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Ambassador at the Court:
The Life and Photography of Effie Baker

by Graham Hassall

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Chapter 4

MARTHA ROOT

Martha Root came from Pennsylvania in the United States. She was an experienced journalist at the time she heard of the Bahá'í Faith in 1908. In the years since she had travelled through South America, Europe, and Asia promoting the Bahá'í message. When she arrived in Melbourne in June 1924, she had just been in China, Hong Kong, and Indochina. Her arrival in Australia was greatly appreciated by the small Bahá'í communities that had so recently commenced in the major cities.1 to many of the new members (most of whom were women), Martha Root epitomised the peace activist they aspired to become. Her presence was vitalising, to Effie, and opened a completely new world of possibilities. She exemplified the dedicated advocate who rose to promote ideas and principles in which she believed. "Though frail in body," she wrote of Martha to the Perth Bahá'ís in September 1924, "she ever goes forward to do the Master's work, her implicit obedience to His command, full trust and faith in His help and guidance is a lesson to us all." 2

Miss Root was greeted by the Melbourne Bahá'ís, and handed a ticket for the five-day journey by train to Perth. The "Tea Room" talks and other activities the Dunns and Effie had established a small Bahá'í group. It included Annie and William Miller, Herbert and Rose Webb, and Mrs Kenworthy. The Millers had migrated from Scotland to Western Australia in 1909 and had struggled to make a living on the land before moving to Perth in 1924. They had known John Esslemont, author of the well-known work Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era, and had enthusiastically attended Hyde Dunn's lectures. The more affluent Webb family resided at Claremont. Herbert Webb operated a real estate business from the Colonial Mutual Building at 53 St. George's Terrace in the city centre. These and other new Bahá'ís now had the good fortune to meet such an ardent advocate of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh as Martha Root, who, according to her biographer, gave thirty-eight lectures in Perth that July:

A special event, with admission charge, was a lecture on "The Great Renaissance of China," held in the Literary Institute. On the stage was a map of China and immense flags of every country. The Chinese of Perth came in a body, the American consul sat on the platform with Martha, and she was introduced by the Mayor.3

Two special events concluded Miss Root's stay in Perth. One, on 19 July, was the formation of a Local Spiritual Assembly by the Perth Bahá'í community, now grown to a membership of thirty-six.4 On 28 July, Miss Root gave her first ever talk through the new technology known as radio. In early August the four travellers - Effie, Miss Root, and Clara and Hyde Dunn - returned by train to Melbourne, where Miss Root gave twenty-five lectures in as many days:

The publicity was extraordinary, and everywhere she was showered with attention. Receptions were given before or after talks; there were teas with Martha as guest of honour; announcements of open houses were made for the discussion of the Faith. Officialdom welcomed her, and an admirer presented her with five thousand Bahá'í booklets that he had printed.5

Miss Root's first Melbourne lecture was to an Esperanto group that subsequently invited her to present a radio broadcast on the Bahá'í writings concerning the need for an international language.6 In the Australian Church Hall she spoke at a meeting co-sponsored by the Melbourne Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, the Esperantists, and the Peace Society of the Australian Church. Her later talk at the Australian Church on "The Great Renaissance of China" drew an audience of 350, including some 50 Chinese.

At one of her Melbourne meetings Miss Root attracted into the Bahá'í community Major Norman McLeod, who later received from Shoghi Effendi an important letter detailing the Bahá'í attitude to racism and to the "White Australia" policy.7 On another night she addressed an audience of Socialists, Bolshevists, IWW's (International Workers of the World), atheists and agnostics, on "The new phase of the economic problem". One result of this last appointment was an invitation to Miss Root to address the Women's Labour Group. She also spoke to the Theosophists, to all of Melbourne's Spiritualist Churches, the Psychological Club, the Chinese Club, the New Civilisation Centre, and the Occult Church - which subsequently offered its Sunday evening platform to a Bahá'í speaker once a month. A doctor offered his home for meetings, and three evenings were spent there answering the questions of enquirers.8

The Melbourne Bahá'ís were greatly invigorated by all this activity sparked by Miss Root's presence, very soon after secured for themselves a regular meeting room at the Henry George Club. Office-bearers were appointed at a meeting on 11 September, and Effie donated five pounds so that the group could begin a Bahá'í library. Meetings were advertised in the city's newspapers, the Age and the Argus (A photo of these Melbourne Bahá'ís subsequently appeared in the second volume of Bahá'í World, p. 29).

After almost four weeks in Melbourne, the time had come for Miss Root and Miss Baker to move on to speaking engagements in other cities. In Sydney, in October, Miss Root lectured for nine days.9 Her first talk was at a reception for 200 people hosted by the English Speaking Union at the Astor Tea Rooms, at which the guests of honour were herself, and Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and Lady Smith (Sir Charles being the first aviator to fly from London to Sydney). After sharing the limelight with Sir Charles, Miss Root hurried on to address the Chinese Nationalist Club - one result being publication of an article in the Chinese Times. The following Sunday afternoon, she explained in one of her long letters to friends at home, she had the experience of speaking in Sydney's famed open-air forum:

Sunday afternoon a talk was given in the open air, in the Domain Park, before the Labour Party. I stood on a big auto truck and "shouted" - There was an immense crowd, at least a thousand. The same evening a lecture was given in the New Thought Centre and the hall was crowded.10

On Monday Miss Root made a radio broadcast on "Esperanto as a Universal Language" On other days she spoke to the Theosophists, the Women’s League of NSW, and the Esperantists. From Sydney, Effie and Martha made plans to visit New Zealand. They cabled the New Zealand Bahá'ís to say they were arriving on the 15th (and then they arrived a day early). The Auckland Assembly hurried to make plans. For two whole weeks, Miss Root fulfilled a demanding speaking schedule in Auckland and Wellington. She wrote to friends about her schedule, the New Zealand Bahá'ís, and her new Australian friend and travelling companion:

Auckland was my ideal of heaven, and of the perfect way a Bahá'í campaign should be conducted. Every door opened. Drawing room talks in the homes of the friends, Lyceum Women's Club; Labour Party Meeting in Strand Theatre, two thousand present; Tea with Labor leaders of New Zealand; National Council of Women; Blind Institute of Auckland; Four Bahá'í lectures in Society of Arts' Hall; "The Great Renaissance of China Lecture" in the large auditorium of the Society of Arts; Auckland Teachers' Training College' two lectures at Y.W.C.A.; Lecture to Comrades' Boys Club; Labor Party; Leys' Institute Boys' Club and All Saints' Church; Feast at Mrs Dewing's Home; Broadcasting; first public Bahá'í lecture in any Church in New Zealand, address in the Unitarian Church of Auckland; Theosophical Society; Chinese Nationalist Club; Rotary Club. These lectures were given in twelve days. The visit in the home of Misses Margaret, Amy and Lilias Stevenson, Bahá'ís, seemed like the days in the home of Mary and Martha, the spiritual fragrance was so sweet. The Bahá'ís of Auckland are so efficient, so dynamic, so SWEET that I know Father and Mother Dunn and the Supreme Concourse must be very happy over them... Sweet Effie Baker, Bahá'í from Melbourne, who is travelling with me through Australia and New Zealand, we two are just "watering the seeds" and helping the new assemblies that "father" and "mother" Dunn have so lovingly planted.11

Margaret Stevenson, the first New Zealand Bahá'í, had read in a 1911 issue of The Christian Commonwealth about Abdu'l-Bahá's visit to London. Her friend Dorothy Spinney, who actually met Abdu'l-Bahá in London and who had sent that newspaper article to Margaret, shared her experiences first hand when she visited New Zealand the following year. By 1916, Margaret was in correspondence with North American Bahá'ís, and late in 1922 had met Clara and Hyde Dunn in Auckland. She was now participating in the Auckland Bahá'í community, and became a close friend to both Martha Root and Effie Baker. Other Bahá'ís that Effie first met at this time included Margaret's sisters Amy and Lilias Stevenson, Mrs Amy Dewing, and Mrs Sarah Blundell and her children Ethel and Hugh.

The Stevenson sisters gave Miss Root a reception at their home, and Amy Dewing opened her home on two Saturday evenings. The Auckland Bahá'ís assisted their heroic visitor pay for her tour by raising an additional two pounds two shillings to match the money she had collected at her lecture on China. Miss Root and Effie stayed at the Hotel Grand Central, preparing their own meals at a cost of five shillings per day.

Effie stayed in the background during Martha's speaking engagements. Reports in the New Zealand Herald do not mention her. Away from the spotlight, however, Effie took responsibility for making the travel arrangements, and doing all she could to make Martha's days and nights more comfortable. They travelled south to Wellington, New Zealand's capital, where for two and a half days Miss Root lectured constantly. There were two Bahá'ís in Wellington, and another two in the nearby town of Nelson. On her first day in Wellington Miss Root gave five lectures - the most, she said, that she had ever delivered in a single day. She commenced at the Masonic Hall at 2.30pm, then the Pioneer Women's Club at 3.45pm, the Theosophical Society at 7pm, the Trades Hall at 8pm, and Chinese Nationalist Club at 9.15pm. The following day she addressed both the Mens and Women’s Labour parties. Three newspaper articles resulted from this visit to Wellington.12 Despite so much effort, however, there were no thinkers or activists in Wellington at this time interested in establishing a Bahá'í study group.

While Martha Root spoke in Wellington Effie visited her brother Jack on the South Island. The two then returned to Australia, across a sea which Martha described as "one of those little purgatories with a Heaven on each side"13 They arrived in Sydney October 7, and remained ten days before sailing for Hobart. In Sydney as elsewhere their time was fully occupied, and one of the Sydney Bahá'ís hosted a farewell reception in their honour before their departure.14

 

 

Hotel Grand Central

10/10/24

 

Dear Miss Gretta,

I'm just writing a hurried note to tell you that Martha and I are leaving by the "Riviera" on Friday 17th inst. for Hobart. Martha has decided to come to Tasmania for a week. We have had a very successful time in New Zealand and Martha feels the urge to go to Hobart. We will arrive on Sunday 19th. I wonder if you could recommend any place to stay? It must be a central hotel and of course inexpensive. We are at the Grand Central and our rooms here are 5/-. We prefer to get our own meals but I daresay there will be a comfortable and inexpensive place in Hobart. A Miss McLoughlin will probably join us from Melbourne. Give my love to Mrs Raudell and Trixie if they are still in Hobart (I do not know).

Hoping to see you soon

In His Name,

Yours Sincerely

Effie Baker15

Nine days were spent in Hobart and Launceston. Together with Kate ("Kitty") McLoughlin from Melbourne they stayed at a boarding house whose keeper was well known to the Dunns. Effie negotiated with commercial outlets in Hobart for the sale of some of her flower booklets and pictures.

The Hobart Bahá'ís were meeting at this time Mrs Crowe's home in Sandy Bay. Already few in number, they were soon further reduced. Mr Jenner, an Englishman and cousin of English Bahá'í Mrs Rosenberg, was about to return to his home country. Mr Bacon and Mr Bremmer also left Tasmania. Only Miss Scholes, Miss Stokill, Mr Bennetts, and Gretta Lamprill remained. Of these, only Miss Lamprill showed keen interest in Bahá'í affairs. Miss Root spoke in the Congregational Memorial Church, and contacted newspapers and organizations, but the bonds of affection and friendship established with Gretta Lamprill were on this occasion as important as any new contacts made. Gretta accompanied the three travellers to Launceston, and watched them depart by boat from her small and remote island.16 When Miss Root returned to Tasmania in 1939 she still possessed the precious ring and prayer beads given her by Miss Root on this first visit.17

It was approaching the end of 1924, and Martha Root was soon to sail for South Africa. She and Effie spent four days together in Melbourne. Then, still accompanied by Kitty McLoughlan, they joined the Dunns and the other Bahá'í friends in South Australia. Here news arrived that decided Effie's own plans. Miss Root had learnt when in New Zealand that a number of the New Zealand Bahá'ís were planning to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land early in 1925 and had urged Effie to join them. As Clara Dunn explained to a friend:

Martha cabled for permission and a cable came back "welcome" ...this is a beautiful thing that Australia as well as New Zealand will have a pilgrim and a teacher to return - she may not be well and strong yet, but she is a great deal stronger than when she came to us and this trip may bring her good health.18

Feelings of happiness and expectation filled the Dunn's home during the last months of 1924. Miss Root's presence and her prodigious talent in service to the Faith had produced a profound sense of joy that was shared by those around her. For Effie, too, confirmation of her plans to travel abroad for the first time sustained a mood of hopeful anticipation. The excitement felt by all was tempered, however, by awareness of Miss Root's imminent departure.

There was, too, an active program to complete in Adelaide, just as there were many details for Effie to attend to now that she also was to sail overseas. The Dunns and the Adelaide Bahá'ís had prepared Miss Root's speaking schedule, and toward its end, twenty-five guests attended a function in her honour at the Grosvenor Hotel. On 13 November, after five months sacrificial effort in Australia, Miss Root sailed for South Africa. She went laden with gifts. The Dunns gave her with powdered milk and chocolate (Nestles, we presume!), Chinese tea, and a dozen oranges. Effie made her several summer dresses, complete with hand-stitched lace. At the last she gave Martha a supply of cracker biscuits and tucked a number of other small gifts into her luggage.19

12/10/24

Dear Gretta and Trixie,

How we will all miss her. She certainly has done a wonderful job in Australia and I am glad to say is leaving us every so much better than when she came. I think I shall stay another two or three weeks. Kitty went back late Saturday. She had a very busy time with us. Mr Almond and his wife took us for a lovely motor ride in the national park right up in the hills. It was a lovely day and the view was fine. Please excuse me not writing but I have so much to do and friends have come in so it is difficult to collect my thoughts. Father and Mother are well and they are working very hard (as usual).20

Effie and the Dunns stayed several more weeks in Adelaide. There was much work to do in the build-up to the formation of the first Local Spiritual Assembly there. More than twenty members gathered at the Dunn's North Adelaide flat on 5 December for that important event. Effie had been elected to the first Local Assembly, established in Melbourne in December 1923. She had attended the formation of Perth's Assembly in July 1924. Now she had witnessed the formation of the third Australian Assembly, in Adelaide. Their work for the moment complete in Adelaide, Clara and Hyde, and Effie, returned to reside at "Belmont" in Clarendon St, East Melbourne. Here they awaited the arrival of the New Zealanders, the other members of the first antipodean Bahá'í pilgrimage.

ENDNOTES

A photo of Effie with Martha Root and Margaret Stevenson and Clara and Hyde Dunn appears in Star of the West February 1925, 15:11, p.314. - check

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