April 19, 2014

Adelaide Sharp – “dedicated [and] steadfast promoter [of the] Cause”; principal of Tarbiyat School for girls; the first woman to be elected to the National Spiritual Assembly of Iran

Born in Texas in 1896, Adelaide Sharp spent her childhood in Mexico, moved in company of her mother to California to pursue her studies, and after graduation from college took up teaching work in the Italian quarter of San Francisco. Her father, Horace M. Sharp who died during Adelaide's infancy, was a Christian but Adelaide, when still young, received the Message of Baha'u'llah from her mother, Clara Sharp - a devoted Baha'i - and accepted it.

In 1929, when the distinguished Baha'i, Dr. Susan I. Moody, who was then seventy-seven years of age, undertook to emigrate to Persia a second time at the Guardian's request, she received his permission and hearty approval to take Adelaide along with her to serve at the Tarbiyat School in the capital. The two pioneers covered the first stretch of their journey by ship to the Holy Land where the glory of pilgrimage to the Holy Shrines for twelve precious days was heightened by the guidance and spiritual strength received from the beloved Guardian, a bounty that would be their mainstay during the long and difficult years ahead.

Proceeding thence by the overland route to Tihran, Adelaide settled in her post as the school's principal on arrival and discharged her duties with exemplary diligence until the school was closed down. Ruhangiz Fath-'Azam and Ishraqiyyih Dhaih collaborated with her in this arduous task and were her unfailing support throughout this period.

After some two years' stay in Tihran, Adelaide asked the Guardian if she might invite her mother over, too. Shoghi Effendi assented readily and graciously cabled instructions to America for Mrs. Sharp's travel to Tihran, and so it was that Clara Sharp found herself working in the cradle of the Faith beside her daughter in the field of Baha'i education.

When the school was closed down, Adelaide Sharp stayed on in Persia on the Guardian's advice and gradually organized classes for boys as well as girls to study writings in English such as Baha'i Administration, The Promised Day is Come, The World Order of Baha'u'llah and other superb works from the Guardian's inspired pen. Many young Baha'is from these classes have since risen to eminence in service to God's Faith within and without Persia's borders.

Supervising and teaching at the Tarbiyat School were not the sole outlets for Miss Sharp's unflagging energy. At one time or another she was active on various committees including the international committee which gathered material for The Baha'i World volumes, the Children's Service Committee, the Reviewing Committee, Unity of the East and the West and the committee charged with the translation of Baha'i Scriptures into English.

On the occasion of her second visit to the Holy Land in 1937, Miss Sharp was again the recipient of the loving kindness of the Guardian. In 1954 when he ruled that women could from then on serve on Baha'i administrative bodies in Persia, she was the first woman to be elected to the National Spiritual Assembly, serving in this role for fourteen years. Almost to the last she acted as foreign correspondent of the National Assembly and was also assigned the responsibility of issuing credentials to Persian Baha'is who were going abroad. 

She attended the Intercontinental Conference in the United States (it was during this period that her mother passed away), the World Congress held in London during Ridvan of 1963 to celebrate the Most Great Jubilee and participated in the election in the Holy Land of the Universal House of Justice at both the first and second International Conventions.

Adelaide never married. Starting at an early age and extending almost to the very end, her talents and energy were dedicated to the service of the Cause and its servants in the land of its birth. This single-minded devotion won her warm tributes both from the beloved Guardian and the Universal House of Justice.

She was the object of special favour at the hands of Shoghi Effendi. In his missives to her the Guardian addressed her as his 'dear coworker' and enjoined the Persian National Spiritual Assembly to take the greatest care of her.

Her physical strength and powers deteriorated sadly during the last two or three years of her life when she was confined to bed by various ailments from which death released her on 5 October 1976. When informed of her passing, the Universal House of Justice, in a message to the Persian National Assembly, recognized her long and laborious services in these gracious terms:

DEEPLY GRIEVED PASSING DEDICATED STEADFAST PROMOTER CAUSE DEARLY LOVED ADELAIDE SHARP WHOSE SELFLESS LABOURS NEARLY FIVE DECADES COMMUNITY CRADLE FAITH IN EDUCATING ITS CHILDREN INSPIRING ENRICHING SPIRITUAL LIFE ITS YOUTH RESEARCHING TRANSLATING WRITINGS CONSOLIDATING ITS ADMINISTRATIVE INSTITUTIONS AND AS FIRST WOMAN MEMBER ITS NATIONAL SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLY WILL ALWAYS BE LOVINGLY REMEMBERED STOP HER DEVOTED SERVICES WON HER PRAISE BELOVED GUARDIAN REINFORCED TIES BINDING AMERICAN BAHAI COMMUNITY TO FRIENDS BAHAULLAHS NATIVE LAND STOP FERVENTLY PRAYING HOLY SHRINES CONTINUOUS PROGRESS HER SOUL ABHA KINGDOM STOP ADVISE HOLD BEFITTING MEMORIAL GATHERINGS HONOUR HER NAME STOP NATIONAL SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLY UNITED STATES HOLDING MEMORIAL GATHERING MASHRIQUL ADHKAR.

The International Teaching Centre, too, as well as the American National Spiritual Assembly cabled messages expressing their grief at Adelaide Sharp's passing and their appreciation of the spirit of selfless devotion that had marked her work for the Cause in Baha'u'llah's native land for a period of almost half a century. Hundreds of sorrowful mourners from among the Baha'is of Tihran paid their respects at the last resting-place of their Baha'i sister; and hundreds of other believers throughout the country attended memorial meetings held in her memory, demonstrating by this act the great love and esteem with which they regarded her. An account of her life was published in the Baha'i news organ of Persia, while the magazine Ahang-i-Badi carried articles written by some of her closest friends bearing upon incidents in her unbroken record of service which disclosed intimate glimpses of her sterling worth.

If asked to single out one or two distinctive traits from among the many characteristics that endeared Miss Sharp to her numerous friends, we would point to her unflinching loyalty and deep attachment to our beloved Guardian which provided the strength and solace with which she met the tests and difficulties attendant upon her service.

May Baha'u'llah's blessings be showered upon her in rich abundance!
(Adapted from a report prepared by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Persia and translated by Rustom Sabit; ‘The Baha’i World 1976-1979’)