December 27, 2009

Thomas Breakwell – ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s “dear one”; "the first English believer"

(by May Maxwell)

How poignant are the records of the early days of the Baha'i Faith in the West, when the freshness and beauty of the spiritual Springtime awakened the souls and led them, quickened and aflame to the knowledge of Baha’u’llah, often to the very Presence of ‘Abdu'l-Baha in the Prison of ‘Akka. Such is the record, the divine significance of the conversion of Thomas Breakwell, a young Englishman living in the Southern States of America, holding an important position in a cotton mill, spending his long summer vacations in Europe. During his vacation of 1891 he crossed on the steamer with Mrs. M., and as she found him interested in Theosophy she mentioned a group of friends in Paris whom she said were interested in kindred subjects. Although she knew nothing of the Baha’i teaching and had closed her ears to its message, yet she was impelled to bring this youth to see me on their arrival. I was at that time in a small apartment connected with the beautiful home of Mrs. Jackson – which she had placed at my disposal, when my family had left for the summer.

My dear Mother -- although broad and fine in all matters, had resented my constant work in the service of the Baha'i Cause, especially since my pilgrimage to the Prison of ‘Akka, and when ‘Abdu'l-Baha had refused, at her urgent appeal, to permit me to accompany her during the summer to Brittany, saying that I must on no account absent myself from Paris, my unhappy and indignant Mother had closed our home and left me alone.

Thus it was on a lovely summer day that, in response to a knock I found Mrs. M. and Thomas Breakwell standing at my door, and my attention was riveted on this youth; of medium height, slender, erect and graceful, with intense eyes and an indescribable charm. As they entered, Mrs. M. said smiling, "He was a stranger and she took him in." We spoke together for about half an hour of Theosophy -- his work, his projected trip through Europe, and I discerned a very rare person of high standing and culture, simple, natural, intensely real in his attitude toward life and his fellowmen. Although no word of the divine Revelation was spoken, and he assumed I was interested in Theosophy, yet he studied me with a searching gaze, and as they left, he asked me if he might see me the following day. He arrived the next morning in a strangely exalted mood, no veil of materiality covered this radiant soul – his eyes burned with a hidden fire, and looking at me earnestly he asked if I noticed anything strange about him. Seeing his condition I bade him be seated, and reassured him, saying he looked very happy.

December 13, 2009

Howard Colby Ives – The Outstanding Promoter of the Faith

The life of Howard Colby Ives is a saga of the spirit. It was not its events but his interpretation of them that portrayed his genius. He had, it would seem, been born with a degree of awareness that made, even of ordinary existence, a swing between ecstasy and torture. God favored him in that He had bestowed upon him the grace of a martyr's heart: a head willing to bow, a spirit straining to soar.

Howard Ives in his spiritual autobiography "Portals to Freedom" divided his life sharply in two. The forty-six years before he met ‘Abdu'l-Baha he compares to the experience of a child of ten! He was horn in Brooklyn in 1867 and after the death of his father his family lived in Niagara Falls, N. Y., until Howard was seventeen and then returned again to Brooklyn. We hear of his spending many months on a ranch in Wyoming while overcoming a lung difficulty and are given a picture of a nineteen year old youth tending sheep on the mountain sides alone sometimes for weeks and writing poetry by the light of the moon. In 1902 he entered a Unitarian theological school at Meadville, Pennsylvania, and was graduated in 1905, 38 years of age. Of this period in his life his daughter Muriel Ives Barrow writes:

November 25, 2009

Keith Ransom-Kehler – First Woman Hand of the Cause, First American Baha’i Martyr

Keith Ransom-Kehler became a Bahá’í in May 1921, but her first documented encounter with the Faith occurred a decade earlier, when she met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London on 13 September 1911. She mentioned the meeting in passing in her diary twenty years later, but no account of the occasion has been discovered. She may have learned of the Bahá’í Faith when she lived in Paris, where the new religion gained attention in expatriate and artistic circles around the turn of the century. May Maxwell, the focal figure in the early Bahá’í community in Paris, was a friend of Ransom-Kehler’s in the 1920s and 1930s, but an earlier connection between the two women has not been established.

Shortly after becoming a Bahá’í, Keith gained recognition as a Bahá’í speaker, writer, and administrator. In 1924–25 she served as secretary of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Chicago … until ill health led her to leave for Louisiana. In July 1925 she chaired a session of the Bahá’í Congress held in conjunction with the national Bahá’í convention .. held at Green Acre, the Bahá’í school and conference center in Eliot, Maine; the topic of the evening was "The Economic Foundation of World Brotherhood." She traveled and lectured on a variety of Bahá’í topics, speaking at a series of meetings in Montreal in mid-1925 and, later that year, addressing meetings of the National Association of Teachers in Colored Schools held in Durham, North Carolina. In New York, between 1926 and 1929, her speaking commitments frequently took her to Harlem, where she assisted with a regular interracial "fireside," as presentations on the Bahá’í Faith involving questions and discussion are called.

November 14, 2009

Ethel Rosenberg - England’s Outstanding Baha’i Pioneer-Worker

She was born in Bath England, and spent her early childhood there and came to London to study art under Legros at the Slade School. Her specialty was portrait painting, and her red chalk heads were quite remarkable, of which several were in academy; also portraits in the style of Dowman. Although she had painted many beautiful landscapes she practically abandomed this side of her art when she specialized particularly in miniatures. She came into the movement [the Baha’i Faith] in the summer of 1899 and went to ‘Akka soon after.

Miss Ethel J. Rosenberg was one of the pioneers of the Baha’i Faith in the western world in the early days of the Cause. ‘Abdu’l-Baha knew and loved so well this devoted servant of His and had often paid priceless tribute by voice and pen concerning her devotion and untiring labours.

Known and loved by all the members of the Holy family in Haifa and Akka where she had visited for months at a time in the earlier stages of the outpouring of the Baha’i spirit from the East to Europe and America (January 1901 and 1905-6), Miss Rosenberg played no small part in the adaptation of the Baha’i Message to the western mind. Ever modest and unassuming the full value of her work in this capacity seldom appeared on the surface but those who knew her well and were in close touch with her activities were and are well aware of the great assistance she gave to the Master and how valuable was the help she rendered in the translation and transcribing of some of the outstanding works through which the truths of the Baha’i Message were made known to the peoples of the western hemisphere.

November 12, 2009

Dr. John Esslemont - Hand of the Cause of God

John Ebenezer Esslemont, who passed away at Haifa November 22, 1925, was born on May 19, 1874, the son of John E. Esslemont of Fairford, Cults, Aberdeenshire.

He received his preliminary education at Ferryhill public school and continued his studies at the Robert Gordon College and ultimately at Aberdeen University, where he graduated with honors in April, 1898, obtaining not only the medical degrees of Bachelor of Medicine and of Surgery, but also a Philip Research Scholarship at the University. He spent the second half of 1899 at Berne and Strasburg, at both of which places he wrote papers on his research work, which were published and considered valuable.

Returning to Scotland in December, 1899, Esslemont took up the position of assistant to Professor Cash at Aberdeen University, which position he held until 1901, when he went to Australia, remaining there two years. During this residence in Australia, he married on December 19, 1902.

Early in his life Esslemont’s health proved a cause of trouble and anxiety, and in 1903 he was obliged to leave Australia, returning to Aberdeenshire, where he spent the summer, but found it necessary in the winter of that year to proceed to South Africa, the climate of which country it was hoped would prove beneficial to his pulmonary ailment. He remained in South Africa for five years, returning to his native country in 1908, when he obtained the post of resident medical officer at the Home Sanatorium, Bournemouth, which he continued to hold until 1923, when, owing to the death of the proprietor, the Sanatorium was closed and Esslemont found himself without medical occupation.