The Bahá’í Faith in Boston began in 1884 when 21 year old Kate Cowan Ives became a believer. Born in Newfoundland, Canada, Kate dedicated her life to the promotion of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh by traveling from Boston to Green Acre in Eliot, Maine where interested Bostonians would explore the teaching of this new religion. The country was looking forward to the new century with hope and anticipation. Boston was a growing city, a major business and education center. The skyline was changing and people were eager to explore new ideas, to fight social wrongs and promote the American ideal. The Bahá’í teachings addressed these yearning with teachings such as the oneness of humanity, the oneness of religion and other spiritual subjects.
The growth of the Boston community was tightly knit to Green Acre Inn, which was founded by Sarah Farmer. It was a place far away from the hustle and bustle of noisy Boston; a place surrounded by nature where freethinkers, religionists and diverse people could come together to learn about truth in its many forms and strengthen the ties of universal love.
By 1899 the Boston Bahá’í community consisted of people from Worcester, Cape Cod to Portsmouth, NH. They held regular meetings and in 1908 the first Baha’i governing board was elected. Besides hosting informational and study meetings in their homes, they rented rooms at various places throughout the city like Huntington Avenue and Copley Square until in 1919 a twelve room house was rented on Charles Street to accommodate the growing community and its plans. Public meetings and presentations were held. Ads and articles frequently appeared in local newspapers to attract people to the Bahá’í Faith. Distinguished visiting Bahá’ís from around the world would offer public addresses in municipal halls and hotels such as the Kensington on Boylston Street and the Victoria on Dartmouth Street.
Along with continued support of the Green Acre summer programs, in 1926 the community hosted a World Unity Conference” aligning themselves with other like minded people and organizations such as Tremont Temple Baptist Church in Boston and the St. Paul AME Church in Cambridge. In 1940, the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the City of Boston was incorporated and in 1950 the first Boston Bahá’í Center was established at 116 Commonwealth Avenue. A year later the Spiritual Assembly was interviewed by WBZ-TV for the show “Our Believing World.”
In 1912, the visit of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, the son of Bahá’u’lláh, confirmed and consolidated the community. He elucidated on the teachings, principles and aims of the Faith through talks and meetings in both private and public venues. His magnetic and dynamic personality modeled both spiritual and
practical characterics of a follower of Bahá’í Faith. His visit transformed the community and broadened their understanding about the aims and future of the Bahá’í Faith.Published on May 24, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was quoted in The Boston Traveler as saying “Boston is like a rose garden, made up of variegated colors, all lending a charm and attraction to the various elements in that garden. The many religions of this city form the component parts of the garden.” From May to August of 1912, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá visited Boston three times during his travels throughout North America clarifying misconceptions, expanding understanding on the purpose of the Bahá’í Faith and identifying principles such as the need of a universal language and the elimination of all forms of prejudice, Here spoke of the equality of women and men, spiritual solutions to the world’s economic problems, the immortality of the soul, the unity of all religions, international peace, public service and love.
At one of His last talks ʻAbdu'l-Bahá shared His heart's desire for Boston. He said, “I am going away from your city, but I leave my heart with you. My spirit will be here; I will not forget you. I ask confirmation for you from the Kingdom of Bahá’u’lláh. I pray that you may advance continually in spiritual susceptibilities, that day by day you may grow more radiant and draw nearer to God until you become instrumental in illuminating the world of humanity. May these confirmations of the Kingdom of God encompass you. This is my hope, my prayer.”
This PDF provides more information about the locations that ʻAbdu'l-Bahá visited during his time in Boston.
The central teaching of the Bahá’í Faith is the oneness of humanity and race unity is a particular challenge to the American community. The Bahá’í Faith in Boston maintained a constant focus on growing the community through proclamation and teaching efforts yet the race unity work was one which ebbed and flowed during the early part of the century regardless of the repeated emphasis brought on by its leaders. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá encourage the interracial marriage and initiated race unity conferences. Green Acre saw itself as a center where all faiths, creeds, cultures and races could commingle in love and unity. Shoghi Effendi identified that racism was America’s most vital and challenging issue. Yet the Boston believers were not unified in their understanding of the importance of bringing together the black and white peoples in their city. That is until Mrs Sadie Oglesby returned from her pilgrimage, in 1924, where she had explicit conversations with Shohgi Effendi, the administrative head of the Baha’i Faith.
Sadie Oglesby shared the following:
1 - “Racial prejudice and differences on the part of non-believers is a problem, but there should be no racial problem on the part of the believers.”
2 - He said I should be insistent and urgent upon this matter. That I should be persistent and not quiet so that the believers may learn of this great need. He told me I had been negligent, indifferent, and had not done my duty upon this subject.
3 - ...Shoghi Effendi said, “When you return to America, do as I have told you. Be fearless and know that the invisible concourse will assist you and I will supplicate at the Holy Shrine on your behalf.”
4 - He said "the believers should astonish the world by their fellowship and cooperation with the colored people." This, he said, is "an open door of service in which the Báha’ís will not be molested."
After returning home Sadie began speaking on race unity both in Boston and around the country. She spoke at length at the National Convention for the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada. She relayed Shoghi Effendi’s words: “The peace and tranquility of the world depend on racial harmony.” She urged them to “see that great centre of love that is yearning ... that you and I shall become like one body ...” People at the convention were so stirred that they decided to spread her message. For the next 10 years, Sadie devoted herself to the race unity work. Of her work Shoghi Effendi said, “Your constancy and zeal are assets that I greatly value …” “Persevere with unfaltering faith ...”
Sadie shared that while the Baha’i community had been a bit diverse when she and her husband, Mabrey became Bahá’ís, that was no longer true. Often only she and Mabrey were the only people of color in attendance. Sadie and others took Shoghi Effendi’s strong and explicit instructions to heart. “My charge to you is that when you go back to America tell the friends to look within themselves and find the reason for so few colored people being in the Cause. Until this is removed, the Cause cannot grow…. This is vital.” The community then focused on connecting the colored Bostonian the Baha’i Faith.
It is interesting to note that Sadie said, that she and Mabry became and remained Bahá’ís only because they could find no flaws in their spiritual Teachers, Harland and Grace Ober, “if it had been that I found them off duty once, we would have turned our faces in another direction; we were guilty of looking for shortcomings, but we have never seen them off duty with us, or with anybody else, at any time. If they had not remained in Boston until my husband and myself were strong enough to turn our eyes towards God, I assure you, dear souls, we still would have been looking in the dark.”
Ten years after returning from her pilgrimage with a mandate for social change, it was noted that the Boston Bahá'í community was integrated with a large proportion being colored and largely through the work of Sadie.
Slowly throughout the 20th century administrative machinery in Boston, along with its sister communities all over the world, was developed to execute the plans described by ʻAbdu'l-Bahá to share the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh with the world. Shoghi Effendi followed by laying out series of plans based on his grandfather's blueprint and the various community’s capacities until in 1963 the Baha'i Administrative machinery was sufficiently developed to globally elect the Universal House of Justice who today guides the global community in furthering community building activities.
In Boston, the community is in a learning mode. Learning how to raise capacities alongside children, families, junior youth, and youth to lead lives of service to humanity.