plan: to plant 20 million trees in and around Kenya’s highland forests by 2024, the organization’s centenary.

That goal is one of the many living expressions of the ideals espoused by Richard St. Barbe Baker (1889-1982), founder of the organization. Mr. Baker, who was best known as St. Barbe, was a pioneering environmentalist and early British Baha’i who had a far-reaching vision and initiated practices that have become common and widespread today.

In this podcast episode by the Baha’i World News Service, we hear excerpts from St. Barbe himself describing his inspiration for a lifelong commitment to environmentalism and the Baha’i Faith. Drawn to the Baha’i Faith at a young age, St. Barbe was a visionary environmentalist whose global impact is being revisited through the work of the International Tree Foundation and a new biography by Paul Hanley.  Continue reading

Cloud9: Dorothy Khadem-Missagh – Playing Classical Music for the Soul

Cloud9 is a podcast produced by Baha’i Teachings. Its aim is to feature interviews with artists and discuss what inspires them to make a positive contribution to the world. In this episode, Baha’i Teachings’ arts editor Shadi Toloui-Wallace interviews renowned concert pianist Dorothy Khadem-Missagh about striving for excellence, spirituality in classical music, and using music as a ladder for the soul. Continue reading

Baha’i Blogcast with Rainn Wilson – Episode 61: Paul Hanley

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 by multi-award-winning writer, Paul Hanley, who has written thousands of articles and several books mainly about the environment, sustainable development, and agriculture. Paul tells us how he became a Baha’i, and about the extraordinary life of Richard St. Barbe Baker, the first global conservationist. We also discuss population growth, urban farming, how everything is interconnected, and the need for an ethical revolution in the world. I hope you enjoy this fascinating conversation! Continue reading

21 Resources Relating to the 100th Anniversary of the Baha’i Faith in Australia

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Baha’i Faith in Australia, so in celebration, we thought we’d bring together 21 resources that honor this historic occasion! Some of the resources listed are our own content, written or created by the Baha’i Blog team of collaborators, some are from Baha’i institutions, and some are individual initiatives that we’ve showcased and curated on Baha’i Blog.

Whether you’re Australian or not, we hope you find this list helpful and inspiring, and for our Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander friends, before you scroll any further, a warning that some of the resources listed below feature photographs of people who have since passed away.

Now on with the list! Continue reading