“Emogene," as she was familiarly known to the Baha'is, was born in the small California mining town of Copperopolis on the 27th of September in the year 1869. Her father, Dr. Martin, having died when she was very young, and her mother having remarried, she went to live with an aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. William Henry Wright, in San Francisco, where later she was graduated from the Irving Institute, a select boarding school for young ladies of those days.
In her early twenties Emogene married John Ketchie Hoagg, who died in San Francisco in 1918. A few years after her marriage Emogene went to Europe to pursue her musical studies, remaining there several years.
Upon her return to California she visited at the home of a family friend, Mrs. Phoebe Apperson Hearst, in Pleasanton, and it was there, in 1898, that she first heard of the Baha'i Faith. Dr. and Mrs. Edward Christopher Getsinger had come from Chicago hoping to interest Mrs. Hearst in the new Revelation. Emogene was so attracted by Mrs. Getsinger's earnest manner that she sought daily lessons with her, resulting in Emogene's instant acceptance of the Faith. Concerning this she wrote:
“My interest augmented from lesson to lesson. The first commune, ‘O my God, give me knowledge, faith and love,' was constantly on my lips, and I believe those Words from the Fountain of Eternal Lip awakened my soul and mind to a faith that has never wavered."
In this way Emogene became the first confirmed believer in California.
Mrs. Hearst herself had been deeply impressed by the Baha'i story and decided to include in the Egyptian tour she was planning for the fall of that year a special trip to 'Akka to see 'Abdu'l-Baha and further investigate the Revelation. Emogene accompanied Mrs. Hearst as far as Paris and then proceeded to Italy to continue her vocal course. At Milan, in 1899, she received her first Tablet from 'Abdu'l-Baha in acknowledgment of her letter of acceptance of the Faith which she had written before leaving California. However, it was not until November, 1900, in company with Mrs. Helen Ellis Cole, of New York, and Miss Alma Albertson, that she had an opportunity to visit 'Abdu'l-Baha. Those fourteen days in 'Akka and Haifa were her "spiritual baptism." Afterward, at 'Abdu'l-Baha's suggestion, she spent a month in Port Sa’id in order to study the Baha'i interpretation of the Bible with the renowned Persian teacher, Mirza Abu'l-Fadl. Of that period Emogene wrote:
“I knew no one at Port Sa'id and met none but Baha'is during my stay there; but I was not lonely for I was treated as a sister by the kind friends. For four weeks Mirza Abu’l-Fadl received me at the home of Nur'u’llah Effendi twice a day, morning and evening, and gave me such explicit instruction on the Bible that for the first time this Book became an open page. It was not without difficulty that I got the explanation. Sometimes Nur'u'llah Effendi would give me the meaning in Italian, and at other times Ahmad Yazdi Effendi would translate into French. Then I would put their words into English. After about two weeks Anton Effendi Haddad was sent to Port Sa’id, and he translated directly into English. Almost every evening five or six of the brothers would meet with us to bear Mirza Abu’l-Fadl’s explanations. Those were wonderful days, - to think that I, an American woman, was able to meet with these Baha'I brothers of a different nationality and in a foreign country, and to feel so perfectly at home, just as though I had been with my own family! Probably to them it was yet more novel experience to be able to meet with an unveiled sister. All this has been brought about by the power of Baha'u'llah.
I was still at Port Sa'id at Christmas time and was honored at dinner by the presence of Mirza Abu'l-Fadl, Ahmad Yazdi Effendi and Anton Effendi Haddad. Dear Mirza Abu’l-Fadl did not wish to go into the large dining-room at the hotel, so we had a private room and he entertained us by relating Baha'iincidents in his life."
This intensive study was the beginning of Emogene's long labor of love, an exhaustive compilation titled “The Three Conditions of Existence: Servitude, Prophethood, and Deity," which was not finished until shortly before her death.
Going back in January, 1903, to California, where occasional Baha'i meetings had been held in the Oakland home of Mrs. Helen S. Goodall and her daughter, Emogene joined with them in establishing regular weekly gatherings. Then, during the absence of Mrs. Goodall and her daughter on a visit to 'Akka in 1907 and 1908, she carried on the meetings in her own home, and in addition started a second weekly group especially for study.
In the absence of Mrs. Goodall in November of 1907, Emogene represented California at a consultation meeting in the home of Mrs. Corinne True in Chicago. Nine communities responded to the call for the purpose of initiating the Baha'i Temple work. Mrs. True has recorded: “Emogene's flaming spirit of devotion was one of the pioneer pillars to accomplish that great step in the progress of the Faith in this country."
The intervening years until the end of the First World War saw Emogene in divers places from California to Washington, D. C., and even to Italy, Egypt and the Holy Land.
When the Teaching Tablets of 'Abdu'lBaha reached the United States Emogene felt an urge to go to Alaska. Receiving a cablegram of confirmation from 'Abdu'l-Baha, she was encouraged to undertake the long and difficult trek in the cold North.
No doubt the most unique of her many teaching endeavors was this one made with Miss Marian Elizabeth Jack of New Brunswick. From San Francisco, in July, 1919, they took steamer to Nome and St. Michael, reaching those ports on the 26th, thence up the Yukon River to Fairbanks, on to Dawson and Whitehorse in Canada, down to Skagway and Juneau in Alaska. Then Miss Jack remained in Juneau while Emogene alone, in September, made the circuit by water over to Cordova, Valdez, Seward and Anchorage, all of which places gave her excellent newspaper publicity.
The long, leisurely trip up the Yukon aboard the "Julia B" was filled with amusing happenings as well as excitement. To begin with, all of Emogene's baggage, except one suitcase, had been accidentally left behind in Seattle, but, as noted in her diary:
“Extra wraps and even Indian moccasins will be loaned by the Captain, sweaters by the Purser, and all sorts of things are convertible into necessary robes for the night. The freedom from worry about baggage is a noticeable feature of our travels; in fact, this is a splendid region in which to practice not thinking about what one wears and what one eats."
Everywhere along the route Emogene and Miss Jack had met the dwellers in the towns and Indian villages, either on the pier if the stop were a short one or, if longer, in the hotel lobbies, dining-rooms, lodge halls or movie theaters, which latter would sometimes run slides announcing a Baha'i talk. Miss Jack would set up her easel anywhere and begin sketching. She made friends through her smiles and merry quips, and Emogene would soon introduce the subject of the Baha'i Revelation. Where public lectures were given pamphlets would be distributed, and usually an ice cream “party" would follow at the drug store or in a private home.
At Ruby they held an impromptu meeting on the sidewalk.
At Tenana the Message was given to a Chinese who owned the restaurant where they had their meals. Mr. Lee asked for literature, and to every patron he would hand a pamphlet, saying: "This is very good. You read. Do you lot of good."
At Cordova Emogene wrote in her diary:
"While I gave only one public talk, the whole town was astir with the Message.... It really rejoices one to know that the hearts are being prepared so opportunely and that all we have to do is to lend our services. Some of the women at Anchorage helped to arrange talks at the Women's Club, the City Club, before the Pioneers (women and men), also at the picture show, and the High School Auditorium. They thought it was wonderful to travel and teach without taking pay, and that it was a privilege to hear the addresses. I stand in awe at the power of the Spirit that will provide these means and opportunities."
Emogene returned to Juneau December 21st. Notwithstanding the Christmas holidays, a series of dinner and teaching engagements ensued at many private homes and on the evening of the 30th, she spoke at a public meeting in Odd Fellows Hall. On New Year's Eve she and Miss Jack attended the reception given by Governor and Mrs. Riggs.
Late that same evening Mrs. Georgia Grayston Ralston, of San Francisco, arrived from New York in order to accompany Emogene on some short trips out of Juneau. After a hurried jaunt to Sitka, Wrangell and Ketchikan, fraught with near disaster due to inclement weather and severe storms, they retraced their steps to Juneau, and at the invitation of the Mayor held one public meeting in the City Council Chambers.
During their stay in Sitka it was the Greek holiday season, with a dance every evening. Since they could, therefore, not obtain a hall, Mrs. Ralston wondered what they could do. Nothing daunted, Emogene replied: "Well, if we cannot get a hall on account of a masked hall, we will go to the ball. There we are sure to see everyone, and some may be willing to listen to us." Not only did they go to the ball, but they did interest a number of persons and, moreover, they were invited to be two of the five judges of the best sustained character of the evening.
At Wrangell they had two meetings in Van Atta's Barber Shop. The proprietor was a devout Bible student and offered his shop for meetings "any evening after 8: 30 and on Sunday afternoons."
As they were about to leave Wrangell, Judge Thomas presented to each of them a little pin made of Alaska gold, at the same time thanking them for having "brought much to him in the Teachings."
In a letter from Wrangell to a friend in Washington, D. C., dated January 15, 1920, Emogene wrote:
"One must adapt the way to the needs, and the main thing is to have the people learn about the Faith .... I know I shall miss the pioneer spirit of Alaska. I certainly like it here."
From Juneau Emogene and Mrs. Ralston began the homeward journey, sailing February 24th from Vancouver for San Francisco.
Though Emogene was not the first Baha'I teacher to visit Alaska and spend some time there, she was truly a pioneer in the sense that she opened new territory and sowed the seed for future garners.
Her entire tour of Alaska, by boat and rail, covered eight months and a total of more than six thousand miles, not including the sea voyage from San Francisco to Nome.
Almost immediately Emogene left for Italy, later for Haifa, but was back in Italy by November of 1920. In 1921, at Naples, she met Mr. and Mrs. Stuart W. French, who were en route from California to see 'Abdu'l-Baha. When they returned to Italy they went with Emogene, according to 'Abdu'lBaha’s instructions, to Rome and Florence to call upon those whom she had interested in the Faith, and for several successive years their paths crossed in various parts of Europe.
In 1928, at Miss Julia Culver's earnest plea, and with the approval of Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Baha'i Faith, Emogene went to Geneva, Switzerland, to assist in conducting the affairs of the International Baha'I Bureau. Under her efficient supervision the Bureau was soon functioning smoothly, and in 1930 she and Miss Culver were elected joint treasurers. Capable co-workers they had in Mrs. Anne Lynch and Miss Margaret Lentz, who selflessly served many years.
Shoghi Effendi, in 1931, summoned Emogene to Haifa for the purpose of typing the voluminous manuscript of "The Dawn-Breakers" which he was then translating into English from the original Persian. Upon completing that arduous and important task she returned to Geneva and remained there until 1935.
|Emogene Hoagg with Baha'is of |
Havana Cuba 1940
Following the Cuban mission, Emogene had a few months' rest in California, also with friends in Cleveland, Ohio, and in Washington, D. C. She was thus able, in May, 1944, to attend the Thirty-Sixth Annual Convention of the Baha'is of the United States and Canada at Wilmette, Illinois, and the Baha'i Centenary commemorating the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Baha'i Faith. Returning to Washington, she had expected to start on a teaching trip to Green Acre, Montreal, and Florida; but, because of rapidly failing health, she instead retired to her home in Charleston, South Carolina. Yet she was not idle. Whenever she could sit up, she applied herself painstakingly to the completion of her Compilation, from her bed she taught the visitors who called upon her, and to the end she was a tireless worker in the Baha'i field.
Emogene passed away December 15, 1945, after more than forty-seven years as an active national and international Baha'i teacher. She was in her seventy-seventh year at the time of her death. Upon receiving the announcement, Shoghi Effendi cabled the National Spiritual Assembly:
“Deeply grieved passig (of) staunch, exemplary pioneer (of the) Faith, Emogene Hoagg. Record (of) national (and) international services unforgettable. Reward (in) Abha Kingdom assured (and) abundant."
Emogene during her illness had been lovingly cared for by Miss Josephine Pinson of Charleston, the dear Baha'i friend to whom Emogene had intrusted the manuscript of her book, with the request that she type it for publication. Of those last hours Miss Pinson penned a beautiful account which she sent to Emogene's relatives and intimate friends, with the further information that her body would rest in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston. Briefly, Miss Pinson wrote:
“The joy with which Emogene announced her imminent departure cannot be described in words. All my experiences connected with her sickness and passing are very sacred to me, and I feel it was a great privilege and blessing to have been the one to serve her in her last days. But her glorious departure overshadows all other sentiments, and I wish all could have shared it with me. She wore an expression of supreme happiness until she was freed from the cage of this world."
Letters from many friends have borne witness to the extraordinary qualities of Emogene's mind and spirit. A few excerpts follow:
Mrs. Corinne True, of Wilmette, Illinois, wrote:
“Emogene was always such a vital character, full of doing things for others, and never considering herself."
Miss Agnes Alexander, of Honolulu, wrote:
“Emogene was one of the glorious souls of the early days of the Faith who stood firm in the Covenant of her Lord."
Mrs. Kathryn Frankland, whose home is in Berkeley, California, wrote:
"Whenever and wherever we were together, whether she were sick or well, Emogene was always engaged in research for her Compilation, which was her very life… 'Abdu'l-Baha loved her very much, and His daughters simply adored her, for her sense of humor always buoyed them up in times of depression."
Mr. George Orr Latimer, of Portland, Oregon, wrote:
"I would say that one of Emogene's outstanding qualities was her firmness in the Covenant; another, the clarity of her teaching, both in the early days of the Faith in America and when she was instructed, by the Guardian, to teach the Baha'i Administrative Order to believers young in the Faith and so bring them close to the spirit of 'Abdu'l-Baha."
Mrs. Stuart W. French, of San Marino California, wrote:
“When I take up a copy of ‘The Dawn-Breakers' I think of Emogene's eager fingers typing word for word that wonderful book, striving to approach that spiritual energy which always actuated the Guardian and which he longed to see in others… Her loyalty and devotion, generosity, modesty and, above all, her deep penetration into, and brilliant explanations of, the Revelation, were a priceless bounty to those who studied with her."
Mrs. Anne Lynch wrote from Geneva, Switzerland, where she is still serving at the International Baha'i Bureau:
"How much Emogene suffered physically, and how her spirit always remained unbroken! How many of us owe to her our spiritual training!"
Miss Margaret Lentz, at present in the United States, wrote:
"One afternoon at the International Baha’i Bureau in Geneva, when we were entertaining our little group of Baha'i students and also some guests from out of town, Maria, a young woman from the Balkans whom Emogene had attracted to the Faith with patient and loving teaching, was sitting in the reception room downstairs, just having finished smoking one of her innumerable cigarettes. When Emogene came down shortly before the arrival of the guests, she was shocked by the odor of the smoke. And what did she do? Did she send Maria away? No! She fetched some attar of rose and sprinkled it on Maria lavishly. And lo and behold, no smoke could be sensed any more, only the most lovely fragrance of roses!"
Miss Josephine Kruka wrote from Havana, Cuba:
"Our glorious Faith has lost a most profound teacher. Emogene tried her best to make us realize that much of our understanding we must get through the heart, that we must study and meditate. She had the greatest passion for studying the Teachings and imparting them to others. Indeed, she used to say that she never felt well except when she was teaching."
Mr. Philip G. Sprague, of New York, one of the younger generation of Baha'is, wrote:
“Emogene's passing was a real blow to me, because I had been very close to her for many years. She was a great believer, and I think almost had more strength of character than anyone else I have ever known. I have never known any other person to have such adaptability and determination in meeting the problems of life."
Another tribute was from Mr. Charles Mason Remey, of Washington, D. c.;
"Emogene's virtues were many. Perhaps her outstanding human virtue was her keen and most delightful sense of humor. This never failed her and was a constant source of pleasure and joy to all who were near her.... She went deeply and penetratingly into the Teachings as but few others have done. This made her a Baha'i teacher of Baha'i teachers! I feel that her chief contribution to the Faith in this country was her teaching among the believers themselves. Many had their beliefs and understanding vastly deepened by Emogene."
The foregoing appraisals afford an insight into Emogene's dominant traits of character. Many more could be mentioned; for instance, her extreme fondness for animals and insistence that they be treated kindly and never abused.
A strong sense of justice was a virtue Emogene possessed in large measure. In all her years of association with the Baha'i women of the Orient she did not reconcile herself to the restrictions under which they were obliged to live, for she believed they were entitled to the same privileges the women of the Occident enjoy. One of her cherished dreams was to be able to share in the building of a Baha'i school for girls on Mt. Carmel.
In a precious Tablet from 'Abdu'l-Baha, which Emogene always had with her, occur these several verses as translated by Anton Effendi Haddad:
“O thou who art rejoiced at the Glad Tidings of God!
I received thy last letter in which thou showest thy wistful consent to the good pleasure of God, thy resignation to His Will, and thy evanescence in the way of His wish.
O maid-servant of God! I assuredly know thy spiritual feelings, thy merciful thoughts, thy firmness in the Cause of God, and thy straightforwardness in the Testament of God.
It is incumbent upon thee to have good patience and to endure every grave and difficult matter. Patience is one of the gifts of God, an attribute of the elect, and a mark of the righteous.
I supplicate God to bestow upon thee a power and a blessing to enable thee to guide sincere servants and devoted maidservants to enter the Garden of El-Abha. This is better unto thee than that which is in existence in this world of creation. This is a fact!
Be tranquil because of My love to thee and My prayers for thee, and rejoice at all times and under all circumstances.
O maid-servant of God! How excellent is that sentence thou hast written in thy letter: ‘It behooveth me to eliminate self (or egotism) so that I will not desire anything but the Will of God.' How good is this prayer, and how beautiful is this invocation. Aught else beside this makes it impossible for man to be confirmed by the abundance of the gift of God; neither will he succeed in becoming an humble and submissive servant or a laborer in His Great Vineyard.
May salutation and praise be upon thee!"
Such were the creative words addressed to Emogene by 'Abdu'l-Baha as long ago as 1902. Like fertile seeds, sown in the pure soil of her heart, watered by her conviction, and warmed by the sunshine of His love, they brought forth their harvest of humility, patience, steadfastness, fortitude, and superlative happiness.
(by Ella Goodall Cooper; ‘The Baha’i World 1944-1946’)