February 15, 2017

Jessie Revell (1891-1966) – “brilliant and pure”; very dear to ‘Abdu’l-Baha; managed sending and collecting all of Shoghi Effendi’s mail past 1951; appointed by the Guardian as the treasurer of the International Baha’i Council; a loyal companion of Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum

Jessie Revell in 1964
Jessie Revell was once addressed by ‘Abdu’l-Baha in these words:

“O thou who art firm in the Covenant! ... Notwithstanding the lack of time, I write thee this letter that thou mayest know how dear thou art to me. As thou art brilliant and pure and hast no wish but to serve the Cause of God and promulgate the divine teachings, I pray and entreat at the threshold of God and beg for thee limitless assistance and bounty. ... Thou must engage in those regions, day and night, in service. ... As to the children with whom thou art speaking, thy pure breath will undoubtedly exert its influence upon them. ...” (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, vol. X, p. 317)

Jessie Revell’s brilliant record of service to the Cause of Baha’u’llah, extending from early in the century, came to an end with her passing in Haifa on April 14, 1966. Her story is best told in the words of her devoted sister, Ethel Revell.

“My mother, my sister and I first heard of the Faith in Philadelphia -- it was approximately 1906 -- through Mrs. Annie McKinney, and attended the firesides of Mrs. Isabella D. Brittingham. On the evening when Jessie first heard Mrs. Brittingham speak on the Faith, Jessie followed her to the door as the speaker departed and said, ‘I cannot remember all you said tonight, but I want what you have!’ When she accepted the Faith she wrote to ‘Abdu’l-Baha and mentioned that our father had passed away when we were very young. The Master replied -- I believe in these exact words -- ‘The real fatherhood is the spiritual fatherhood. Therefore rest thou assured that thou art the beloved daughter.’

“In the early days of her Baha’i life, as there was but little literature available to the friends, Jessie, who was then employed in an office, would spend her evenings typing copies of Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Baha and sharing them with the Baha’is, who in turn would recopy them and pass them along to other believers.

“Jessie’s dearest wish was to be of service to the Cause. ‘Abdu’l-Baha visited Philadelphia in June, 1912. After speaking to the friends on Sunday morning at the Rittenhouse Hotel where He was staying, the Master took a short walk, during which time Jessie and a brother visited the various newspaper offices with material on the Faith which appeared in the papers the following day.

Ethel and Jessie Revell 1951
“During the meeting at the hotel, ‘Abdu’l-Baha said to our mother that He would see us at nine o’clock the following morning at our house. Excitedly, everyone spread the news and the humble home was crowded. The Master spoke to the friends most beautifully and touchingly about the life of Baha’u’llah. Afterwards He went upstairs, and each one had a brief interview with him. When Jessie’s turn came, she said ‘I would like to be of service in the Kingdom.’ ‘Abdu’l-Baha replied, ‘You are a smiling angel; you will be of service in the Kingdom.’

“Jessie visited ‘Abdu’l-Baha in New York City a few days before He sailed from America. As she was taking leave the Master said that He would see her again. Jessie always lived in the thought of again seeing Him on this earth. In 1921 she received a Tablet in which He told her she had permission to make her pilgrimage in the winter of that year. Everything was in order: the expense of her voyage was the loving gift of a Baha’i friend; her employer consented to her leave of absence and agreed to hold open her position until she returned; her plans were all made. When the news reached her of the ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Baha she was completely heartbroken. Slowly, painfully she reconciled herself to the realization that her meeting with the Master was not to be on this physical plane. At the suggest ion of Mrs. Brittingham she postponed her pilgrimage for a few years and was very happy she did so, because when she arrived in Haifa she was able to meet the beloved Guardian which would not have been the case had she gone at the time originally planned.

“One day during her pilgrimage Shoghi Effendi invited her to stroll up Mount Carmel with him to visit the Shrine of the Bab. On that walk he said that the Baha’is must make a superhuman effort. Jessie often said there was something about the way the Guardian said ‘superhuman’ that engraved it for all time in her heart.

“Jessie constantly searched for ways of meeting souls who were longing for truth. With this object in view she had just completed a course in public speaking when the invitation came to travel to Haifa to assist the beloved Guardian. When she told of receiving this cable, she said she believed she lost consciousness for a moment, it was so overwhelming.”

A tribute to Jessie Revell by Mr. and Mrs. Lyall Hadden published in the Bulletin of the Spiritual Assembly of Philadelphia at the time of her death describes her early services in that community:

“Jessie’s entire life was one of service to the Faith, first here in Pennsylvania where she served for many years on the Spiritual Assembly of Philadelphia and the regional teaching committee, and later in Haifa where she and Ethel were summoned by the Guardian in 1951.

“Her years of service in Haifa, her many travels throughout the world on behalf of the Faith, are well known to all, but we in Pennsylvania have a deeper knowledge of, and a great love for, this little person who gave of her time and energy so cheerfully and efficiently. No distance was too far for Jessie to travel; no demand upon her time too great in service to Baha’u’llah.

“When we first met the Revells back in 1936 both Jessie and Ethel were carrying out ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s instructions in a most energetic and able manner. We had just arrived in the Philadelphia area from New York where we had been briefly introduced to the Faith. Almost immediately upon our arrival Jessie, Ethel and their mother came to call upon us, and every week thereafter these dear and faithful souls traveled the twenty miles to our home to further our instruction in the Faith of Baha’u’llah. After we declared our faith they, true to the Master’s wish, continued to visit every Saturday morning to instruct our three small sons. So effective were their teaching methods that at one children’s session at Davison Baha’i School our boys were asked to refrain from raising their hands to answer questions and let some of the other children have the opportunity. ‘Thy pure breath will undoubtedly exert its influence upon them. ...’

“Many times we met the Revell sisters and drove them to Reading where they had engaged a room in order to hold Baha’i meetings. Whether one person attended, or a dozen, or no one at all, those two devoted believers were always there on the designated night, and our own knowledge was strengthened and deepened.”

It is fitting that Jessie Revell’s services in the Holy Land be glimpsed through the eyes of one of the countless pilgrims whose hearts she won. An account of her passing appeared in the Alaskan Baha’i News, September, 1966:

“Late in 1950 two self-effacing little ladies from Philadelphia, Ethel and Jessie Revell, received a cablegram: WELCOME YOUR PRESENCE HAIFA -- SHOGHI. These two lovely souls were overwhelmed and puzzled, but they soon began to pack. ...

“For Jessie, this was a return to the land of her heart’s desire. ... What kind of woman was this ‘little giant’, barely five feet tall, who earned the trust, love and admiration of Shoghi Effendi, and became a loyal companion of Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum and the friend and counsellor of every pilgrim? The beloved Guardian received many letters from American believers but it was the rare Baha’i who, like Jessie, would write to him, as she did in 1948, to thank him for his peerless translation of Prayers and Meditations.

“En route to Haifa the Revell sisters found an additional opportunity to proclaim the Faith. Three hundred miles east of the Azores, a floating observance of World Religion Day was held on the S.S. LaGuardia by Jessie and Ethel. Fifty people of various nationalities attended in response to the invitation listed in the ship’s calendar.”

Jessie Revell’s services in Haifa were manifold: she was entrusted by the Guardian shortly after her arrival with the task of sending and collecting all his mail; this was a task to which he attached great importance as during his absences from the Holy Land no one had access to him except his “postman” whose integrity must be of the highest order. Even after the Guardian’s passing she continued to collect the mail, in spite of her age, until the election of the Universal House of Justice.

Elected International Baha'i
Council 1961
In 1951 she was appointed treasurer of the International Baha’i Council by the Guardian and after its election in 1961 continued to hold the same office. Her services to the Guardian and to the World Center in these and other capacities brought her in contact with many people in Haifa where she was widely known and respected as a Baha’i.

“How Jessie loved to be with the pilgrims,” Ethel Revell testifies. “She loved to look after their comfort and received them with a loving welcome, visiting with them, helping them on their shopping trips. At times the pilgrims arrived very late at night from certain countries. On one occasion a group of dear pilgrims came at about eleven-thirty at night. It was raining heavily. They were shown their rooms and made comfortable by Jessie. The next morning Jessie awakened to find she had slept peacefully all night in a wet raincoat!”

A pilgrim writes, “She won the hearts of all the pilgrims and saw the best, the true Baha’i, in everyone. In her quiet, unassuming way she would seek every avenue to serve her beloved Faith. No task was too great or too small. Pilgrims around the world treasure the picture of ‘Abdu’l-Baha in Philadelphia or some other small token from the Revell sisters. Dearly loved by the people of Haifa, they would voice concern: ‘Please talk Miss Jessie into getting a car -- a little one will do; she goes back and forth so much; I worry for her.’ A friend of ‘Miss Jessie’s’ would get a special price in the souvenir shops. Everyone in Haifa knew her; everyone loved her. Her calm, assured manner, regardless of the turbulence about her, seemed to be in natural setting in Haifa. While the Shrines, of course, stand apart as the very core of pilgrimage, Haifa unfailingly brings to mind Jessie Revell.”

Before his passing Shoghi Effendi had himself announced that Jessie Revell would attend the Intercontinental Conference to be held in the United States in 1958, in addition to the Hand of the Cause he had delegated to represent him on that occasion. In 1961 she accompanied Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum on her trip to Australia to open the Mother Temple of the Antipodes to public worship. When Amatu’l-Baha was taken ill, Jessie Revell, at her request, visited the New Zealand Baha’i community in her stead, bringing the spirit of the beloved Guardian to all the friends there.

“I trust and pray that some day you may be enabled to visit Persia, and there render a distinct service to the cause,” Shoghi Effendi wrote to her on December 17, 1928. “Wherever you are, the Beloved will watch over you and sustain you, and you must feel encouraged to realize that your services, your faith and constancy, will in time be fully rewarded.”

Ethel’s words describe the joy her sister experienced in realizing this long-held hope:

“Persia and Turkey were the last countries which Jessie visited. She traveled to Iran just seven months before she passed away. To be in the land of Baha’u’llah was such a joy to her, to visit all the Holy Places such a sacred experience. Then too, the believers were so thoughtful, kind and hospitable in a quiet and efficient manner that she really felt at home. It seemed to me that with that accomplished, she in a way relaxed somewhat. A few days before she departed she said to me, ‘Since I went to Persia, I seem to be living there all the time.’”

Advising the Baha’i world community of her passing, the Universal House of Justice cabled:

WITH PROFOUND GRIEF ANNOUNCE PASSING JESSIE REVELL HER TIRELESS STEADFAST DEVOTION FAITH SINCE BEFORE MASTERS VISIT AMERICAN CONTINENT EARNED LOVE TRUST ADMIRATION SHOGHI EFFENDI CROWNED BY APPOINTMENT INTERNATIONAL BAHAI COUNCIL DISTINGUISHED BY SERVICE TREASURER BOTH APPOINTED ELECTED COUNCILS STOP URGE NATIONAL ASSEMBLIES HOLD MEMORIAL GATHERINGS TRIBUTE UNFORGETTABLE EXEMPLARY SERVICES FAITH. ...

(the Baha’i World 1963-1968)