The Passing of Dr. Susan I. Moody: An American Bahá’í Heroine
"And now I give you a commandment which shall be for a covenant, — that ye have faith; that your faith be steadfast as a rock which no storms can move, which nothing can disturb, and that it endure through all things even to the end."
WHEN a cable was recently received by the Bahá'ís in America announcing the passing of Dr. Moody in Tihran, Persia, the words quoted above came vividly to mind. One can well understand the reason, for these words are explanatory of the sacrificial services of this American medical doctor who spent over twenty-five years in the land which gave Bahá'u'lláh His birth. Particularly do the women and girls of Persia who knew her well mourn the loss of their true friend and sister, one who sacrificed the best years of her life that they might have proper medical care and education.
Full of years and good deeds, un-stricken by disease, gradually her strength failed and Dr. Moody passed into the eternal life at the ripe age of eighty-three years. The hundreds of men, women and children who attended her funeral services gave silent testimony to the love she had engendered in their hearts. Most significant was the long line of women and children who, carrying flowers, walked reverently in the procession to the Bahá'í cemetery where her earthly body found resting place. Dr. Moody's spirit remains. Her light will ever be shining. "But if the body undergoes a change," said 'Abdu'l-Bahá, "the spirit need not be touched. When you break a glass on which the sun shines, the glass is broken, but the sun still shines."
Who was Dr. Susan I. Moody and why does she occupy such a unique place in the hearts of Bahá'ís? The full story of her rich and colorful life will doubtless be written by some future historian, but we can not let the immediate opportunity pass without paying tribute to this noble, loving, self-sacrificing pioneer soul. Let us review briefly the story of her life. She was born in 1851 in Amsterdam, New York of Scotch-Covenanter parents who had migrated from the north of Ireland to the United States. Here she received the usual schooling and orthodox religious training of the "best" families of the day. After graduating from Amsterdam Academy, she taught school for a while, and then went to New York City and entered the Women's Medical College, but soon discovered that work in the dissecting room was far too great a strain for her nerves at that time. A little later her parents passed away, and her brother called her to Chicago to live with his family. While there she studied music, as she was endowed with a fine voice. She was not, however, to make music her life's work, and decided to study painting and sculpture at the Art Institute in Chicago. From there she went to study in the Academy of Pine Arts in Philadelphia where she remained three years. She was privileged also to study under the great painter, Chase, in New York and later to continue her studies in the art schools and studios of Paris. On her return to this country she lived with an artist friend in Chicago. Often she repeated the old adage, "Man proposes, but God disposes," and she suited the action to the word, for instead of following the professional art career, for which she was qualified, she finally yielded to the constantly increasing urge which she felt to continue her study of medicine, matriculated in a Chicago medical college and finished her course there successfully.
During those early days of her life in Chicago, she met friends who were attending the first classes formed for the study of the Bahá'í teachings. These classes she joined but did not become a confirmed and confessed Bahá'í until after her intensive study of the teachings in 1903 with Mrs. Isabella D. Brittingham, an illumined Bahá'í teacher, who brought many of the most staunch friends into the Cause in those early days. Dr. Moody always acknowledged with a thankful heart the privilege that was hers in being taught by so able a Bahá'í teacher.
In the following years Dr. Moody gave much of her time to teaching and speaking for the Bahá'í Cause, though she had never before been a public speaker. The first Bahá'í Sunday School in Chicago was conducted by her and to this day those who attended that Sunday school tell of how she taught them to save their pennies to help in the purchase of the land for the first Mashriqu'l-Adhkár in the western world. Later she herself was one of the group of Bahá'í sisters who traveled up and down the outskirts of Chicago's north side in search of the best location for the now famous Bahá'í Temple which is in the course of construction in Wilmette, Ill.
About this time (1908) a party of American Bahá'ís traveled to Persia to visit the Bahá'ís in that land, and while there some Persian doctors had asked whether it would be possible to induce an American woman doctor to come to Tihran to live for the purpose of caring for the Persian women who at that time were so deprived of skilled medical care. While stopping in 'Akka, Palestine, on their return from Persia the Americans communicated this wish to 'Abdu'l-Bahá Who asked them if they knew of such a doctor. The name of Dr. Moody was presented, and she received word without delay from 'Abdu'l-Bahá telling her she had been chosen for this great medical work in Persia. "I knew then," Dr. Moody often remarked, "why I had felt the urge so strongly to study medicine, I was obliged to study medicine in order to come to Persia." She was indeed destined for this great post of noble service. Nor did she hesitate when the call came but proceeded immediately on her journey. Had she not longed to see 'Abdu'l-Bahá? Several years before, she had made this vow, "I hereby devote, consecrate and sacrifice all that I am and all that I have and all that I hope to be and to have to Thee, 0 Divine Father, to be used in accordance with Thy Purpose." She now realized that the time had come to fulfill this vow. There were obstacles in her path, many did not wish to see her cast aside the practice she had established. "But my' vow had been recorded," she said, "and 'Abdu'l-Bahá had summoned me. I was ready."
Enroute to Persia Dr. Moody stopped in the Holy Land to see 'Abdu'l-Bahá. She received from Him the necessary instruction and encouragement which gave her strength for, and joy in, the work ahead of her. At the time of parting He said, "You will need patience, patience, patience!'' She tried never to forget that important injunction. Thursday, November 26, 1909 — the American Thanksgiving Day — was her first day in Tihran and her heart was full of gratitude. It was a Thanksgiving Day never to be forgotten.
The story of the first year of Dr. Moody's service in Persia was one of struggles. Dr. Lotfullah was her first interpreter since her knowledge of Persian was very scanty. Often she left her sick ones in the office and retired to another room to pray for the supreme patience which 'Abdu'l-Bahá, had prescribed. Later she became fluent in the Persian language and preferred to use it.
Bahá'ís all over America will remember the many interesting stories related by Dr. Moody herself during her visit to this country in 1925. In each city she visited meetings were arranged where she fully but humbly described her pioneering services to the women of Persia. All realized that had it not been for her absolute devotion to the Bahá'í Cause, her faith in the Bahá'í teachings, her oft repeated vow to consecrate her all to Bahá'í service, she could never have endured the many hardships which were her portion in the early days. Her faith was sublime.
Later a group of Persian doctors decided to open a hospital and at their request she joined them as a physician for the women patients. The hospital was successful from the beginning and continues its work as one of the foremost institutions of the kind in Tihran today.
Aside from her medical work, there was ever present in her mind the most important question of the education of girls which had been almost totally neglected in Persia. Some few women had studied behind a curtain when a tutor was teaching the boys, but they were very few. Dr. Moody often said, "My heart ached for the neglected ones.'' Then began her magnificent efforts toward interesting others in this question of education. She found that many of the Bahá'í men were in full sympathy with her ideas, and through Bahá'í consultation and cooperation, a girl's school was started with an attendance of thirty pupils. This, too, was successful from the very beginning, and has steadily grown in importance. It now has an enrollment of several hundred and is known as the Tarbiat School for Girls. Some one has declared it to be '' the greatest among all the schools in Tihran." In fact the school long ago had outgrown its quarters. One of the activities most dear to the heart of Dr. Moody was the raising of funds for an additional building. She wished this fund to be known as The Kappes Memorial Fund in memory of Miss Lilian Kappes, the first American Bahá'í teacher who died in Persia after giving nine years of indefatigable service to the school.
But it was not only the Tarbiat School for the secular education of girls that Dr. Moody was instrumental in starting. She also founded the Bahá'í study classes for girls, and herself visited these classes every Friday. The same curriculum was used as in the boy's classes for the study of the Bahá'í teachings. There are now sixteen different centers of these Bahá'í study classes for girls, all managed by trained teachers, and in these groups many who started years ago in the first course are now teaching and training others.
"What was the secret of Dr. Moody's noble and self-sacrificing life? It was built on the only firm foundation that there is — the eternal rock of ages, the revealed Word of God. Her outstanding qualities were a keen spiritual perception, a clear vision, a pure and undefiled conception of the Bahá'í Teachings, and most important of all was her willingness to render instant obedience. She never knew the word compromise. She was humble, severed and selfless; her sense of justice was outstanding. The writer was an intimate associate of Dr. Moody for a time, and it is assuredly true that few there be who have the capacity she possessed to make just measurements, such a capacity is rare. Her intense love for the Persian Bahá'ís was most manifest and her loving tributes to them at all times and in all places most noble and generous.
Deeds appealed to her far more than words. "All are partners in words," said Bahá'u'lláh. Often we have heard her recount the story of the famous Persian Bahá'í heroine, Qurratu'l-'Ayn, who, attending a meeting where a learned man was discoursing on philosophy, giving proofs and evidences regarding the Cause, arose and cried out, "This is the day of deeds. If thou art a man show forth deeds!'' And in Dr. Moody's living of the life of a true and faithful Bahá'í there were daily deeds which revealed her station. These deeds had made her widely known in Tihran, and her unique life and outstanding services were much eulogized in. the press of that city.