June 9, 2020

Dorothy Beecher Baker (1898-1954) – “distinguished Hand (of the) Cause, eloquent exponent its teachings, indefatigable supporter its institutions, valiant defender its precepts”

Cablegram from the Guardian:

Hearts grieved (at) lamentable, untimely passing (of) Dorothy Baker, distinguished Hand (of the) Cause, eloquent exponent its teachings, indefatigable supporter its institutions, valiant defender its precepts. (Her) long record (of) outstanding service (has) enriched (the) annals (of the) concluding years (of the) Heroic (and the) opening epoch (of the) Formative Age (of the) Baha', Dispensation. Fervently praying (for the) progress (of her) soul (in the) Abha Kingdom.

Assure relatives profound loving sympathy. (Her) noble spirit (is) reaping bountiful reward.

Advise hold memorial gathering (in the) Temple befitting her rank (and) imperishable services

Haifa, Israel,

January 13, 1954.


Mystery of mysteries is the tragic British jet plane disaster near the island of Elba in the Mediterranean Sea, which, on January 10, 1954, deprived the Baha'i, Cause of Dorothy Baker's spiritually intelligent services in this world. Distinguished in her life as a Hand of the Cause, an administrator, a remarkably gifted teacher, she was lifted out of her lofty position at the time when she was in the full tide of her capacities for service to our beloved Faith. Mere words cannot express the quality of grief which afflicted Baha’is on every continent. But a life of genuine Baha'i service so pure and beautiful had its effect on many lives, and, even in this sudden passing to her Heavenly Home, she proclaimed the Baha'i Faith. The news of the disaster went round the world, and undoubtedly millions of people heard the word "Baha'i" for the first time.

Dorothy Beecher Baker was born in Newark, New Jersey, December 21, 1898. Her father was related to Henry Ward Beecher, a liberal clergyman famous for his eloquence on the subjects of the abolition of slavery and prohibition, and to Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Harriet Beecher-Stowe
Dorothy was graduated from the Montclair Normal College and thereafter taught in the public schools of Newark for two years. She was then offered a contract to teach in the Ethical Culture School in New York but declined the offer and, in the summer of 1921, she was married to Frank Baker. They had two children, Louise Baker Matthias and William, both of them comprehending and loyal Baha'is. Frank Baker deserves much gratitude, for he stood by Dorothy's side always, and, in his own magnificent services and his support of Dorothy's teaching activities, there was the element of true sacrifice.

Dorothy Baker with family 1923
In the early pioneering days of the Baha'i Cause in New York City (1900-1905), I was closely associated with Dorothy's grandmother, known to the Baha'is as Mother Beecher. We worked together, arranging the programs and meetings at Genealogical Hall and in many other activities. Mother Beecher was an elderly person even then. She lived near us, and I used to see her practically every day in connection with our Baha'i duties. I loved to hear her dwell on her religious experiences. Her stories were without end.

After Dorothy had grown to a little girl, Mother Beecher was full of anxiety, at times, about her. Dorothy's parents were not Baha'is then, although now they are both active in the Faith, and Mother Beecher would say to me: "I will train Dorothy; I will train her. She shall be my spiritual child. I would not be loyal to Baha'u'llah if my granddaughter did not receive the true Baha'i Teachings." She said this so many times that it has remained indelibly impressed upon me.

We have heard much about this mystical bond which brought grandmother and granddaughter together; and indeed it was Mother Beecher who trained Dorothy and brought her safely into the Baha'i fold.

Dorothy Baker and daughter
Louise Baker Matthias
Louise Baker Matthias tells how in 1912 Mother Beecher took Dorothy, then fourteen years old, to New York to see 'Abdu'l-Baha. She had been a very shy child, sensitive to the point of deep suffering in the presence of adults. She was so shy that years later she still remembered the tension she felt when she entered the room where 'Abdu'l-Baha was speaking. He smiled at her, and without speaking to her directly, motioned her to a foot-stool at His side. At first she was so much afraid that He might speak to her that she could hardly bear it, but as He seemed to pay no further attention to her, she gradually relaxed. She was never able to remember what He talked about that day, but it was the moment of her birth as a Baha'i, and from that time on she considered herself a Baha'i. Although she left without speaking to Him, she could think of nothing else for days afterward and finally wrote Him a letter saying that she wished to serve the Faith. He immediately sent her a Tablet in His own hand, translated by one of His secretaries which is now in the National Archives, in which He told her that He would pray that God would grant her desire.

A few nights after that meeting in New York, 'Abdu'l-Baha sent for Mother Beecher, who went to Him immediately. When she entered the room He was speaking to some people but interrupted what He was saying, turned to her, and said, rather abruptly: "I called you to say that your granddaughter is My own daughter. You must train her for Me."

This rare and lovely soul was almost a perfect student; she studied the Baha'i Teachings in such a way (that is, with both mind and heart) that one would think her very life depended on her being filled to overflowing with the Revelation of Baha'u'llah. She often said something to this effect: Nothing worth knowing is attained without labor, tremendous effort, and undivided attention. She always felt sure that she was to go forth to service and that her duty would be to give out "thoughts that breathe."

She often said that she wished her service would "kindle the feelings" and touch the hearts. She certainly attained this wish, for as a speaker in small or large groups, she was eloquent, persuasive, and convincing. She also had that quality of personality so necessary for a public speaker, inimitable charm. But the most important quality, which was ever present, and which strangers as well as friends could observe, was that of sincerity - her pure sincerity. She was an ardent Baha'i first, last, and all the time.

Her first talk before the public was given in Foundation Hall of the Temple, probably about 1929, at a Ridvan Feast. I shall never forget how the friends rejoiced in her "arising," as they called it; in fact she was surrounded, both before and after this talk, and one could hear the comments about the attainment of Mother Beecher's granddaughter. It produced a profound sensation because most of the friends did not know that Dorothy had become (among all the young people) one of the best informed on the Baha'i Teachings. From that time on, the evolution of this Baha'i speaker was rapid, phenomenal. She was wanted everywhere.

Soon thereafter she became very prominent in inter-racial work and as a traveling teacher, covering first one part and then another of this country and Canada, speaking before large audiences. One year she proclaimed the Baha'i Teachings in ninety colleges throughout the South, and she fearlessly spoke in every one of them (both white and Negro) on the Baha'i doctrine of the brotherhood of man. "The future must be quite different from the past," she would say; and then she would enlarge upon this theme. "We must recognize and live in actual deeds as well as in words this great brotherhood."

She never failed to give the Source of her Light as the Revelation of Baha'u'llah. She served always with zeal, determination, sincerity, and a logic unanswerable. Her own faith was so intense, so elevating, so noble, that she certainly could easily be called one of the "vivifiers" of the world.

We are not attempting to write here a complete history of Dorothy Baker's life, but even briefly we must not fail to mention her many services at the Baha'i Summer Schools: Green Acre, Louhelen, International School in Colorado Springs. She gave courses on the Baha'i Teachings in all these schools, and reports from those in attendance invariably referred to her influence on the young people; they would gather around her, asking questions and trying to imbibe some of her enthusiasm. They did not just admire her, but they had for her esteem and reverence and love.

circa 1948 Guatemala
In the course of time our beloved Guardian sent her to Latin America. She not only made one teaching tour there, but several (including Central and South America and the Islands), always working directly under the Guardian's instructions. He conferred upon her the station of Hand of the Cause, and in the last years of her life she promptly and joyously followed his direct instructions to her.

The story of her services in the countries below the borders of the United States will one day be a very thrilling record of magnificent work in the Most Great Cause. She must have had an unusual capacity for associating with, and reaching the hearts of, the Latin people. They loved her enthusiasm, her methods, her personality, her spiritual knowledge and achievements. She will certainly be a cherished star in their memory forever.

Mrs. Margot Worley, Chairman of the National Baha'i Assembly of South America, has sent us the following tribute:

"We were stunned at the news of Dorothy's tragic end, and our hearts felt the tremendous void and loss. Ever since the news of her passing reached us, the Bahia, Brazil, Baha'i Community has been praying for her... We of South America can never forget Dorothy, nay, she now stands close to our hearts as never before. Her first visit to us was when she brought experience and wisdom to our Fourth Congress, held in Lima, Peru. We felt childlike in her presence, for truly we were all so young and puny by comparison, our knowledge so scanty and vague. All through that Congress each soul grew and developed, whether it was aware of it or not. Dorothy laid the World Order at our feet, and by her clear explanations, brought us step by step to where you dear souls stood .... We had a glimpse, as it were, of the glory of Baha'u'llah's handiwork and of Shoghi Effendi's guidance ...

"We must confess we almost stood in awe in Dorothy's presence. We know she had ample preparation for her great work and that she stood as a shining example to us all. When once again she was with us at Buenos Aires for our Second Convention, April, 1952, she stood before us in a different capacity. Shoghi Effendi had just conferred upon her the station of Hand of the Cause of God. Upon her beamed a different light and her countenance was radiant . . . Her prayers were felt surrounding us; her strong sense of duty threw a different light upon our tasks, and we of South America came to understand that we were living in precious times... Dorothy again guided us in our decisions, helped us with our plans, encouraged us with advice and understanding. She showed us how the dear friends in North America had sacrificed over the years and had helped establish the Faith throughout the Baha'i world. Dorothy had the gift of pointing out the way to sacrifice, the way to earn the right of being known as a Baha'i and thus become 'the supreme moving impulse in the world of being.'

"Dorothy took part in every service our beloved Faith offered her; she had visited the Guardian, stepped upon the Thresholds of the Holy Shrines, prayed where Baha'u'llah had spent His last days. Can any soul ask for more!"

Artemus Lamb, of the Central American National Spiritual Assembly, has written: "Her influence in Central America is most powerful, and at the same time mysterious, for in reality she spent only a few days here on several occasions; yet all loved her deeply and feel dependent upon her like children to a mother. After her passing, many have written to say that her influence is both felt and seen more powerfully than ever... Letters have poured in from all sides. On the night of February 19, all the Central American Assemblies and Groups have been requested to hold a Memorial Service in her honor. What tribute could be higher to that great and lovely soul that was and is Dorothy than that a whole Continent of believers love her like a mother and sister and are now arising to new and greater service to the Faith in her memory and to try in their way to make up for the crushing loss which they feel?"

Dorothy Baker also visited many Centers in the goal countries of Europe and was a speaker on the public programs of many Baha'i Conferences. Of course her eloquent and persuasive presentation of the Faith won for her the plaudits of strangers and friends; and letters indicate that they longed for her services, her continued rich blessings from the Court of the Divine King.

The Master said: "The most efficient capital of the Baha'i teacher is the Divine Power. With that alone he may conquer the cities of the hearts." She seemed always to have that necessary confirmation. When any public meeting anywhere was open for questions from the audience after the address, Dorothy was equal to what we might call a pressure from all sides. She could answer all questions intelligently and with entire confidence in the Teachings she proclaimed. She had many personal interviews and private Baha'i meetings in nearly every city she visited. We have often heard her quote these words of Baha'u'llah: "This is a matchless Day. Matchless must, likewise, be the tongue that celebrateth the praise of the Desire of all nations, and matchless the deed that aspireth to be acceptable in His sight."

US National Spiritual Assembly 1953
For sixteen years, although she was engaged so actively in the teaching work, she served on the National Spiritual Assembly and was its chairman for four years. As a Hand of the Cause of God, she attended the four Intercontinental Conferences during the Holy Year of the Cause and was a speaker on the public programs of all of them. After the New Delhi Conference, in the last months of her life, she made an arduous teaching trip through India.

A letter from Doris McKay, pioneer in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, contains a tribute to Dorothy Baker and an interesting account of her first meeting with Martha Root.

"... It was on a visit to Jamestown, N.Y., in, I think, 1936, that Dorothy met Martha Root, another of her kind. I sat with Martha at a table in the dining room of the Y.W.C.A., waiting for Dorothy to join us. 'How very strange,' I said to Martha, 'that you and Dorothy have never met!' Then the doors opened, and Dorothy's fragrance and light moved through the room toward Martha's tender glow. We arose and went to meet her, and Dorothy's outstretched hands met Martha's. Not a word was spoken in this moment too great for words. At the table we talked, Dorothy clad in a deep and listening humility. For a few days the two great stars were in conjunction as they devoted themselves to us and to our friends .... In the Supreme Concourse we have a recently arrived delegate from this world. Because of her 'the world to come' is closer to all of us who earnestly wish it..."

The crowning event in her almost miraculous life in the Cause was her pilgrimage to the presence of our beloved Guardian in Haifa; this was during the first part of 1953. She had asked permission a few times previously to be allowed this pilgrimage, but each time it was deferred because her teaching work was of such great importance. In a letter to me about this visit, she said:

"I would not attempt to write the real things, the things of the heart, but I can say this, that the Glory of the Cause, its grandeur, shines like the sun; and as for our beloved Guardian; he is at times a servant, and again a king; and he is at once the point of all joy and again the nerve center of suffering. One does not accept part of him and refuse part. He is, alas, a ransom; we are his beneficiaries. He suffers the grief of the Prophets, and yet is the 'true brother.' And as he casts himself into the sea of sacrifice, he is willing to cast us, one and all, into that shining sea also. America is the lead horse. He drives a chariot that must win over the combined forces of the world. He cracks the whip over the lead horse, not the others. Do the friends not realize this? The pilgrimage begins when you take his hand, and ends when you last look upon his dear face, and in between you kneel at the Shrines and ask for divine direction to serve him. And when your prayer is answered, there is no doubt about it at all; a thousand mercies circle around such an answer, and the Guardian is in the center of them all."

The Master said: "The service of the friends belongs to God and not to them." Dorothy Baker's services belonged to God. He chose her for furthering the great Plan of the Ages. She had ceaseless, tireless energy and used it to carry the Divine Remedies to a drifting world. But her place is empty. There is no one at present who possesses quite the same qualities. That which will remain with us who knew her so well will always be her freshness and vigor, her lucidity in teaching the Baha'i Faith, and her power to reach the hearts. Her assurance, born of the spirit and of true knowledge of the Teachings, made her a magnificent demonstration of the power of the revealed Word in this age.

- Mariam Haney (The Baha’i World 1950-1954)