John Henry Hyde Dunn was born in London, England, the son of a consulting chemist. In early childhood he was dandled upon the knee of Charles Dickens, and was amused and entertained by Cruikshank, the famous illustrator of Dickens' works. As a young man, after engaging in business in Great Britain and on the continent, he immigrated to the United States.
While waiting in a tinsmith's shop in Seattle, Washington, he overheard two men speaking. One man quoted these words of Baha'u'llah, "Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country, but let him glory in this, that he loves his kind." Mr. Dunn interrupted the conversation by saying, “Surely these words are a message from God." The speaker turned, and, including Mr. Dunn in the conversation, gave the message of the Baha'i Revelations.
Mr. Dunn accepted the truth of the Baha'i Revelation immediately and it was not long before he and Mr. Ward Fitzgerald, the one who had brought him the Message, were traveling together, doing business and spreading the Faith. At one time they took advantage of a brief period of unemployment to journey to Walla Walla, Washington, where they held meetings for this purpose. This journey necessitated extreme economy on the part of the teachers so that they were often obliged to go hungry. A certain lady, who remained after one of the meetings to learn more about the great Message, soon learned, as she talked with the two teachers, that they were as hungry physically as she was spiritually. She tactfully insisted on offering them hospitality and spread a bountiful meal for them.
In 1911 Mrs. Lua Getsinger, whom Shoghi Effendi has called the mother-teacher of the American Baha'i community, was lecturing in San Francisco on the Faith. This drew Mr. Dunn to the city and he continued to come there as often as his occupation of traveling salesman permitted. He sought out Mrs. Getsinger for every possible private interview, and she gave him generously of her time. In San Francisco he associated also with Thornton Chase, whom 'Abdu'l-Baha called the “first American Baha'i." Among the San Francisco Baha'is at that time were also Mrs. Goodall and Dr. D'Evelyn and others whose fellowship he doubtless found most precious and helpful.
In 1911 his first wife, Mrs. Fanny Dunn, died. She had not accepted the Faith when her husband did, but had gradually come to believe in Baha'u'llah and His Revelation.
In the fall of 1912 'Abdu'l-Baha came to San Francisco. He had at one time given up His plan to come to the Pacific Coast. The Baha'is of that region were, of course, deeply disappointed, and nine of them met for earnest prayer that He might change His plan and come. This prayer was answered. 'Abdu'l-Baha telegraphed that He would come! Unbounded joy filled the hearts of the believers. They made arrangements for Him to occupy with His entourage, during His stay in their city, a three story house. Mr. Dunn, eager to be as near the Master as possible, rented a room at a hotel nearby.
On the night of 'Abdu'l-Baha's arrival he waited on the curb opposite ‘Abdu'l-Baha's house to catch a glimpse of Him as he alighted from the cab and went up the steps. His meeting with 'Abdu'l-Baha later he himself described as having a tremendous effect on him. 'Abdu'l-Baha's penetrating glance, his life-giving words, he felt gave him the power that enabled him later to become the spiritual conqueror of a continent. This meeting set ablaze the universal love that smoldered in his heart, and the rest of his life was devoted to scattering that love to the best of his ever growing capacity. Not only did he make known the Teachings of Baha'u'llah, but he gave generously material help to those who needed it. By practicing rigid economy in expenditures upon himself, he always had funds to contribute to the support of the institutions of the Baha'i Faith and to help, secretly, in the emergencies of others.
Not long after 'Abdu'l-Baha's visit to San Francisco the lady who had shown hospitality to Mr. Dunn in Walla Walla, Washington, came to live in San Francisco. A love sprang up and grew between these two, and they were married. A great yearning in the heart of Hyde Dunn was gratified in this second marriage. He had longed to be able to open his home for the promotion of the Baha'i Faith. Now this longing was satisfied. His home became a joyful gathering place for friends both old and new. Colored and white, rich and poor, of whatever religion or nationality, all were made to feel at home. During the years 1912-1918 Mr. Dunn spent every moment he could spare from his business in spreading the “Glad Tidings" of the Baha'i Revelation.
In 1918, when 'Abdu'l-Baha's Tablets calling upon the American Baha'is to hasten to all parts of the world to spread the Teachings, came, Mr. Dunn immediately decided to respond by going to Australia, where he felt he could best serve. Of this decision he wrote: "It was all very simple, -- a wave that came into our lives possessing us and satisfying every desire to serve our beloved Cause, the Cause of Baha'u'llah and His Glorious Covenant. Mother (he always called Mrs. Dunn mother just as she called him Father) was reading 'Abdu'l-Baha's ... call to the United States and Canada, and His appeal was so penetrating and thrilling, it pierced our hearts. In one part He said, ‘If I could only go in poverty and barefooted, and raise the call of Ya-Baha'u'l-Abha, but that is not now possible.' Mother looked up and said, ‘Shall we go, Father?' ‘Yes,' was my reply, and no, further discussion took place. We returned to San Francisco (they had been on a vacation), and after a few months my resignation (to my firm) was sent, everything given up, and arrangements made for our prompt sailing."
Later, when Mrs. Dunn doubted the wisdom of accompanying her husband, he wrote to 'Abdu'l-Baha for advice. “It seemed like ages," he goes on to narrate, “before a reply came. Read carefully, how and when it came. We were all packed up ready to leave the cottage we were living in. While the carriers were loading on our luggage and Mother waiting in the wee garden, a telegraph boy appeared with a cable from 'Abdu'l-Baha containing these words, ‘Highly Commendable.' Imagine our hearts' delight and joy. This made our future an open door to service on this continent (Australia)."
On their way to Australia they stopped at Honolulu and remained there two months. This stay was "in the truest sense a real Baha'i visit, with a lasting profit of understanding and consciousness of real love and service to God. . . . We landed in Sydney from the Steamship Sonona, April 18, 1919.
"How strangely things happen, and how wonderfully does God act and bring His plans into our lives . . . so that we can serve Him. He is All-powerful to fulfill His Divine purpose for us in everything.... O beloved ones of Baha'u'llah, make firm your steps and secure every opportunity to serve with a new consciousness of love and service and so justify our being Baha'is. Strange to say, traveling on the Sonona to New Zealand and Australia was the manager of the firm that Mother had represented in America for many years, and this gentleman landed in Australia after visiting New Zealand about the same time that we landed in Sydney after visiting Honolulu.... This manager offered Mother a position in the Australian company and set us right upon our feet. This (arrangement) lasted for the first five or six months. Our original plans for making a living in Australia were of no avail. Being far from well when we landed (I) was not fit for work, but how wonderfully does God guide us.
"One day at the end of September, while laying the cloth for dinner, a voice, a mental voice, said to me, "Now is the time for you to write to the firm in Melbourne, regarding a position.' The mail that night carried a letter to a good firm in Melbourne,... to whom I felt able to give good service. By return post a reply arrived (which read) 'Your application is most opportune .... Call and see our Sydney manager.' (Thus)... a good position was obtained which ultimately took me over the whole of Australia... and to New Zealand with the Baha'i Message.... Praise be to God!
"Mother was able to surrender her position and God made it possible for me to earn enough to travel all over the continent, taking Mother to the capital cities.
“For two and a half years we remained in New South Wales... Interest in the Cause continually increased and people... came at all times to see us. There was no breathing space at all. It was an incessant plowing ahead. One outstanding instance in the teaching work Father Dunn carried on in Sydney was the meeting and making of the first real believer in Australia, Mr. Whitaker, who proved a blessing to the Cause and all its believers, holding the friends in Sydney together and advancing the Cause while Father and Mother Dunn were traveling.
"After these two and a half years... work in New South Wales, another miraculous thing happened in business; the whole of the continent was given me to work in... Melbourne was our first stop and we remained in the State of Victoria for about six months. Early in 1923 we visited Adelaide; and the same work was repeated there with great happiness.
"Then the great opportunity came that we had been longing for, and we crossed the Great Desert to Western Australia and opened our Baha'i campaign with many successes... Here in Perth... we had the honor and happiness to meet dear Martha Root. A successful teaching campaign followed.
"Later we visited Queensland and revisited New South Wales together with Victoria and West Australia."
Father Dunn died at Sydney, February 17, 1941… The Sydney Baha'is have supplied an account of his last days and funeral, which we quote in part: ""Father was at the Healing Meeting at the Center on Tuesday afternoon, February 11th, and was his usual bright, informative self. After arriving home he had an unconscious spell... but recovered and was fairly well until Friday when he became unconscious and remained so until he passed on, Monday morning.
"The funeral service was conducted by Baha'is. It consisted of readings of Baha'i prayers and selections from the (Hidden Words and of words from Mother Dunn, smiling and wonderfully composed, who gave those assembled a message such as she knew Father would have wished to express."
The following tribute to Father Dunn came from the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Australia and New Zealand:
The history of the Baha'i Cause in Australia and New Zealand during the last twenty years is bound up with the life and work of Mr. John Henry Hyde Dunn. Mr. and Mrs. Dunn together responded to the call of 'Abdu'l-Baha to the American believers for workers in other fields. It was to these countries, Australia and New Zealand, they travelled, and the story of their joint pioneer work is known and appreciated throughout the length and breadth of these dominions. Alone and unknown, with no material prestige whatsoever they raised the call of the New Day in all the capital cities of Australia, and in Auckland, New Zealand. Carefully and lovingly they nurtured the Faith. In the first few years no fewer than five local Spiritual Assemblies were established; four of these are still functioning in addition to a number of groups. In 1934 Father's heart was rejoiced to see the further flowering of his labor when the National Spiritual Assembly came into being.
All hearts were turned in loving sympathy to Mother Dunn when the news was sent to the believers of Father's passing to the Abha Kingdom on February 17th, 1941. The threads binding him to earth had been wearing thinner and his hold on life becoming lighter for some time, thus preparing us for the severe blow of separation.
Though conscious of our irreparable loss, grief for one so full of years and honor and who lived to accomplish so much would be misplaced. Let us rather thank God for the privilege vouchsafed us and future generations who are destined to inherit the fruit of his glorious labors. To the sincere seeker he was as a finger post on the spiritual highway.
Absolutely and completely confirmed, he was a brilliant example of one in whom the confirmations of the spirit had become a living force, vitalizing every thought and action. Baha'u'llah, as the embodiment of Reality, was the spring from which he drew his ever-increasing supply of spiritual sustenance. It was not alone the great message of which he was the bearer that arrested attention but in addition, the unearthly light that suffused his whole personality when giving the message, endowing him with a quality which set him on a spiritual plane to which others were blindly groping, a height reached only through the surrender of personal will and ambition. The only recompense he sought was the joy of being used in the service of Baha'u'llah. Every contingency he accepted as an opportunity he must seize for the furtherance of his supreme task - spreading the Message, sowing the seed which was to fructify into the world order envisaged by Baha'u'llah. From this task he never swerved, never lost heart, however hard the ground, or poor the soil, or meagre the apparent harvest. His faith in the ultimate triumph of the Beloved's Cause was firm as a rock that no buffetings of indifference or adversity in the path could move.
This steadfast soul - satisfying faith coupled with his kindly graciousness and understanding heart contributed in no small degree to his unique attractive personality. But it was his dauntless faith in the power inherent in the Cause he proclaimed that enabled him to light a flame in these distant lands that can never be extinguished.
Let us all unite in praise and thanksgiving to God for the privilege, vouchsafed to us of this generation, of personal friendship with dear Father Dunn. May we be moved to emulate his complete consecration. All he was and all he had of ability and talent he used in instant, exact and complete obedience to the call of the Master, and in devoted, tireless service to Baha'u'llah.
- National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Australia and New Zealand.
The following cable from Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha'i Faith, to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States and Canada was received February 21, 1941:
"I share (your) sorrow (in the) loss, (and) participate (in your) rejoicings (for the) triumph (of) beloved Father Dunn. (The) magnificent career (of this) veteran warrior (of the) Faith of Baha'u'llah reflects the purest luster (of the) world historic mission conferred (upon) American community by 'Abdu'l-Baha. To (the) three heroines whose dust reposes (in the) heart (of) Persia, (in the) Pacific Island and southern extremity (of the) American continent, a fourth witness in far-off Australia (is) now added, attesting (the) first vital sparks (of) far-flung spiritual dominion American believers (have been) commissioned (to) establish. (I am) moved (to) congratulate them (for the) resplendent successes (of the) Plan destined (to) encircle (the) entire globe. Advise hold National Memorial Gathering (in) Mashriqu'l-Adhkar befitting the rank (of) Australia's spiritual conqueror.
(Signed) Shoghi Rabbani."
(The Baha’i World 1940-1944)