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Written for possible inclusion in The Baha'i Encyclopedia. Posted with permission of both the author and of the editor of the Encyclopedia project. Mirrored with permission from rsmd.net/research/greenleaf-charles.

Greenleaf, Charles

by Robert Stockman

1995
    Greenleaf, Charles Herman (1857-1920) and Elizabeth Roemer Greenleaf (1863-1941). Charles Greenleaf, a Disciple of `Abdu’l-Bahá, was born in Wisconsin on 6 May 1857 to a family of New England Puritan stock. Raised in Wisconsin and California, as a young man he settled in Illinois, where he became a lawyer and worked for Illinois Trust and Savings Bank of Chicago. On 8 August 1882 he married E. Elizabeth Roemer of Evanston, Ill., with whom he had two sons, Albert and Charles, Jr. Greenleaf was raised a strong Protestant. He became a friend of Thornton Chase, probably through relatives—Greenleaf’s uncle lived across the street from Thornton Chase’s father in Springfield, Massachusetts—and when Chase became a Bahá’í he told Greenleaf about the new religion. Charles and Elizabeth took a class on the Bahá’í Faith from Ibrahim Kheiralla in the fall of 1897; dreams convinced them of the truth of the new religion, and they "received the Greatest Name" (which was Kheiralla’s method for enrolling believers) on 5 October 1897.

         Both became active in the Chicago Bahá’í community. When the Chicago Bahá’ís elected their first governing council, about 16 March 1900, he was one of the ten members. When the body was reelected in May 1901—and reorganized as the Chicago House of Spirituality—he was elected again. However, when the House of Spirituality conflicted with the Women’s Assembly of Teaching—the organization for Chicago Bahá’í women—in early 1902, Greenleaf ceased to attend the House’s weekly meetings. Not until 1905 did his attendance again become regular; after the fall of 1907 he attended meetings rarely until 1911, when attendance records cease. With Thornton Chase, Arthur Agnew, and Albert Windust, Greenleaf was one of four men who founded the Behais Supply and Publishing Board, which was later incorporated (as a not-for-profit company owned by the same four men) as the Bahai Publishing Society.

         Albert Windust wrote that Greenleaf "was one of the three recognized pillars of strength of the Cause [in Chicago] in the early days," the others being Chase and Agnew. Greenleaf’s contributions may have been limited by family and work responsibilities; he is not known to have given any talks on the Faith. Upon his death on 24 May 1920, `Abdu’l-Bahá cabled that He was "supplicating Lord of the Kingdom" to submerge Greenleaf in "an ocean of mercy." He referred to him as a "blessed soul."

         Elizabeth Greenleaf was also very active in the Chicago Bahá’í community. She served as secretary of the Chicago Bahá’í women’s organization in 1905. After the passing of her husband she began to travel extensively to lecture about the Bahá’í Faith. She also moved to various cities that needed Bahá’ís, remaining there until the community was strong enough for her to move again. In 1924 she was elected to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada for one year. She went on pilgrimage in 1926, meeting Shoghi Effendi. She died on 6 August 1941 in Eliot, Maine; Shoghi Effendi eulogized her as a "veteran and outstanding teacher" and described her qualities of "deep knowledge of the teachings, profound human sympathy, a heart which mirrored the Master’s love, and a winning sweetness and friendliness."

         Bibliography. O. Z. Whitehead has published a chapter on the Greenleafs in Some Bahá’ís to Remember (Oxford: George Ronald, 1983). An obituary of Charles H. Greenleaf was published in Star of the West, vol. 11, no. 19 (2 Mar. 1921), 320-22. Emeric Sala wrote an article titled "The Greenleafs: an Eternal Union," published in Bahá’í News, no. 510 (September 1971), 8, 9, 23. There is some information about him published in Robert H. Stockman, The Bahá’í Faith in America, Origins, 1892-1900, Volume One (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1985). Information on his attendance at meetings of the House of Spirituality, and his wife’s involvement in women’s activities, is gleaned from the Chicago House of Spirituality Records, Bahá’í National Archives, Wilmette, Ill. A brief biography of Elizabeth Greenleaf by Albert Windust may be found in The Bahá’í World: A Biennial International Record, Volume IX, 1940-1944 (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1981), 608.

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