June 8, 2016

May Maxwell (1870-1940) – “that candle of the love of God”; “'Abdu'l-Bahá's beloved handmaid”; “the distinguished disciple”; a “martyr’s death”; “glorious sacrifice”; her name is mentioned in the Tablets of the Divine Plan

The just words, the words always to remember, were cabled by Shoghi Effendi: "'Abdu'l-Baha's beloved handmaid, distinguished disciple May Maxwell (is) gathered (into the) glory (of the) Abha Kingdom. Her earthly life, so rich, eventful, incomparably blessed, (is) worthily ended. To sacred tie her signal services had forged, (the) priceless honor (of a) martyr's death (is) now added. (A) double crown deservedly won. (The) Seven-Year Plan, particularly (the) South American campaign, derive fresh impetus (from the) example (of) her glorious sacrifice. Southern outpost (of) Faith greatly enriched through association (with) her historic resting-place destined remain (a) poignant reminder (of the) resistless march (of the) triumphant army (of) Baha'u'llah. Advise believers (of) both Americas (to) hold befitting memorial gathering."
–Shoghi Effendi (Cablegram, March 3, 1940; ‘Messages to America’)

…Shoghi Effendi once said to her [May Maxwell), one night when he came to dinner in the Western Pilgrim House after our union, that had I [Ruhiyyih Khanum] not been May Maxwell's daughter he would not have married me. This does not mean it was the only reason, but it was evidently a very powerful one, for in the cable he sent on 3 March 1940 officially announcing her death, which had taken place two days before, he said "To sacred tie her signal services had forged priceless honour martyr's death now added. Double crown deservedly won." These words clearly indicate her relationship to his marriage. In a Tablet of 'Abdu'l-Bahá to one of her spiritual children He had written "her company uplifts and develops the soul". Until I came under the direct influence of the Guardian, through being privileged to be with him for over twenty years, I can truly say that my character, my faith in Bahá'u'lláh and whatever small services I had so far been able to render Him, were entirely due to her influence. From these facts it will be seen that when I arrived with my mother, on my third pilgrimage to Haifa, in January 1937, the status of my father inside the Faith can best be described as being "Mrs. Maxwell's husband".
- Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum, (‘The Priceless Pearl’)

She was born in Englewood, New Jersey, on January 14, 1870, the daughter of John B. Bolles and Mary Martin Bolles, in descent American through many generations. Her early years were spent in the Englewood home of her maternal grandfather, a man distinguished in New York's banking world. She had one brother, Randolph, whom she loved deeply and whose attraction to the Baha'i Faith, as evidenced in the last year before his death in 1939 (by his translation into English of the French footnotes of Nabil), gave her supreme content.

Even as a girl her priceless qualities adorned her - a capacity for affectionate and enduring ties; an eagerness for truth which led her down many paths, laying the basis for an all-encompassing sympathy; and an independent, original nature, alive to the "susceptibilities of the Kingdom." After fourteen years she accepted no formal schooling: "I felt very distinctly there was another way of acquiring knowledge."

Paris was early a pivot in her life's destiny, its French "a lyric, plastic tongue" in which she often thought and felt. Two visits as a child, including a period in a Convent school, were followed by a residence of some eleven years, undertaken for Randolph's architectural studies at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. It was 1898 of this sojourn that became forever memorable.

The first foreshadowing reached her when, at eleven years of age, she experienced in her sleep a sunlight so brilliant that for one day her eyes were blinded. Again she dreamed that angels carried her through space. Seeing light, she found it was the earth, and the earth was marked with seals, and one word was on the earth. Of this she could read only the B and the H, but she knew then that these letters would transform her life. The Master Himself came to her in vision, a majestic figure in Eastern garb, beckoning her from across the Mediterranean with characteristic gesture. She thought He was Jesus but two years later when Lua heard, "This is 'Abdu'l-Baha," she said.

Despite the beauty and comfort of her surroundings, and the warmth of her relation with mother and brother - "these three were one heart, one soul, with a multitude of friends because of it" [1 ] -- the Paris years were not altogether easy ones. Ill health then as always tested her, to which her husband has borne sufficient witness: "May had courage and her sublime faith inspired her to carry on, very frequently under a handicap of health that would have daunted others." This weakness chained her to her bed for two years before Lua's coming, and if later she recalled those months as preparation, the Master's words to her make clear the reason: "... The heart is made ready by all experience for the seed of life.... Now your troubles are ended and you must wipe away your tears.... "

On its face, it was not unusual that Mrs. Phoebe Hearst, close family friend, should in November, 1898, bring her party of American tourists to her apartment on the Quai d'Orsay, then occupied by Mrs. Bolles, her son and daughter, and Mrs. Hearst's two nieces whom she chaperoned. The party was going up the Nile; its startling mission went undisclosed. Only May sensed in Lua Getsinger a hidden fire, sought it out, believed, and through her passionate desire won the invitation of Mrs. Hearst to join this pilgrimage.

They were the first Americans to go. Because of 'Abdu'l-Baha's imprisonment they traveled to Haifa in small groups, of which one included May Bolles, Mrs. Thornburgh, Anne Apperson, Miss Pearson, and Robert Turner. She reached her Lord on February 17, 1899; her own words record that imperishable story. [2]

"Of that first meeting I can remember neither joy nor pain nor anything that I can name. I had been carried suddenly to too great a height; my soul had come in contact with the Divine Spirit; and this force so pure, so holy, so mighty had overwhelmed me .... And when He arose and suddenly left us we came back with a start to life: but never again, oh! never again, thank God, to the same life on this earth!

When He had finished speaking we were led gently away... and for a moment it seemed that we were dying... until, as we drove away... suddenly His spirit came to us, a great strength and tranquillity filled our souls.... We had left our Beloved in His glorious prison that we might go forth and serve Him; that we might spread His Cause and deliver His Truth to the world; and already His words were fulfilled -- 'The time has come when we must part, but the separation is only of our bodies; in spirit we are united forever.'"

How truthful her record! How immeasurable the alteration of her life! None knew this better than 'Abdu'l-Baha for, as He adjured her mother, "she was in a certain condition and now she is in another. Yea, she has been human, but now she is divine; earthly, but now heavenly; mundane, but belonging now to the Kingdom of God!" 'Ali-Kuli Khan has recalled that when, visiting 'Akka in 1900, he was told of the American pilgrims, "the highest praise given by the Master... always centered upon May Bolles."

Certain it is that "her inertness (was) replaced by activity, ... her muteness by wonderful speech, ..." and that upon returning to Paris she began quietly with friends to convey her overwhelming experience. Her fellow-believers had by now gone on to America, leaving her alone. "I say alone!" Mason Remey has exclaimed. "May Bolles stood alone as a Baha'i, one frail woman in that vast metropolis, the heart of Continental culture.... Her task was to establish there a Divine Cause!"

Merely to register the names of those who, from 1899 to 1902, were drawn by her "personal fascination... so fragile, so luminous... and the most delicate, perfect beauty, flower-like and star-like;" [3] and who, through this spell, attained to its origin in her rapturous love for 'Abdu'l-Baha -- is to compel astonishment. The first to believe was Edith MacKaye, and by the New Year of 1900, Charles Mason Remey and Herbert Hopper were next to follow. Then came Marie Squires (Hopper), Helen Ellis Cole, Laura Barney, Mme. Jackson, Agnes Alexander, Thomas Breakwell, Edith Sanderson, and Hippolyte Dreyfus, the first French Baha'i. Emogene Hoagg and Mrs. Conner had come to Paris in 1900 from America, Sigurd Russell at fifteen returned from 'Akka a believer, and in 1901, the group was further reinforced by Juliet Thompson, Lillian James, and "the frequent passing through Paris of pilgrims from America going to the Master... and then again returning from the Holy Land." These are but a few, for "in 1901 and 1902 the Paris group of Baha'is numbered between twenty-five and thirty people with May Bolles as spiritual guide and teacher." [4]

Nor let us forget that this superlative achievement was won without literature, almost without knowledge. Only a few prayers and the Hidden Words, and the heart's attachment to the Supreme Beloved, nourished and protected her teaching. What a bounty, then, to receive in 1901 the extended visit of Mirza 'Abu'l-Fadl, sent by the Master to strengthen His Western children. For perhaps a month he taught them almost daily, through the translations of Anton Haddad and 'Ali-Kuli Khan. Of those memorable hours Agnes Alexander has written: "An atmosphere of pure light pervaded the Paris meetings, so much so that one was transported, as it were, from the world of man to that of God;" to which Juliet Thompson's testimony is added: "That Paris group was so deeply united in love and faith; May, Lua, Laura and Khan, these four especially so inspired, so carried away, so intoxicated with love for the beloved Master; our great teacher, Mirza 'Abu'l-Fadl, so heavenly wise - that those days were the days of miracle, of all but incredible confirmations."

We can but imagine the special joy which Lua's frequent presence must have brought, for May's devotion to her "precious mother" was constant to the last. Hers was the uncommon gift of discernment, beneath every veil of flesh, of the soul's hidden virtue, and her words written upon the news of Lua's death in 1916 bear eloquent witness to this power: "Great and wonderful were her qualities - in her own person she bore the sins and weaknesses of us all, and redeeming herself she redeemed us. She broke the path through the untrod forest; she cast her soul and body into the stream and perished making the bridge by which we cross... The passion of Divine love that consumed her heart shall light the hearts of mankind forever and forever."

Perhaps the most wondrous event of this fecund time was the confirmation of that brightest of spirits, Thomas Breakwell. Asked by 'Abdu'l-Baha to remain in Paris in the summer of 1901, despite her family's displeasure May obeyed; only thus could she respond when a friend brought to her door "this youth of medium height, slender, erect and graceful, with intense eyes and an indescribable charm." Although on their first meeting she did not mention her Faith, he returned the next day in great agitation, having experienced a vision of Christ's presence on this earth. "He was like a blazing light. Such was his capacity that he received the Message in all its fullness and all its strength and beauty within three days, and on the third day he wrote his supplication to 'Abdu'l-Baha, which in its force and simplicity I have never seen equalled: 'My Lord, I believe; forgive me. Thy servant, Thomas Breakwell.' That evening I went to the rue du Bac to get my mail... and there lay a little blue cablegram from 'Abdu'lBaha. With what wonder and awe I read His words. 'You may leave Paris at any time!’” [5]

Yet even as we are touched by this account and by the remembrance of one whom the Master could so address: "O my beloved, O Breakwell! Thou hast become a star in the most exalted horizon; ..." must we not also perceive the responsiveness of that instrument through whom He obtained His will!

She was obedient not only in matters affecting her Faith. Her whole being, every attachment and every goal, she placed with tender confidence at His disposal. "I have not two lives but one," she wrote in 1934, "the inner life of the Cause to which every outer thing and circumstance must adjust itself." So with her marriage, she delayed and consummated it at His desire.

William Sutherland Maxwell, Scotch Canadian of an old and established family of Montreal, and young student of architecture in the Ecole des Beaux Arts, met May Bolles through her brother, not long after his arrival in October, 1899. He was not a Baha'i; indeed he attended no meetings until 1902. After seventeen months he returned to Montreal to enter his profession, engaged to be married, but waiting upon the news of her readiness. This came at last; they were wed in London on May 8, 1902. And his patience, he himself has said, had an enduring recompense.

O Paris, crossroads of the world, when has your history unfolded such mysterious tales! What mighty power caused this "spot,... heedless of the praise of God," to grow a fertile garden! See once the seeds of spring rooted in gifted hearts; see then these hearts, bearing sweet fruits, dispersed to fecundate for never-ending harvests the countless nations. And were they not the choicest spirits, flung by our generous Lord across His darkened planet, so to bestow upon all unregenerate, unlovely things the fragrance of attraction?

O Paris, after forty years we do affirm the Master's prayer went not unanswered! "Fill their breasts with the boundless joy that blows as a breeze from Thy Kingdom of Abha, that they may be the miracles of Thine Appearance from the Highest Horizon."

She was then thirty-two years old when, her fame hastening before, she returned to America. How can we at this distance penetrate the dislocation of her ways, uprooted from dearest companions, from the Paris she adored, to come a bride to a far and alien land? "Thou wert as pure gold," the Master wrote her, "and didst enter the fire of test... Gird up thy loins, fortify thy back, arise, and with the strength of thy heart promote the Word of God... in that remote region."

Yet she was ever a rootless creature, and for her neither time nor space nor the plans of men held real authority - a tendency much strengthened by 'Abdu'l-Baha's instruction. "Time is a gross deception," she said, "the measuring rod of our present captivity...." And again, "The mortal cage is nothing; the soul's motion in relation to the Beloved is the unfolding of all the meaning of life." Often in 1902 she reminded herself of that French heroine who, finding how unsubstantial was existence, had all her handkerchiefs embroidered, "A quoi bon!" And Louise Bosch has vividly remembered: "As often as I looked upon her, and contemplated her attitude to life and her disposition of it, I would distinctly feel that she was only visiting here ...."

"Ephemeral" - this was her own term, but without struggle and without reproach. She knew well that "the soul only grows and expands in an atmosphere of joy," and while this world seemed a fleeting shadow, yet it was irradiated with the splendor of her true, her heavenly home.

This unquenchable joy she carried to Montreal and planted as well in her earthly home. Though she departed a hundred times (her letters are dated from Edgartown, Rye, Boston, New York, Arverne), her heart turned always back with yearning renewed in poignant memories. And with what wealth the years endowed these two! Montreal, mother-city of Canada; the Maxwell home, center "not only of the Baha'i friends . . . but of all the pilgrims who travelled that way during all . . . their blessed lives together!" [6] Louise Bosch, 'Ali-Kuli Khan and Mme. Khan, Lua Getsinger, Agnes Alexander, Zia Bagdadi and Zeenat Khanum (sent by 'Abdu'l-Baha for their marriage in April, 1914), Mason Remey and George La timer, William H. Randall, Elizabeth Greenleaf, Jinab-i-Fadl, Mother Beecher, Keith Ransom-Kehler, Ruhi Effendi, Martha Root, Emogene Hoagg, Mabel Ives -- illustrious names in our Faith, all these and a host more were guests of Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell. Small wonder then that even from Bahji she should write: "I still long for you all who so live in my heart and eagerly look forward to the hour when I shall meet you again, when we shall be together in a meeting of pure love and unity in the room where our beloved Lord sat with us, where His blessed name has been mentioned, and His wonderful words have been read for so many years."

One thing is clear, that wherever she travelled, the spirit of 'Abdu'l-Baha went there too. So potent was the force of His attraction on her heart that she in turn became "a magnet of love drawing everyone to God." This alone was her method of teaching, the hidden source of an inimitable effect. The following passage comes from a letter of 1915:

"We must first touch the heart to awaken it; if it opens and responds we must sow the priceless seed .... Prepare the soil with the warmth of your love just as the sun prepares the soil in the spring or the seed would not grow. Remove the stones and weeds ... that is to say, in a kind way try to remove prejudices.... Uproot narrow superstitions by suggesting broader, deeper ideas. Never oppose people's ideas and statements, but give them a little nobler way of seeing life. Such words and thoughts will take effect because they come from a Baha'i whose life flows from the Source of all life on earth today. . . . My great and wise teacher, Mirza 'Abu'l-Fadl, laid down these divine principles of teaching in my soul... and they have changed all my attitude. He showed me that it is the Spirit of God that is doing the work; we must wait upon the Spirit and do Its bidding only."

So in this way the Faith was sown in Montreal. By 1903 Sutherland Maxwell had become the first Canadian Baha'i, and shortly after, his cousin Martha MacBean followed him. Group meetings were then started and later regularly established. Soon Mary Corristine, Rose Henderson, and others unrecorded had been won.

At the same time, through wide and active civic interests, the name of Mrs. Maxwell came to be distinguished among her fellow citizens. Prior to 1912 she supported a Children's Court for Montreal, and her efforts were chief in maintaining the Colborne Street Milk Station. Later about 1914 she brought from New York a Montessori teacher, starting "the first school of this type in Canada in our own home .... It was through all this that I became interested in the movement for Progressive Education, of which I was practically a charter member... "Such sympathies were a solid basis for the Master's triumphant welcome in 1912, for He found "no antagonist and no adversary." 

But before this consummation there came a bounty which must always be associated with the pilgrimage of February, 1909. Not for ten years had she visited 'Abdu'l-Baha, and though her name was often on His  tongue - at this time, Mirza Moneer affirmed, she was renowned in the East through His frequent mentions in Tablets -- great was the  pleasure in 'Akka on her return. That meeting with the Master and the ladies of His house Louise Bosch has described, and from her, too, the tender greeting of the Holy Mother: "First as a young girl, now with your husband; on your next visit, you will come with your child!" 

Blessed indeed were those six days. To them 'Abdu'l-Baha referred in 1911 and 1913: "Thy utmost desire was to have a child for whom thou hast prayed and supplicated while in 'Akka. Praise be to God that the prayer is answered and thy desire realized. In the garden of existence a rose has blossomed with the utmost freshness, fragrance, and beauty... I beg of God that this little child may become great and wonderful in the Divine Kingdom." 

"Now He is coming and will be here about the middle of next week, and I hope that nothing in this world will prevent your being here! The months I spent near 'Abdu'l-Baha in New York have done more for the education and enlightenment of my heart and conscience than all my life's experience..." 

After five months in the United States the Master was coming to Montreal! He had accepted their invitation, despite His friends' forebodings, and late on the night of August 30, 1912, the Maxwells and Louise Bosch met His train from Boston. He went directly to her home, for four days lavishing His presence before moving to the Hotel Windsor. The columns of the Montreal Daily Star had for a week been heralding this great event, and during those memorable days the best publicity of His American stay, He said, ensured a permanent record of His words. In hours of grave concern to Canada, of threatening conflict and burdensome armaments, the predictions of this "Apostle of Peace... (of) An Appalling War" were headlined to the city. 

Besides daily interviews with groups and individuals, 'Abdu'l-Baha made seven public lectures. His first was for morning service at the Church of the Messiah (Unitarian) on September 1st. On the 3rd He outlined for five hundred Socialists at Coronation Hall -- vividly, completely - Baha'i principles for The Economic Happiness of the Human Race. His last address drew twelve hundred listeners to St. James Methodist Church on September 5th. Four talks were given in the Maxwell home, and many who there heard Him were believers, while others became so. 

Her share was strenuous in this historic sojourn, for she made the major part of His arrangements. But He accorded her immortal praise in the Tablet to Canada. And "the results in the future are inexhaustible!" 

'Abdu'l-Baha touched no other point in Canada; rather He hoped that His time in Montreal might so stir that city "that the melody of the Kingdom may travel to all parts of the world." "Do ye not look upon the smallness of your numbers," He forbade them. "One pearl is better than a thousand wildernesses of sand, especially this pearl of great price, which is endowed with divine blessing." And to May Maxwell He gave a special charge, sending in her care His two mighty Tablets to this nation.

The first was received in the fall of 1916 and she, together with the four who stood in like relation to the other regions of America, was henceforth known to the American Baha'is as a "center" for the spread of the Divine Plan. How mysterious is the Cause! The secret energies released by these mother words seem to have enveloped the Eighth Convention (April, 1916). With a sublime intuition, in the very month of the Master's enunciation-"the banner of oneness must be unfurled in those states"- she "voiced the oneness of the world of humanity in so wonderful a way that one might well have thought our beloved 'Abdu'l-Baha was using (her) to convey a message to the Convention." [7] 

It was not the first nor the last time that her searching spirit, restless and "ablaze with the fire of the love of God," resuscitated the delegates in their sessions. She attended a majority of Conventions, often as Montreal's representative, and although on too many occasions her health's debility restrained her, she would appear, as Mabel Ives has said, "at occasional moments on the floor of the Convention  ... raising such a lofty call that a new and high level was set of understanding and devotion..” 

Does this amaze us? No, rather we should recall the Master's characterization! "May Maxwell is really a Baha'i..." "She breathed no breath and uttered no word save in service to the Cause of God." "Whosoever meets her feels from her association the susceptibilities of the Kingdom. Her company uplifts and develops the soul…" 

For her gift, her most exceptional gift was teaching. Every activity emanated from this source and every new heart roused to life owed, with what inexpressible gratitude, its very being to her touch. It was not always her role to instruct the inquirer; this she could do with matchless charm. Rather, for countless Baha'is she unlocked a hidden treasure for which they long had searched.

"Pray for me, May, "wrote Keith in 1923.  "It is my only refuge.... Through this bitter storm of trial in which every attribute of light is obscure or withdrawn, you still stand, a dazzling presence on the further shore toward which I struggle, a gift and evidence lent me by the Master..." And Keith, like others, acknowledged that such bestowal was spiritual motherhood. [8] 

This "priceless and overflowing quality of the heart," in Rowland Estall's words, was by no means specialized to her contemporaries. She was captured by "the mystery of the eternal stream of Life, flowing through the generations." Whether in Montreal, New York, Green Acre, California, Portland, Vancouver, Stuttgart, Paris, or Lyon, her perception of "the pure, fragrant, living force of the rising generation under the shadow of Shoghi Effendi" drew to her many youthful spirits. For she was irresistible in a way most vividly portrayed by her own daughter:

"Many people inspire more or less love in others, but I don't think I ever knew anyone who inspired the love Mother did -- so that it was like an event when one was  going to see her. And this I felt all my life, day in day out, and it never became commonplace!" 

The Montreal Youth Group, so justly celebrated since 1927, profited immeasurably by her support. As Mr. Estall has said, "every one of the young Baha' is either sought out her company to receive the benefit of her  wise counsel and mature knowledge... or were befriended by her and experienced the privilege of her loving friendship and generosity." Nor was this of small import, since  she influenced from the inception of that Group such ones as George Spendlove, Rowland Estall, Emeric and Rosemary Sala, Teddy Edwards Alizade, Norman McGregor, Judie Russell Blakely, Dorothy and Glen  Wade, Edward Dewing, Gerrard Sluter, David Hofman, Rena Gordon, naming only some -- each to become in turn an instrument of potent teaching. 

Indeed, her sympathies recognized no bounds. "Oh, there is no separateness -- it is the only sin!" And again, "If we knew the reality, the mystery of oneness, we should be standing in the full light of God... and we should all be to each other an inexhaustible source of life, strength, healing, joy, and blessedness." This theme she did not speak idly; around it all her actions flowed with a fullness tenderly remembered by friends of every kind and background. Generous beyond any record, she gave unstintingly "to the Temple and to the furtherance of teaching work; for charity; for relieving sorrow and distress." [9] Generous too in courage and beyond assault, how keenly she championed the neglected cause, or labored to reinforce the underprivileged race. 

Through all the years of an undeviating service to the Faith on the North American continent, from 1902 until 1940 -- years which only to some future biographer shall  yield the vast, heroic scope of her efforts [10] -- she bore to her fellow-believers, whether in local or national community, a unique, a spiritual relationship. "Mother of the Latin races," she has been titled; no, so much more, mother of yearning hearts in every spot she ever visited! 

And this relation was hers in special measure to Canada. The Tablets of the Divine Plan released in her an impetus which never faltered. In 1916 she journeyed with Grace Ober to the "far Northeast." She taught also with Marion Jack and, after 1920, with Elizabeth Greenleaf. St. John's, Brockville, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver -- all were cities in which "like unto a gardener," she brought forth "growth through the outpourings of the cloud of guidance... heaping up piles of crops and harvests." The Spiritual Assembly of Vancouver was the direct result of her stay in July, 1926; "it would take an Angel Gabriel to blare forth her work!" [11]

Yet she was never content for a moment. "...The merciful God alone can estimate our failure," she wrote. But only He could estimate, as well, the triumph of her dauntless spirit over every handicap. Of all the tributes, the Master's pierces us with sweetest emphasis: "... Thy Lord shall strengthen thee in a matter, whereby the Queens of the world will envy thy happy state, throughout all times and ages. Because, verily, the Love of God is as a glorious Crown upon thy head, the brilliant jewels of which are glittering forth unto all horizons. Its brilliancy, transparency and effulgence shall appear in future centuries when the signs of God will be spread and the Word of God will encompass the heart of all the people of the earth!" 

The current of her existence knew no ebb, but mounted strongly from the first vital contact with 'Abdu'l-Baha, through all the years of His world-creating Mission, beneath  the pain and oppression of His passing, into  the full tide of the Guardianship. [12] And for almost two decades she was to serve Shoghi Effendi with that same eager, steadfast concentration which always singled her out above her generation. "Nothing is too great to suffer for him, no daily discipline, no effort or sacrifice, no surrender of all that is upon this earth...."

So in August, 1935, arrested by his appeal to the American believers to turn toward Europe, and preceded by her daughter and dear relatives, Ruhanguiz and Jeanne Bolles, she with her husband left America. It was to be a brief visit. In reality, she did not return for two years; she did not return until her prayer, uttered in 1934 -- "there has revived in me life's deepest yearning, to 'tread that Path white with the bones of the slain!'" -- had found a burning answer.

No faintest suspicion, however, of Ruhiyyih Khanum's destiny, nor of that "sacred tie" which was to crown her "signal services," interrupted the vigor with which she pressed her teaching in Germany, Belgium, and France. [what year?] Already to her eyes the Old World had become a veritable graveyard. "It is appalling to be among so many dead, 'moving dust,' we see them here. . . . The mental, moral, and spiritual atmospheric pressure is stifling ... for the dark forces completely envelop the world, seeking to enter every mind and cloud or crush it... Coming over here and working in Europe is like being borne along on a stream, almost without volition, entirely without plan, through the directing hand of the Guardian. . . . How he is combing the world for his jewels -- before the end!"

Sometimes alone, sometimes with others of her family, she pursued this goal, seeking to recognize and free, from a besetting lethargy, those hearts known only to Baha'u'llah. She taught first in certain German centers, acquiring in Munich and Stuttgart an admiration for this "profoundly interesting country," and its people which was to be immensely strengthened when, in August, 1936, she returned for the Esslingen Summer School and to make, at Shoghi Effendi's request, a "grand tour" of the German Baha'i communities. Thus she was part of that thrilling final session at Esslingen: "all international barriers were broken down and there was a oneness of spirit, a joyous companionship ... which reached a climax with the reading of the Guardian's cablegram containing his passionate appeal to America...."

She worked intensively in Brussels, too, from October, 1935, until in the following April she visited Lyon to assist Mirza Ezzatollah Zabih, "the Persian Baha'i in whose home our beloved Keith passed from this world." Characteristically, she had left Brussels for a few days at Christmas to attend the Sixth Annual Conference of Baha'i Students in Paris, "because they gave me the opportunity to speak on the activities of the young American Baha'is...." For France she still retained that heavenly gift with which the Master had endowed her; as in the immortal early years, again for several months in 1909, so now during this and later sojourns, "elle fortifiait les Baha'is en leur croyance et attirait d'autres ames a la Cause par le dynamisme de sa foi, par la clarte de son esprit." [13]

Yet brilliantly as she shone in every field, all was eclipsed the spring of 1936, April to June, in the city of Lyon. The outer facts are recorded with surpassing modesty: Meetings held every Thursday for a group of ten or fifteen; a special meeting begun for the study of Baha'i Administration, for which "Lyon was virgin soil;" the first Nineteen-Day Feast, "perhaps ever held in France;" a study group initiated for young people; ... "and through the medium of the Law of God for this age, their understanding and faith grew stronger and deeper..." Thus she wrote of Lyon…

She prayed for martyrdom in the Holy Shrines, and her Lord in His mercy gave her two replies, and her feet walked no other path from the day of her daughter's marriage. Sublime, unguessed event! How far our empty concepts are surpassed; her sensibilities escape us; the winging gratitude, the pain, its surcease, the heart's ineffable and boundless joy! Should we say only this -- her home was Haifa? She never greeted Ruhiyyih Khanum again, from May of 1937; nor did she again experience, after five months of blessed visit, the Guardian's immediate, revitalizing force. Yet in a deeper sense she lived there, hour by hour to her last day.

"There was a time that I agonized with a mother's weakness and instinctive protection over the terrific deprivation in all her outer human ways, and the austere discipline of the life of my child. It is she herself (combined with a ray of common sense of my own), who taught me the spartan spirit of that Persian mother who threw back the head of her martyred son to his executioner.... And as I have witnessed, from year to year, the profound and mystic change in Ruhiyyih Khanum.... I have marvelled at the grace of God and His delicate and perfect handiwork..."

The depths of consciousness to which her life, "so rich, eventful, incomparably blessed," had gradually accustomed her, came to exert upon her American friends, from the first moment of return in September, 1937, an elusive, all-compelling, wonderful effect. She moved among us then, a spirit of purest light, a symbol of faithfulness, a fountain of celestial power. "Her wisdom and devotion were like newly-discovered springs of sweet water." [14] To be near her was to have one's soul forever altered.

In December and January, 1940, she travelled and taught with Mr. Maxwell in New York, Englewood, Washington, and Philadelphia. On New Year's Eve with Mason Remey, they celebrated together his confirmation in Paris, forty years before. Her earthly book approached its close; there remained but one brief, triumphant chapter. South America had grown real to her in 1928 through Frances Stewart, whom she tenderly regarded as its "soul," and for twelve years these two nourished a relation which strengthened each in service to this vast continent. She did not think to go there, however, until the Guardian's dynamic call had stirred the American community to settle its countries with pioneers, and attract its nationals at home through brilliant teaching. She was immediately captivated. "Her constant topic of conversation was the Cause in South America. Her questions to me were inexhaustible.... Never can I forget the light that illumined her face as I told her stories of the individual friends... Her spirit was as that of a 'little child' in her enthusiasm, and South America gradually grew to be to her a 'field, white with the harvest.'" [15]... This she mentioned to her daughter. "You can well imagine my astonishment when a cable instantly came back in which the Guardian said he 'heartily approved winter visit to Buenos Aires.'"

She lost no time; securing the consent of her husband and physician, she sailed January 24, 1940, on the S.S. Brazil with her "precious niece," Jeanne Bolles. The voyage, the climate, the splendid personal contacts, the new and handsome cities of Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, and Buenos Aires -- all these elated her. She was able to teach "one lovely woman on the boat, the wife of a distinguished army man." In Rio de Janeiro, with the aid of Leonora Holsapple who had come from Bahia, she arranged two teas at her hotel, the Gloria, one for nineteen guests, while a third meeting was held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Lee Worley. She spoke also to the president of the Homeopathic College. Yet despite these two weeks of exhilarating success, she was eager to reach Buenos Aires; "she seemed to press forward every minute of the way from Rio.... " [16]

They arrived on February 27th, after one day stops in Santos and Montevideo. "I am thrilled to be here in Buenos Aires," she wrote, "a strong, beautiful modern city, and an interesting combination of North and South America, with an enchanting climate and delightful people...." "As we drove through the streets, precious Aunt May was like a girl of sixteen in her joyous enthusiasm. She leaned out of the taxi and exclaimed words of delight.... " [17]

On the night of February 29th they dined alone in her room at City Hotel, in thought transported to Haifa through Ruhiyyih Khanum's poignant account of the burial on Mt. Carmel of the Master's illustrious mother and brother. And she received by telephone the first Baha'i welcome to Buenos Aires; her mood was radiant. But the next morning a terrible pain came high in her breast, and though the doctor reassured them both, by afternoon "the Will of God took her from our midst..." [17] 

It was a long vigil which Jeanne kept, "like an angel from Heaven," without replies to her cables from Friday to Sunday. But she was not alone, for the Kevorkians and Arsen Poghaharion, Syrian Baha'is, were in Buenos Aires, and they were soon joined by Elizabeth Nourse, Wilfrid Barton, and Simon Rosenzweig from Montevideo. Together on March 3rd they gave her temporary rest in the English cemetery. "Simon writes that it was an experience to wrench any heart when all the conditions were considered, and a great mystery..."

"Priceless honor (of a) martyr's death!" Such was the Guardian's imperishable tribute, and to Mr. Maxwell he cabled, "Her tomb designed by yourself, erected by me, (on) spot she fought, fell gloriously, will become historic centre pioneer Baha'i activity."

"Laden with the fruits garnered through well-nigh half a century of toilsome service to the Cause she so greatly loved, heedless of the warnings of age and ill-health, and afire with the longing to worthily demonstrate her gratitude in her overwhelming awareness of the bounties of her Lord and Master, she set her face towards the southern outpost of the Faith in the New World, and laid down her life in such a spirit of consecration and self-sacrifice as has truly merited the crown of martyrdom. 
- Shoghi Effendi  (From a message dated April 15, 1940; ‘Messages to America’)

They buried her then at Quilmes, a "befitting spot" discovered by patient search of Jeanne and Wilfrid Barton. At noon of March 13th, sped by the prayers of eleven believers of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Syria, and the United States; and by the Master's thrilling chant, recorded so long ago and now first voiced in South America for His own "beloved handmaid" -- her precious form sought its eternal resting-place. While in her home in Montreal at the same hour, a memorial was held by cherished friends.

Yet May Maxwell lives -- adorable, rarest spirit! And her children around the world have given up their weeping, to follow her in the "resistless march."

From some rampart of heaven three heroines look down. Martha, May, and Keith! Their shining traces will cheer us through whatever trials may come; the promise of their aid stands guard above our destinies.

[1]     Louise Bosch
[2]     All Early Pilgrimage (note corrected date), published in 1917.
[3]     Juliet Thompson
[4]     Mason Remey
[5]     See accounts in BAHA'I WORLD, Vol. VII., pp. 707-711; and in Star of the West, Vol. V., pp. 297-298.
[6]     Elizabeth Greenleaf
[7]     Star of the West, Vol. VII., p. 54. 
[8]     Keith Ransom-Kehler, first American martyr and Hand of the Cause, who died in Isfahan --met Mrs. Maxwell at the Convention of 1921. 
[9]     Mariam Haney.
[10]   National Offices: Member of the Executive Board of Baha'i Temple Unity for three years, 1918-20, and of the National Spiritual Assembly for three years, 1924, 1927, and 1928, also serving as alternate member in 1925. Chairman, 1927, and Secretary, 1928 and 1929, of the National Teaching Committee; and officer or member for Canada of the National and/or Regional Teaching Committees from the first organization in 1920 through 1930, as well as 1932 and 1937. Member of Star of the West Foundation, 1919, 1920; contributing editor for Baha'i Magazine 1932-34. Green Acre Program Committee, 1925, 1932. History of the Cause in America Committee, 1925, 1933-1935. Member of Unity Band prior to 1910 (to correspond with Persian Baha'is). Donor of Tarbiyat School scholarship for several years from 1910. Committee for "Compilation on Most Great Peace," 1918.

Montreal (incomplete): Member of Local Spiritual Assembly from formation in 1922 to November, 1939. On Teaching and Publicity Committees for many years. Active supporter of Youth and Racial Amity work. (Honorary president of Negro Club of Montreal, 1927).
[11]   Evelyn Kemp.
[12]   See her poem, Orientation, for a proof of the transition achieved in her seven-months' pilgrimage of 1923-1924. Star of the West, Vol. XV. p. 101.
[13]   Laura Dreyfus-Barney
[14]   Elizabeth Greenleaf
[15]   Frances Stewart
[16]   Jeanne Bolles
[17]   Jeanne Bolles
(Adapted from 'May Ellis Maxwell' by Marion Holley [Hofman] in 'The Baha'i World 1938-1940', and 'Priceless Pearl' by Amatu'l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum)