Marty Whited

Marty Whited

Middlebury College

American Civilization


Mentor: Dr. J. William Harris, Associate Professor of History

An Historical Analysis of the Reception of 'Abdul'l-Baha in the Progressive World of 1912 America

On April 11, 1912 New York City newspaper reporters were on hand at the arrival of a much talked about figure-the leader of the Bahá´í Faith, a man named Abbas Effendi, eldest son of Bahá´u´lláh, the prophet-founder of the Bahá´í Faith. To the believers and friends of the Bahá´í Faith, he was known as ´Abdu´l-Bahá, "Servant of Baha." For 239 days, ´Abdu´l-Bahá traveled America and gave addresses to groups of myriad persuasions, speaking about peace and its necessary social prerequisites, notably equality of races and of sexes and unity among the diverse cultural, ethnic, and religious populations.

My research was an historical investigation into Abdu´l-Bahá's visit, correlating and critically analyzing information from memoirs, newspapers, and journals of that time along with more recent material as well. Much of the available material was written or collected by Bahá´ís, most documenting what was said and to whom, but with very little analysis of the significance of the events within an American history. My research proposed to venture into this area via historical contextualization.

I found that this visit was deemed historic by Bahá´ís and non-Bahá´ís alike, as it was a very timely event well-suited for the exploration of hot-button issues of the day. The atmosphere of openness to new ideas from unusual sources was particularly keen in 1912, and the vast majority of articles written about the visit were positive and even endorsed ´Abdu´l-Bahá's prescriptions for social ills. Information about the visit is still being collected, and during the course of my research the single most authoritative resource was made available for the first time (Mahmud's Diary). As interest in the visit continues, I hope to further my research by looking at meetings between ´Abdu´l-Bahá and notable figures including former president Teddy Roosevelt, Supreme Court Justices, Senators, inventor Samuel Morse and labor activist Samuel Gompers, to examine what connections these figures had to the messages of ´Abdu´l-Bahá.

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