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TAGS: Bahai history by country; Ibrahim George Kheiralla; Magic; Millennialism; Mysticism; Occultism; Witchcraft
LOCATIONS: Chicago; Egypt; United States (documents)
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The early growth of the American, and especially the Chicago, communities was more gradual and eclectic than previously thought, and Kheiralla's influence was less crucial.

"Wonderful True Visions":
Magic, Mysticism, and Millennialism in the Making of the American Bahá'í Community, 1892-1895

by Richard Hollinger

published in Search for Values: Ethics in Bahá'í Thought, pages 207-239
Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 2004
Abstract: In this essay, the beginnings of the American Bahá’í community are reexamined the light of newly discovered source materials. The author argues that conversion of the earliest American Bahá’ís and the formation of the Chicago Bahá’í community were more gradual processes than previously thought. These processes entailed the coalescing of a group of Americans interested in the Bahá’í Faith a the development of an American Bahá’í message, activities in which the early American Bahá’ís played a critical role. Consequently, the role of Kheiralla, while critical, was less central to the beginnings of the Bahá’í Faith in the United States than previously suggested.

The beginnings of Bahá'í communities, like the beginnings of other groups, are at once the historical period of greatest interest to its members and the most difficult to document accurately. In the memories of participants, the processes of conversion and group formation tend to be telescoped, sometimes into a single event. And it difficult to locate contemporary sources with which to balance these recollections, since such sources also tend to be first generated by the creation of an organization. For this and other reasons, Jackson Armstrong-Ingram suggests that it "is probably a safer course to speak of early Bahá'í contact with a particular region . . . than it is to attempt to establish and defend 'conversion' dates."[1] In this reexamination of the inception of the American Bahá'í community, I am arguing further, that even conversion dates recorded in contemporary community records may not be reliable as evidence of when individuals first expressed a change in their beliefs or identities. At best, they reduce what was actually a process into an event. Previous histories covering this period, including my own, have taken these records at face value and have portrayed a relatively organized and linear progression of conversion and community development. However, a closer examination of all available sources suggests a more subtle dynamic, involving the gradual development of Bahá'í identity among the earliest American Bahá'ís, as well as in the man who introduced it — a process that was closely related to the development of an Americanized Bahá'í message.

The Bahá'í Faith was introduced in the United States by Ibrahim Kheiralla, a Lebanese-born Christian who encountered the Bahá'í Faith in Egypt in the late 1880s and who immigrated to the United States in 1892. Lacking a distinct Bahá'í identity and apparently still considering himself a Christian, Kheiralla initially presented a Bahá'í message that was framed in metaphysical teachings. He did not represent it as a new religion. He shared this esoteric message with persons in several different social networks in New York, Michigan, and Chicago in 1893 and 1894, and a few individuals accepted it.

However, significant interest in the teachings he espoused was first generated within the metaphysical subculture of Chicago, from whence he gathered a group of pupils who studied with him regularly. Interaction between Kheiralla and these students led to the reformulation of the Bahá'í message, with a new emphasis on biblical prophecies, and the development of a series of lessons through which the message was presented to the public.

Simultaneously, an informal group of Bahá'ís emerged in Chicago, providing the necessary social network within which distinct Bahá'í identities could be constructed. These processes laid the foundations for the wider spread of the Bahá'í Faith in North America and altered the meaning of Bahá'í identity for the early Western converts. What it meant to be a Bahá'í after 1895, was considerably different from what it meant before then, and Westerners contributed significantly to this change*

The original Bahá'í "message" that Kheiralla presented in the United States was significantly influenced by his religious identity and orientation, which had been shaped by his experiences in the Near East. Consequently, it is useful to examine some aspects of his religious life prior to his immigration to the United States, in order to understand his early efforts to spread the Bahá'í Faith.

Kheiralla's religious life

Born in the Mt. Lebanon region of the Ottoman Empire (now Lebanon) and raised as an Orthodox Melkite, Kheiralla attended a Presbyterian primary school in his native village, Bhamdun, and later studied at the Syrian Protestant College in Beirut. His education appears to have led him to convert to Protestantism.[2] His children were also educated mostly in Protestant schools and considered themselves Protestants until the late 1890s. For Kheiralla himself, however, this extended association with Protestant missions may have been, to some extent, an affirmation of his Orthodox identity. In his native Lebanon, the Orthodox attended Protestant schools, while members of the "uniate" churches attended Catholic schools.[3] That he did not have, or at least did not permanently retain, a distinct Protestant identity is suggested by his intense sympathy with Russia, which was then seen as the patron of Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire; by his affiliation with a Greek Orthodox Church in Cairo in the early 1890s; and by the fact that his second and third wives were not Protestants (in a milieu in which marriages were generally contracted within one's religious community). It is also suggested by his interest in magic and the occult, which Protestant missionaries would have regarded as local superstitions that should be abandoned by converts. This interest impelled him to seek knowledge from persons beyond the boundaries of the Christian communities, and ultimately brought him into contact with Bahá'ís.

Anton Haddad, Kheiralla's closest friend in Egypt, recalled that when he first met Kheiralla shortly after immigrating to Cairo in 1886, the latter was deeply devoted to the study of "black magic" with which he hoped "to attain whatever he desired." There were elements of magic — amulets, spells, spirit possession, and spiritual healing, for example — in the popular practices of all the indigenous religions of the region. The study or use of magic, especially the healing arts, provided venues for the cross-fertilization of ideas between different religious communities, because such ideas and practices could be borrowed without abandoning existing religious identities. Haddad recounts that in the course of researching and studying magic, Kheiralla was referred to 'Abdu'l-Karím-i Tihrání, a Bahá'í merchant from Isfahan then residing in Cairo, who was said to be knowledgeable in "white magic."[4]

All accounts agree that Kheiralla met and studied with Tihrání regularly for about two years, and that during this time he was gradually introduced to the Bahá'í teachings.[5] But precisely what Tihrání taught him is not entirely clear. Haddad states that Tihrání promised to aid Kheiralla to "attain greater powers" but told him that "Spiritual Powers could not be acquired in an instant, and only through a process of moral and spiritual development."[6] Edward Getsinger, who was later closely associated with Kheiralla, Haddad, and Tihrání, confirms that Kheiralla was seeking "occult knowledge" from Tihrání and asserts that the latter "sandwiched the Behai teachings with occult lessons," suggesting that he geared his lessons significantly to Kheiralla's interests.[7]

Haddad states that Kheiralla "was instructed in all the Behai teachings — both its religious tenets and its historical facts" and that Tihrání interpreted for him "many obscure passages of the Bible, notably the miracles, prophecies, and signs."[8 ] Haddad, who was seeking to demonstrate Kheiralla's intellectual debt to Tihrání, may have overstated his exposure to "religious tenets," for Kheiralla does not appear to have been familiar with many of the Bahá'í teachings and the accounts of both Haddad and Kheiralla say that they had only a few pages of hand-copied Bahá'í scriptures when they left Egypt in 1892.[9] But Kheiralla's own recollections confirm most of the rest of this account:

Abdul Karim of Cairo, taught me this, that the Bab appeared, and gave me some information of historical events about the life and death of the Bab and some of his followers. Then he informed me that the Father appeared in His name, El-Abha, and that he was exiled to Akka, and in addition related some historical legends.[10]

He also acknowledged Tihrání's interpretation of the Bible, but asserted that this was "not sufficient to convince one grounded as I was in Christian doctrine and belief."[11] Kheiralla here was primarily concerned with asserting that the biblical interpretations he later gave in classes in the United States were original and were not derived from Tihrání's teachings, which is substantially true.

If he found Tihrani's interpretation of the Bible lacking, however, Kheiralla must have found some of his arguments convincing, for he wrote a declaration of faith to Bahá'u'lláh in 1889.[12 ] Although he did not discuss this matter with his immediate family, his daughters suspected, because of his behavior, that he had changed his religion at that time.[13] There is little doubt, therefore, that he underwent some kind of conversion as a result of his contact with Tihrání. The recollections of Haddad, with whom Kheiralla shared the private lessons he received from Tihrání and who received some instruction from Tihrání himself, offers insights into what this meant to him. According to Haddad, Kheiralla conceived of "the Behai Society" as a global spiritual order, composed of a hierarchy of members, with Bahá'u'lláh (later 'Abdu'l-Bahá) at the top, and requiring initiation through "spiritual preparation" under the guidance of one of the leaders, such as Tihrání. Kheiralla placed great significance on the Greatest Name, the repetition of which, he believed could bring about supernatural results, and which Tihrání apparently told him was only given to the initiated.[14]

How much this conception is rooted in Kheiralla's own predilections, and how much in Tihrani's presentation is not certain. However, the secrecy associated with this approach and the gradual presentation of the Bahá'í doctrines were common features of Bahá'í teaching in the Middle East, developed in response to a hostile social environment. The extension of this approach to a presentation of the Bahá'í Faith as a secret society, analogous to freemasonry, would have been a natural development, since it would have at once provided some protection to the individuals involved and would have significantly eased the process of conversion. Rather than giving up one's existing beliefs and religious community, one could embrace esoteric teachings that reinterpreted these beliefs, or doctrines that augmented them, without completely altering one's religious identity. This approach has a parallel in the dual identities found among then contemporary Iranian Bahá'ís, who often participated in both their original religious community as well as the Bahá'í community. While the Bahá'í Faith may not have been commonly presented as a secret society in Iran, it often functioned as an auxiliary religious organization that, because of the danger of publicly espousing its teachings, necessarily functioned in secret. Hence, this conception of the Bahá'í Faith to some extent reflects a common approach found in the region at that time.

Thus, when Kheiralla accepted Bahá'u'lláh's spiritual authority, he probably did not feel that he was changing his religion, but rather was joining a religious society composed of persons of different religions. Moreover, a change in religious identity does not generally arise simply out of a change of beliefs. It is anchored in a set of social relationships, and generally it changes only gradually through interaction with coreligionists. The Bahá'í community of Cairo at this time appears to have been little more than a small network of persons in the employ or under the patronage of Tihrání that probably could have done little to foster a Bahá'í identity among new converts, especially to one who was already imbedded in another religious community.

Consequently, when Kheiralla arrived in America at the end of 1892, he seems to have still considered himself a Christian, although he probably also considered himself a Bahá'í in some sense. Edward Getsinger states that Kheiralla was "almost converted to the Bahai Faith" when he left Egypt, a description that probably applies more to his identity than his beliefs.[15] Anton Haddad, who had himself been exposed to the Bahá'í teachings in Cairo and later became active in the Bahá'í community, criticized Kheiralla for remarks he made in 1893, because they did not represent the sentiments of a "true Christian," a remark that suggests that they still considered each other Christians.[16]

If he still considered himself a Christian, Kheiralla's religious orientation had nevertheless been changed by exposure to the Bahá'í teachings. As we shall see below, he appears to have accepted the legitimacy of Islam or at least become extremely tolerant of Muslim beliefs. And when Kheiralla was asked his religion in the spring of 1895, he stated that he was no longer Orthodox and identified himself as a "Liberal."[17] This was a term sometimes used to describe such denominations as Unitarians whose members were open to receiving inspiration from non-Christian sources, although they were generally regarded as Christians.

All of this suggests that at the time of his arrival in America, Kheiralla was in a "liminal" state, partially removed from his original religious identity, but not having fully constructed a new religious identity that reflected his current beliefs. Because of his religious identity, and because of his conception of the Bahá'í Faith as an order rather than a religious community in the fullest sense, his initial efforts to spread the Faith were probably more an attempt to share spiritual truths than an attempt to find converts for a new religion.

Early teaching efforts, 1893-1894

Kheiralla came to the United States in December 1892, to engage in business activities. Arriving in New York City, he spent several months with Anton Haddad who had traveled in advance of him to that city to promote a joint business endeavor. Then he travelled through Michigan to Chicago, where he arrived in February 1894. Kheiralla and those closely associated with him always maintained that he began actively trying to spread the Bahá'í Faith in 1893, shortly after his arrival in the United States and that he did so continuously thereafter.[18] The earliest descriptions of his teaching suggest that he was conveying the simple message that God had returned to earth in the person of Bahá'u'lláh and was represented by a living figure, 'Abdu'l-Bahá — a proposition that a few persons seem to have accepted. However, Kheiralla's conception of the Faith and his transience during this period were not conducive to the establishment of Bahá'í communities, so most of those who accepted the Faith at this time probably were never in contact with other Bahá'ís and therefore have disappeared from history. By carefully retracing Kheiralla's activities, however, it is possible to identify the social networks through which he shared his beliefs, some of the individuals with whom he discussed the Faith, and a few persons who appear to have accepted the Faith through his efforts.

There were thousands of Syrians in New York City in 1892-1893, and Haddad recalls that Kheiralla met many of them there, so it is likely that this immigrant community provided the main social networks in New York through which Kheiralla shared his religion. Kheiralla, himself, writes: "In the winter of 1893,1 taught my faith to a few Syrians in New York City."[19 ] If some of his Syrian acquaintances accepted the Bahá'í Faith, no record of their identity has yet come to light. However, one of the individuals with whom Kheiralla engaged in religious dialogue was almost certainly Christophore Jibara, an Orthodox priest from Damascus, who was then in New York. Jibara had written a treatise attempting to reconcile the teachings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This work was translated from Arabic into English by Anton Haddad and Kheiralla was reported to have published it.[20] That Kheiralla and Haddad were sympathetic to Jibara's ideas, especially to his willingness to validate Islam as a religion, suggests that they had some understanding of the Bahá'í teachings on the unity of religion. If so, they probably discussed these teachings with Jibara, and they may have had an influence on him. When he addressed the Parliament of Religions a few months later, he advocated a unification of all religions, possibly under the aegis of a new religion — a suggestion not found in his written treatise — in a presentation that one eyewitness observer described as "the greatest sensation" of the conference.[21]

Kheiralla also made contacts in Protestant networks in New York City, with whom he discussed his beliefs. He mentions in his memoirs discussing the Bahá'í Faith with Charles Briggs, the Presbyterian theologian who was then on trial for heresy for advocating higher criticism of the Bible. It is likely that Kheiralla had a letter or letters of introduction from his Presbyterian contacts in Egypt or Beirut, which was a common practice among immigrants who had attended Protestant schools. Such introductions would have provided him with an entré into Presbyterian networks.

Kheiralla also was in touch with Ernest Jewell, a minister in the Protestant Episcopal Church whom he had first met in Egypt, who introduced Kheiralla to a number of persons outside the Syrian community. Jewell had graduated from the General Theological Seminary in New York in the Spring of 1893, was ordained the rector of a church in Petoskey, Michigan, in July of that year, and returned to New York to get married in August.[22] It was almost certainly through Jewell that Kheiralla met Eugene Hoffman, Dean of the General Theological Seminary, who may have been interested in meeting a visitor from Egypt because of his interest in Egyptian antiquities.[23] Kheiralla states that he discussed "Behai principles" with Hoffman and that he tried to convert Jewell.[24] Although neither of these clergymen appear to have had any interest in the Bahá'í Faith, the contacts provided by Jewell would indirectly facilitate the spread of the religion.

When Jewell returned to Michigan following his wedding, he brought Kheiralla with him, introducing him to persons in Grand Rapids and Petoskey.[25] Among the persons with whom Kheiralla probably became acquainted through Jewell were the two bishops who had ordained him: Daniel Sylvester Tuttle, the bishop from Missouri, who spent his summers in the Petoskey area;[26] and George De Normandie Gillespie, the bishop for the diocese of Western Michigan, who resided in Grand Rapids — both of whom are mentioned in Kheiralla's memoirs.[27] Kheiralla had entered into a short-term business partnership with Ibrahim Dahrouge, a Syrian merchant in New York, with whom he traveled to Michigan to sell carpets and other Near Eastern imported goods. They spent about one month, from mid-August to mid-September 1893, selling their wares in Petoskey, where Jewell acted as personal reference for them.[28]

According to Haddad, Kheiralla offered lectures to attract crowds to whom they would then sell the goods. Kheiralla did give a number of lectures in the Petoskey area while he was there, but the newspaper articles that mention them provide no evidence that they were connected to his efforts to sell Oriental imports, which were marketed through advertisements in local papers.[29] Whatever the purpose of the lectures, they launched Kheiralla on an informal lecture circuit in the region. Kheiralla's contract with Dahrouge ended around October. But he continued to travel through Michigan throughout the remainder 1893 and early 1894, delivering lectures in parlors, churches, and other venues, and selling imported goods. As was the custom of professional lecturers, he acquired letters of introduction which provided him with social contacts in other towns.[30] At first he offered a single lecture with variations of the title, "The Seven Ages of a Mohammedan in Egypt." As he appears to have had a written text for this lecture, and as one reporter observed that it was "difficult to follow him, as he speaks so brokenly," it is likely that he was reading a lecture prepared by someone else, such as Haddad, whose fluency in English was much greater than his own.[31] After a few months, however, Kheiralla began offering lectures on other topics, lectures which he must have prepared himself.

One of the first venues for his lectures after he left Petoskey was the Unity Church in Grand Rapids, where he spoke twice, once in place of the regular church service.[32] The minister of this church, H. Digby Johnston, had been a minister in a Protestant Episcopal Church in Chicago as late as 1892, and had only been installed as the minister in this church in 1893.[33] Thus, it is likely that he was an acquaintance of Jewell or Gillespie, one of whom probably introduced him to Kheiralla. The only other person in Grand Rapids with whom Kheiralla became acquainted, who can be identified, was William S. Gunn, the owner of a furniture casting business. Kheiralla would later carry on a correspondence with him.[34] However, he may have maintained contact with others he met there. Six persons from Grand Rapids, including Eliza Abbot, a Unitarian minister, were invited to Bahá'í classes Kheiralla later gave in Chicago; and one of them, identified only as Miss Rudah, attended them and became a Bahá'í in 1897.[35] Kheiralla appears to have been particularly pleased with his reception in this town, for on the eve of his arrival in Chicago, he was contemplating making Grand Rapids his home.[36]

Kheiralla's immediate whereabouts after leaving Grand Rapids are not known with certainty, but by early January 1894, he was in Kalamazoo. There he was the guest of Mrs. Fannie A. Hull, a widow in her 50s, who played an active role in the social life of the town by participating in social clubs, hosting out-of-town guests, and offering parlor lectures in her home.[37] According to Edward Getsinger, while he was in Kalamazoo, Kheiralla studied hypnotism and became involved in a "certain cult" that practiced "healing the sick by metaphysics, by laying on of hands," and "did some healing in the city using this method."[38] Here he gave a talk on the "Mission of Christ," and the following evening, Dr. W. C. Gibbons of Minneapolis spoke on the "Kingdom of God." These lectures proved so popular that a few days later Gibbons and Kheiralla both spoke on the topic, "What is a Prophet?"[39]

These talks demonstrate that Kheiralla was speaking publicly on religious subjects, which may have led to private discussions about the Bahá'í Faith. That this is the case is indicated by several pieces of evidence. First, Edward Getsinger, who passed through Kalamazoo around this time heard about Kheiralla, "but could not find out what he was teaching," which suggests that was discussing teachings that were not part of his public lectures. That such private discussions were taking place is also suggested by the that fact six persons from Kalamazoo, including his host, Mrs. Hull, were later invited to his Bahá'í classes in Chicago.[40] Finally, it appears that Kheiralla's first American converts date from around the time of his visit to Kalamazoo.

Several sources state that John C. and Louisa Ruddiman, who resided near Kalamazoo, were the first (or among the first) Americans who accepted the Bahá'í Faith through Kheiralla's teaching.[41] The Ruddimans then lived and worked on a farm owned by Eliza Church, Louisa's elderly mother, which was located in Goblesville, a village of about 600 inhabitants, on the railway line a short distance from Kalamazoo.[42] Louisa Ruddiman later came into contact with Bahá'ís in New York and Chicago and became active in the Bahá'í community. So unlike others with whom Kheiralla discussed the Bahá'í Faith, some accounts of her experiences have survived. Edward Getsinger, who became acquainted with Ruddiman in the late 1890s, writes:

[Kheiralla] became acquainted with an elderly lady and her husband in whose home he was living. Their name was Roddeman [sic], to her he also told of this wonderful person in Acca, Bahá'u'lláh; and Mrs. Roddeman [sic] accepted the Message from him . . . Consequently, Mrs. Roddeman [sic] was the first Bahai believer in this country.[43]

Arthur P. Dodge, another acquaintance of Louisa Ruddiman, states that Kheiralla "tarried in Michigan" with her, and explains:

[Kheiralla] gave something of the Bahai message to a very few people in Michigan . . . [but] he was prone to emphasise very strongly the air of mystery, prolonging his preliminary utterances and always referring to remarkable disclosures he was to make when the seekers were qualified therefor.[44]

He states it was to a Mrs. Brainard and Mrs. Ruddiman "that he first imparted that portion of the Bahai message which he had held back mysteriously."[45]

These accounts coincide closely with Louisa Ruddiman's own recollections in a letter written to 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1900. She states that in late 1893 and early 1894 she, and her husband, John, had learned from Kheiralla "a little ... and that little imperfectly."[46] Nevertheless, they both had written letters at that time to 'Abdu'l-Bahá declaring their faith. She said that they were forwarded to 'Abdu'l-Karím-i Tihrání in Egypt, a method of transmission which later became Kheiralla's standard practice.[47] Thornton Chase, one of the first Bahá'ís in Chicago, states that:

No teaching was done by him [Kheiralla] until in [sic] June 1894 [but] there was a lady in Michigan, Mrs. Rudderman [sic], to whom Kheiralla had previously mentioned the coming of a Manifestation in this age, but he had not told her who He was nor where He was. In later years she learned these facts and became an earnest believer.[48]

This account underscores the importance of the Greatest Name in Kheiralla's early teaching — one was not considered a Bahá'í until he or she knew Bahá'u'lláh's name. However, Ruddiman states that Kheiralla told her that she and her husband were the first to receive the complete teachings and the Greatest Name from him. The accounts by Getsinger and Dodge, both of which are based on her oral recollections, also imply this. Although Chase himself corresponded with Ruddiman and probably met her in person, it is likely that, given the variance in these accounts, Chase's construction of these events is based on what he was told by Kheiralla rather than what he had learned from Ruddiman. Kheiralla may have, when teaching the Faith in Chicago, denied that anyone else had been given the Greatest Name, in order to stress the privilege being granted to his students there. For reasons that will be discussed below, he probably downplayed the significance of the teaching he did before he arrived in Chicago.

The accounts of both Getsinger and Dodge suggest that Kheiralla spent an extended period of time at the home of the Ruddimans, and the letter from Louisa Ruddiman mentions that they received instruction from him in 1893 and 1894. His sojourn in Goblesville, therefore, might account for much of his time between October, when he left Grand Rapids, and early January, when he was known to be in Kalamazoo. That he was in Goblesville immediately prior to his visit to Kalamazoo is suggested by articles in local papers about an Egyptian who lectured at the Baptist Church there just after Christmas in 1893.[49]

After leaving the Kalamazoo area, Kheiralla stopped for a week in Dowagiac. Here he stayed in the home of Herbert A. Burch, the local postmaster, whose wife, Adelle, had met Kheiralla at the home of Fannie Hull in Kalamazoo. He gave a parlor lecture on "the philosophies and ideas of the East."[50] Here again it is likely that his lecturing provided an opportunity for him to talk about his religious beliefs, or at least to make contact with persons with whom he would later discuss them. At least one woman who was then residing in Dowagiac seems to have become a Bahá'í in Chicago by 1900.[51]

From Dowagiac, Kheiralla went to Chicago, where he arrived in early February 1894. According to Edward Getsinger, however, he made several trips back and forth between Kalamazoo and Chicago before he finally settled in the city.[52] Here he continued to engage in two of the activities he had begun in Michigan — spiritual healing and lecturing on religion — that brought him into contact with persons interested in alternative healing and the occult, from whose ranks the earliest Chicago Bahá'ís were drawn. According to Dodge, Louisa Ruddiman and Mrs. Brainard came to Chicago and introduced him to persons in the alternative healing and metaphysical networks in the city.

Among those to whom Ruddiman introduced him, Dodge lists a Dr. Dutton — presumably George Dutton, one of the founders of the American Health University. This institution had been founded two years earlier, ostensibly to prepare individuals for citizenship and to educate "teachers in the Science of Health, and the true art of healing . . ,"[53] In practice, it functioned as little more than a diploma mill, dispensing degrees for a fee on the basis of unverified claims to knowledge or training, a practice that probably made him popular among practitioners of alternative medicine and professional lecturers. This university issued an LL.D. degree to Kheiralla on February 10, 1894, less than two weeks after his initial arrival in the city.[54 ] One of the persons who signed this degree, Dr. Rufus Bartlett, later became a prominent member of the Chicago Bahá'í community. Chester I. Thacher, a manufacturer of alternative health devices and a close associate of Bartlett, also came into contact with Kheiralla during his first few months in the city and later became a prominent Bahá'í. According to Dodge, Thacher played a leading role in the early promotion of Kheiralla's lessons in Chicago.

Kheiralla was also introduced to some of the leading occultists in the city, such as Cora L.V. Richmond, a medium of national prominence, and Dr. William R Phelon, a well-known spiritualist. Occultists provided him with opportunities to speak before various groups in Chicago and, according to Dodge, with their help he "became quite effectually introduced and launched upon the public."[55] Getsinger recalls that Kheiralla frequently attended meetings, and made several friends, at the home of another spiritualist, Dr. Francis, where, "night after night they were invoking the spirits for many months . . ."[56] He states that Kheiralla also associated with astrologers in his early months in Chicago.

Kheiralla also seems to have come into contact with a network of liberal Chicago religious leaders not long after his arrival in Chicago. This group included Jenkin Lloyd Jones, a prominent Unitarian minister; William Harper, an Old Testament scholar and the President of the University of Chicago; Charles H. Kerr, owner of a socialist publishing company that also issued religious tracts; and Paul Caurus, editor of the Open Court and the Monist. Some of these men had prominent roles in the Parliament of Religions and The World's Religious Parliament Extension, the latter being a short-lived attempt which was formally launched in early 1895 to have reunions of those who participated in or sympathized with the aims of the Parliament.[57 ] Reverend Jones taught at the University of Chicago Extension, where he would have had contact with Harper, and he was involved with Paul Caurus in the Parliament and Parliament Extension. Caurus was also a close associate of Charles Kerr, and he may have had a role in the series of religious booklets they published. Christophore Jibara had been introduced at the Parliament of Religions by Rev. Jones, and had participated in the Parliament Extension. So he would have been acquainted with several of these men and may have introduced Kheiralla to them.[58] In any event, Harper clearly had heard about Kheiralla by the fall of 1894, because he sought a meeting with Kheiralla in September.[59 ] Although there is no record of their meeting, Kheiralla seems to have been aware of Harper's teachings on the Old Testament. In one of his manuscripts, he mentions "a certain professor and biblical critic" who offered a "course of lectures on Genesis," an apparent reference to Harper, who offered such a course to the public through the University of Chicago Extension.[60]

Although there is no direct documentation of this, it is likely that members of this group provided venues for Kheiralla to give public lectures or other indirect forms of support during his early months in Chicago, as this was characteristic of their relationship with non-traditional religious teachers. They did later provide him with venues for publishing: Charles H. Kerr published some of Kheiralla's teachings under the title Bab-ed-Din in 1897, and Open Court subsequently published his notices and letters.[61]

Early classes, 1894-1895

After several months of association with the metaphysical subculture in Chicago, Kheiralla began to offer his own lessons on occult and religious subjects. Thornton Chase, who was one of his first students and left a number of fragmentary accounts of how the instruction began, frequently cited June 5, 1894, as a date associated with the beginning of the Bahá'í Faith in North America.[62] A document about Kheiralla's teachings with this date on it has recently come to light and is the probable source of this frequently cited date in Chase's writings.[63] Entitled the "First Memorandum," this document, containing certain motifs that would eventually appear in Kheiralla's publications, seems be an outline or summary of an introductory lesson, which may have been circulated to prospective students. However, this is probably not the date of the first class. In a letter to Ahmad Sohrab, Chase states that he himself first met Kheiralla on June 24, 1894, and that William James, the first Chicago Bahá'í and the man who introduced Chase to Kheiralla, had met him only "a few days before then."[64] A class was probably begun not long after this, however, for by July 1894, Kheiralla had decided to settle in the United States, a decision he said was prompted by his "success in teaching."[65]

Getsinger states that the class began with five or six students, while Kheiralla, in an interview conducted in May 1895, stated that he then had about fifteen students.[66 ] It is probably impossible to compile an accurate list of all of the persons who studied with Kheiralla before the spring of 1895, especially of those who did not become Bahá'ís. But it is possible to identify some of them. According to Chase, he and William James were the first two students.[67 ] Getsinger identifies Kate Ives and Marian Miller (Kheiralla) as two of the first students, suggesting that they met Kheiralla even before James and Chase.[68] Others who have been identified as early students include: Edward Dennis, Harriet Walcott, Anna Kendall, Effie Straub, Augusta Linderborg, Sarah Herron, William Hoar, and Charles Greenleaf.[69]

Edward Getsinger, who knew most of Kheiralla's early students, explained that they were "occult students," whom he had met during his association with metaphysical groups.[70] That these students had an interest in metaphysical matters and non-Christian religions is borne out by various sources. According to a history written by Chase, when James met Kheiralla, he had been looking for a Sanskrit teacher "in order to further pursue his search into ancient religious writings."[71] This indicates that he had an interest in Eastern religions. Kheiralla recalls that James once told him that he had come across four different men in Chicago claiming to be the return of Christ, an account that suggests he was well immersed in the metaphysical subculture.[72] Chase himself had studied Swedenborgianism and other religious teachings, while Marian Miller, another of his early students, was interested in New Thought and Theosophy.[73] According to Getsinger, Kheiralla had met Miller and Kate Ives while he was studying astrology and spiritualism.[74]

What was Kheiralla teaching these students? Accounts left by Chase, or by those who heard his oral accounts of these events, invariably state something to the effect that Kheiralla claimed that "God was on earth,"[75] a reference to Bahá'u'lláh. But all sources agree that within his classes he withheld any further explanation of this matter. The letter from Chase that was quoted above demonstrates that he was quite secretive about the names of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá and the location of their residences.

The First Memorandum, possibly the first lesson he gave, makes a number of general points about seeking spiritual truth. Near the beginning it raises questions common in the religious discourse of the time: "Why are we here? Whence? Whither Bound?" This suggests that his lessons were expected to address these central religious questions concerning the purpose of life. Near the end of the document, we find a promise of absolute proof and certainty that is echoed in Kheiralla's later lessons and writings: "When we shall receive the Spirit, we shall know as absolutely as if God took us physically by the hand and spoke atmospheric tones to our physical ears."[76] Dodge and Getsinger emphasise that in subsequent classes Kheiralla focused on occult matters, however, such lessons still may have related to the religious questions mentioned above. For example, one early lesson, which Chase recalled was titled the "journey through the forest," centered around a prayer entitled "The First Commune." Also known as the "Commune of Nine Words," the prayer, probably deliberately, started with a sentence composed of nine words: "O my God! Give me knowledge, faith and love."[77 ] Chase recalled in April 1899, that he had received this prayer almost five years before, so it must have been given in the early months of the class.[78] In this lesson, Kheiralla described life as a journey in which one prepares for the necessities of the next life, a theme also found in the First Memorandum. He argues that knowledge, faith, and love are the necessities of the soul, and are analogous to the physical requirements of food, water, and protection respectively.[79 ] The First Commune includes a line asking God to "grant me an Iron Sight," a term that Kheiralla explained referred to prophetic visions and dreams.[80] Thus, while addressing the issue of the purpose of life, the lesson links this to a method of attaining prophetic dreams, which assumed a central place in his lessons as a critical proof of the teachings he was presenting. It may be that visions were seen as a sign of spirituality and were used as a gauge to measure a seekers worthiness to receive additional teachings. In any case, Kheiralla later claimed that "everyone who studied this science reported, under his own signature, that which he received of wonderful true visions and heard of beautiful things and voices . . . ."[81] He asserted that his students had "received hundreds [of visions] all of which have come to pass,"[82] and promised that "if you practice you will experience the same development . . ,"[83] More than fifty such accounts, some of which allude to the First Commune as the catalyst for their visions, have survived.[84]

Although the early American Bahá'ís believed that the First Commune was written by Bahá'u'lláh, a booklet published under Kheiralla's direction in about 1900, states that it was "arranged from the Texts of Bahá'u'lláh," and Kheiralla later claimed to have written the text himself.[85] Another prayer that Kheiralla presented to his students, entitled "The Second Commune," appears to have been taken from one of the prayers written for use during the Fast,[86] and may have been the first Bahá'í scripture presented to his students. Lecture notes in Kheiralla's hand that may have been used for this class, suggest that he also gave his students Arabic words to recite in order to facilitate the development of mental abilities and spiritual qualities.[87]

Eventually, he told some of his students about a "great Persian sage who claimed to fulfil [sic] all prophecies,"[88 ] but it appears that this information had to be coaxed out of him. Chase describes the teachings as having been "drawn forth by my friend Mr. James, and myself. . ,"[89 ] In notes that appear to have been written by Anton Haddad, it is asserted that Kheiralla's "teaching was brought about thru solicitation of others,"[90] and Haddad asserts elsewhere that those who were interested in the Bahá'í Faith had to "follow him about from place to place with a good deal of persistence and perseverance in finding out all that he knew about Behaism."[91 ] Getsinger makes an even stronger statement: "[Kheiralla] began to teach against his will . . . and was compelled to tell what little he knew [about the Bahá'í Faith]."[92]

Whether he actually gave a presentation about Bahá'u'lláh to the entire group of students remains unclear, but, given his penchant for secrecy, it seems unlikely. It was Kheiralla's practice to interview persons before deciding whether to even accept them as students, and he seems to have evaluated their "worthiness" to receive additional teachings as the lessons went on. After he developed an organized course, for example, he sometimes required persons to stop taking the class and begin again. The final lesson, on the Greatest Name, was given in a special session to which not all students from a class were immediately invited.[93] Thornton Chase later recalled that "when the teachings were first given in this country . . . [those] who accepted had to wait a long time before they got the Greatest Name."[94]

It is likely, therefore, Kheiralla did not tell all of his students about the Faith, although some of them appear to have learned about it from other students, despite his exhortations to keep it secret. Consequently, some Bahá'ís do not show up on Chicago community lists, which were apparently based on lists compiled by Kheiralla,[95 ] until months or years after they are known to have considered themselves Bahá'ís. For example, Edward Getsinger recalls that Lua Moore (Getsinger) and Chester Ira Thacher were already believers when he met them in early 1895; Fannie Lesch recalls that they "received the Message from Ibrahim Kheiralla in the year 1896," probably referring to the time when they completed his course; but they are not listed on community lists until 1897.[96] For this reason it is difficult to construct an accurate chronology of the growth of the Bahá'í group in Chicago. However, it is clear that some of the students accepted the Faith in 1894, and Kheiralla seems to have sent several "supplications" — letters in which the students declared their faith — to 'Abdu'l-Karím-i Tihrání on December 15, 1894, to be forwarded to 'Abdu'l-Bahá.[97]

Getsinger writes that a group of five men and two women became more interested in the Bahá'í Faith than in the other teachings Kheiralla offered, and began to study it with him regularly. He recalls that this took place around 1895, but says that it occurred before any letters were sent to Tihrán, which suggests that it began in 1894. Getsinger states that the group grew to fifteen or twenty persons sometime in 1895.[98]

As Kheiralla's knowledge of the Faith was quite limited, these students began researching the subject themselves. According to an oral tradition in the American Bahá'í community, Thornton Chase conducted research in libraries and discovered the works of Edward G. Browne, the British orientalist.[99] A librarian from the Newberry Library, a major religious library, appears on a list of persons invited to Bahá'í classes in Chicago about 1896 or 1897, suggesting that someone from the Bahá'í group conducted research there. Chase himself recalled that Kheiralla learned of Browne's translation of A Traveller's Narrative soon after he began his teaching.[100] The early Chicago Bahá'ís probably discovered Browne's other publications before the end of 1895, as they were an important source of Bahá'í history and scripture for the classes Kheiralla organized in the fall of that year.

Getsinger states that one of the women in the group, "being a Bible student, began to follow up the prophetic claims of Baha'u'-lláh."[101] Dodge asserts that several of Kheiralla's earliest disciples assisted him in "finding confirmation of the revelation in the prophecies . . ,"[102 ] These assertions are confirmed by the existence, in Kheiralla's papers, of dozens of research notes, clippings, annotated pages from the Bible, and other documents provided by his students that relate to interpretation of the Bible. The existence of similar materials relating to biblical prophecies in the Thornton Chase papers suggests that he contributed to this research.[103]

The contributions of this group were probably not limited to the areas described above. For example, Kheiralla himself relates an incident in which a group of believers brought to his- attention the apparent fulfilment of one of Bahá'u'lláh's prophecies.[104] Getsinger asserts that during this early period, "the meagre teachings were imparted every evening ... by the entire group." Chase acknowledges the role of the group, but argues that Kheiralla's role was more significant, recalling that most of the materials in Kheiralla's course "were collected from Egyptian studies and other sources which he had met in Egypt, and they were improved' from time to time . . . by himself and others."[105] Whatever the precise role of Kheiralla in this process, the collective activities of this study class appear to have contributed significantly to the development of a corpus of beliefs shared by the early Bahá'ís — that the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, and Bahá'u'lláh's family had fulfilled (and were fulfilling) biblical prophecies, and that contemporary events were evidence of the "time of the end."

These beliefs were incorporated into the final lessons of a course for "truth seekers" that Kheiralla began to offer later that year. According to Dodge, Kheiralla formulated these lessons "with the aid of certain friends."[106] Marian Miller, who married Kheiralla in June 1895, almost certainly had a role in the arrangement of this course. Getsinger states that "he [Kheiralla] and his wife had originated and constructed [the lessons] out of their own minds . . ,"[107 ] Rufus Bartlett also hints at a role for Marian Miller in a letter written at a time when Kheiralla and his wife had separated; he writes that Kheiralla's talks were no longer inspirational in "the absence of his intellectual wife and perhaps God's inspiration . . ."[108] The classes were launched in the fall of 1895, shortly after they had returned from an extended honeymoon in England and France, so the lessons may have been formulated or refined during their sojourn in Europe.

The message embodied in this course was critical to the development of the Bahá'í Faith in North America. It provided a much stronger basis for transforming the religious identities of the Americans who embraced the Faith than did the promises of spiritual powers and experiences that Kheiralla had offered as the primary proof of the teachings, even though the latter continued to be important to many of the early American Bahá'ís. The message incorporated a sacred history, in which the events associated with the Bábí and Bahá'í movements were depicted as unique historical events that were linked to biblical prophecies. This imparted meaning to the new Bahá'ís, as they themselves were participants in events that were unique in religious history. It resonated with the Protestant roots of most of the converts. Perhaps even more importantly, it distinguished the Bahá'í message within the metaphysical subculture in which it was spreading by endowing it with an exclusive claim to religious truth. This contrasted with the inclusivist ethos of the metaphysical subculture, which was often reflected in a cyclical view of history.

The teachings offered in Kheiralla's series of classes evolved into a corpus of beliefs around which the boundaries of the Bahá'í community were formed. Those who were not familiar with or had not accepted this new message were not accepted as Bahá'ís, until such time as they formally completed the classes, even if they had been considered Bahá'ís by themselves or others earlier. For example, Louisa Ruddiman, whose conversion is documented above, does not appear on any of the Bahá'í lists compiled by Chicago Bahá'ís. Anton Haddad, who was exposed to the Bahá'í teachings with Kheiralla in Egypt before 1892, and whose affiliation with the Faith is suggested by his pilgrimage to 'Akká in 1897, is not listed as a Bahá'í until after he attended the course in New York in 1897. Marion Browne, whom Kheiralla himself recalls was converted in England in 1895, is not listed until 1897, when she apparently was able to attend the course during a visit to the United States.

These classes were to become a far more effective means for achieving conversions than the methods which Kheiralla had previously used. Within a year, interest in the classes in Chicago had grown so dramatically that Frederick O. Pease, who attended the classes in the Fall of 1896, recalled that the classes were so crowded with "earnest seekers for Truth" that "there was scarcely standing room."[109] Thornton Chase observed that "in 1896, the followers of the Bahai Cause in Chicago were numbered by hundreds."[110 ] In 1897, Kheiralla and other Bahá'ís from Chicago began offering the classes in other localities, leading to formation of organized Bahá'í communities in New York, Kenosha, and Cincinnati. Smaller Bahá'í groups were formed in numerous other urban centers by 1900, by which time the Bahá'í Faith was firmly established in North America.


In the years that followed the launching of Kheiralla's classes, there were undoubtedly many discussions among the Chicago Bahá'ís about the beginnings of the Bahá'í teaching in that city. The tendency in any social group is to construct, through informal discussion, an agreed-upon "official" history, the primary function of which is to explain the current situation rather than to chronicle past events. Thus we would expect the accounts of Chicago Bahá'ís that evolved in the mid- and late 1890s to explain the leading place that Kheiralla had assumed in the Bahá'í community by emphasizing his role in the development of the classes. We might also expect them to legitimize the message by minimizing its evolution, and by linking it to Bahá'í scriptures. Or, linking it to oral teachings circulated by knowledgeable Eastern Bahá'í teachers. This, in fact, conforms closely to Kheiralla's own accounts, which also is to be expected, since he would have been one of the persons who contributed heavily to such an agreed-upon history through interaction with the early Chicago Bahá'ís. After Kheiralla defected from 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1900, and some of the teachings that he endorsed were discredited, parts of this version of events continued to be useful. They could be used to explain the new situation: Kheiralla had defected because his incorrect teachings had been rejected by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and he refused to change them. Moreover, the construction of Kheiralla as a great figure allowed his story to be a more powerful object-lesson about the importance of humility and submission.

However, there are many possible ways of constructing a history that would achieve some of these same ends. Edward Getsinger and Arthur Dodge, whose accounts I have relied heavily upon here, had first- and second-hand knowledge of many of the early events described here. But, [n]either was closely associated with the Chicago Bahá'í community, especially after 1895. Consequently their narratives deviate in significant ways from the accounts of Thornton Chase and other Chicago Bahá'ís. Written after the defection of Kheiralla, the narratives of Getsinger and Dodge explain his diminished station by minimizing his role in the beginnings of the community and by linking his teachings to non-Bahá'í sources. These, along with accounts by Anton Haddad, represent a second historical tradition that appears to have evolved at the time of Kheiralla's defection among those who were prominent in opposing him. These different accounts are not generally contradictory, but they differ in the information that they select to include and the significance they attribute to various events.

I have drawn upon both these traditions, as well as a variety of other sources, to analyze the events leading to the establishment of the American Bahá'í community. As has been demonstrated here, the Bahá'í Faith was first introduced in the United States in 1893-1894, and there were some Bahá'í converts during this period. However, the construction of an American Bahá'í message in 1894-1895, was a critical process without which the later spread of the Faith probably would not have occurred as it did. This message provided the intellectual underpinnings for Bahá'í identities, while its acceptance by a group of converts in Chicago provided the social network within which Bahá'í identities were socially constructed. None of the early converts, nor Kheiralla himself, appears to have had a distinct Bahá'í identity until after this message was developed and after this network of believers had emerged. This explains the reason why the Bahá'í status of Louisa Ruddiman, who had accepted the Faith before the construction of this message and who was never a part of the Chicago Bahá'í community, was so ambiguous.

As the person who first introduced the Bahá'í Faith in North America, Kheiralla obviously had a critical role in the chain of events that led to its spread in the region. He played a prominent role in the spread of the Faith to several towns and cities in the late 1890s. Yet his early efforts to spread the religion had very limited success. Without the formulation of a more Americanized message, it is doubtful that this would have changed. Westerners played a significant role in this process and in the preparation of lessons to present this message — just as they later did in the teaching of the classes, the organization of communities, and the mobilization of resources to spread the Faith.

Consequently, once the Bahá'í Faith was introduced, the role of Ibrahim Kheiralla was less critical than has been hitherto assumed. The spread of the Bahá'í Faith in the 1890s should be seen, to a large extent, as a home-grown movement in which Americans themselves teased out the meaning of the Bahá'í Faith in an American context and shared it with their compatriots. The Americans who became Bahá'ís may have embraced what was seen as an Eastern religion whose leading American proponent was an Easterner, but the message they accepted and the community that they created were fully American. This fact largely accounts for the comparative success of the movement in the 1890s.


    Richard Hollinger holds Masters degrees in Middle Eastern History and Public History/Historic Preservation, and is completing a Ph.D. in Archival Science. He is a professional archivist currently working at the University of Maine.
  1. Jackson Armstrong-Ingram, "Early Irish Bahá'ís: Issues of Religious, Cultural, and National Identity," Research Notes in Shaykhi, Babi and Bahai Studies, Vol. 2, no. 8 (July 1998).
  2. Henry Jessup, Fifty-Three Years in Syria (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1910) p. 638. Nabiha Schehab, "Revelation to my father I.G. Kheiralla," Kheiralla/Saleeby Family Papers, Box 10, folder 10, Afsharian Library.
  3. Labiba Saleeby Memoirs, 1948, Kheiralla/Saleeby Family Papers. Suliman, E. M. "Editorial," in Muslim Digest, Vol. 9, no. 11 (June 1959) pp. 2-3 (a biography of George Kheirallah). George Kheiralla was briefly affiliated with the Chicago Bahá'í community, but in the early 1900s joined a Protestant church, and later embraced Islam. Nabiha (Kheiralla) Schehab and Labiba (Kheiralla) Saleeby, Kheiralla's daughters, remained Bahá'ís for the rest of their lives.
  4. Anton Haddad, "An Outline of the Bahai Movement in the United States," p. 1. Phoebe Hearst Papers, Bancroft Library, Berkeley, California.
  5. Haddad, "An Outline," p. 2; Labiba Saleeby memoirs (1948); Kheiralla, O Christians! Why do ye Believe not on Christ? (Chicago: n.p., 1917) p. 2.
  6. Haddad, "An Outline," p. 2.
  7. [Edward Getsinger], "The Early History of the Bahai Movement in the U.S.," Albert Windust Papers, Box 16, folder 3, Bahá'í National Archives, p. 1.
  8. Haddad, "An Outline," p. 2.
  9. Haddad, "An Outline, p. 2. Kheiralla, The Three Questions, p. 23.
  10. Kheiralla, Beha U'llah (Chicago, 1900) pp. vii-viii.
  11. Kheiralla, Beha U'llah, pp. vii-viii.
  12. I. G. Kheiralla, "This is Their Creed," Kenosha Daily Gazette, November 17, 1900. Bahá'u'lláh's tablet in response to Kheiralla's letter appears in Beha U'llah, p. 544.
  13. Labiba Saleeby memoirs (1948).
  14. Haddad, "An Outline," p. 3.
  15. [Edward Getsinger], "The Early History of the Bahai Movement," p. 2.
  16. Haddad, "An Outline," p. 2.
  17. Bill for Divorce, p. 11.
  18. "Fatih-i amrika va intishar-i din-i Bahá'í dar anjahat," (ms.) Bahá'í World Centre Library; Kheiralla, O Christians, pp. 166-167; Kheiralla, Beha U'llah, p. vii; M. J. Qazvini, A Brief History of Bahá'u'lláh ('Akká, 1914) p. 79; Edward G. Browne, Materials for the Study of the Babi Religion (Cambridge University Press, 1918) p. 95.
  19. Ibrahim Kheiralla, O Christians, p. 166.
  20. Christophore Jibara, Unity in Faiths and Harmony in Religions (New York: Acton Publishing Company, 1893); Henry Jessup, "Babism and the Babites," The Missionary Review of the World, Vol. 2, no. 3 (October 1902) p. 773.
  21. Neely's History of the Parliament of Religions and Religious Conferences at the Columbian Exposition (Chicago: Frank Tennyson Neely) pp. 699-700; M. Trumbull, "The Parliament of Religions," The Monist, Vol. 4, no. 3 (April 1894) pp. 352-52.
  22. Tom Fenante (Archivist of The General Theological Seminary) to the author, June 28, 1993. Journal of the Proceedings of the Bishops, Clergy and Laity of the Protestant Episcopal Church 1896, p. 558. [Petoskey] The Daily Resorter, July 1893, p. 1; The Daily Resorter, August 12, 1893, p. 5; Petoskey Record, August 1893, p. 1.
  23. Kheiralla, O Christians, p. 166. Kheiralla identifies him as Dean Hoffman of "Chelsea Square," which was actually the location of the seminary. Hoffman's personal collection of Egyptian funerary relics and artifacts is held by St. Marks Library, General Theological Seminary.
  24. Kheiralla, O Christians, p. 166.
  25. Kheiralla, O Christians', "Dahrouge and Kheiralla," (advertisement) Petoskey Record, September 6, 1893.
  26. Rev. D. S. Tuttle, Reminiscences of a Missionary Bishop (New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1906) p. v.
  27. [Petoskey] The Daily Resorter, August 16, 1893, p. 1; The Michigan State 
Gazetteer and Business Directory 1893-94 (Detroit: R. L. Polk, 1894) p. 790.
  28. [Petoskey] The Daily Resorter, August 12, 1893, p. 5; "Local and Personal Notes," Petoskey Record, September 13, 1893, p. 5.
  29. "Macinac Gossip," The Daily Resorter, August 21, 1893; "Citizens of the Fairly Island Greet the City of Macinac," The Daily Resorter, August 23, 1893; "Our Folks, Your Folks, and Other Folks," The Daily Resorter, September 9, 1893; "Local and Personal Notes," Petoskey Record, September 13, 1893, p. 5.
  30. "List of papers in tin box," attached to James Bixby to Frederick O. Pease, July 13, 1901; Kheiralla/Saleeby Family Papers, Box 2, Folder 55. This document is a list of Kheiralla's personal papers, which he had loaned to James Bixby. Among the items listed is "Introductions as Lecturer and selling Oriental goods '93-'94."
  31. "The Life of a Mohamedan," Grand Rapids Democrat, October 13, 1893, p. 5. "List of papers in a tin box," mentions copyright papers for a work with this title, the registration for which would have required a written document.
  32. "The Life of a Mohammedan," Grand Rapids Democrat, October 13, 1893, p. 5; "Brief Paragraphs," Grand Rapids Democrat, October 19, 1893, p. 6; "Todays Services," October 22, 1893; "Brief Paragraphs," Grand Rapids Democrat, p. 5; "City and Suburbs," Grand Rapids Evening Press, p. 4.
  33. Protestant Episcopal Almanac 1893 (New York: Thomas Whittacker, 1892) p. 209; "Grand Rapids," Unity, September 15, 1893, p. 23.
  34. "List of papers in tin box," mentions letters from "W. S. Gunn." The company, "William S. Gunn & Son," in listed in the Michigan State Gazateer, 1897-1898, p. 860.
  35. "Persons to be notified of classes," Society of Behaist Records. "Supplication Lists (microfilm), Bahá'í National Archives. Miss Rudah is listed on the supplication for Michigan in 1897, with no city of residence given; she is listed as a resident of Grand Rapids on the other list.
  36. "Additional Locals," Dowagiac Times, February 1, 1894, p. 8.
  37. "Town Topics" Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph January 17, 1894, p. 5; Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, November 23, 1893 p. 1. 1900 Census Record for Kalamazoo, Michigan, vol. 36, Enumeration District 116, Sheet 3, line 25; F Coveys Kalamazoo City Directory (Kalamazoo, 1895) entry for "Fannie Hull."
  38. Getsinger, "Review," Chapter II.
  39. "Town Topics," Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, January 15, 1894, p. 6; "Town Topics," Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, January 17, 1894, p. 6.
  40. "List of persons to be notified of the classes."
  41. Louisa Ruddiman to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, May 6, 1900, cited in Bahá'í World Centre Archives Office to the author, June 25, 1991. "Review of E. C. Getsinger of his entering into the light of Bahá'u'lláh, and his experiences, given in brief form," p. 7, Ahmad Sohrab Papers (unprocessed), National Bahá'í Archives. Arthur P. Dodge, "The Bahá'í Revelation in the United States of America," Ahmad Sohrab Papers. Thornton Chase to M. Ahmad Sohrab, April 5, 1909 (copy provided to the author by Robert Stockman). The account by Arthur Dodge also mentions a Mrs. Brainard who received the Bahá'í teachings about the same time as Mrs. Ruddiman.
  42. It has been possible to glean the following information about the Ruddiman family from census records: Louisa Ruddiman, who was a native of Michigan, was then fifty years old, and had been married to John for three years; they had no children. John, who was then forty-three, was also born in Michigan, and his parents were Scottish immigrants. Eliza Church, of German descent, was born in Canada in 1821, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1849. Her husband, born in New York, was a veteran of the Civil War, and together they had five children. See 1900 Census, Van Buren County, Pine Grove Township, Michigan. Vol. 74, E.D. 150, Sheet 14, Line 66. 1910 Census, Van Buren County, Michigan,. E.D. 169, sheet 7, lines 166-169. Special Census Schedule "Surviving Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines and Widow, etc." Michigan, Van Buren County, S.D. 4, E.D. 292, p. 7.
  43. Edward Getsinger, untitled memoirs, Chapter II, Ahmad Sohrab Papers.
  44. Arthur P. Dodge, "The Bahai Revelation in the United States of America," Ahmad Sohrab Papers. Although the document is undated, it accompanied a letter from Dodge dated July 12, 1909.
  45. Ibid.
  46. Louisa Ruddiman to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, May 6, 1900.
  47. Bahá'í World Centre Archives Office to the author, June 25, 1991 and August 4, 1991. 'Abdu'l-Karím-i Tihrání to Ibrahim Kheiralla, July 20, 1897 and July 7, 1898; Kheiralla/Saleeby papers, box 1, folder 28; and Ahmad Yazdi to Ibrahim Kheiralla, 7 Rabiu'l-thani 1317 a.h. (August 15, 1899), Kheiralla/Saleeby Papers.
  48. Thornton Chase to Ahmad Sohrab, April 5, 1909, Ahmad Sohrab Papers. I am grateful to Robert Stockman for providing me with a copy of this letter.
  49. "Goblesville," Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, December 26, 1893, p. 2. "Goblesville, Kalamazoo Weekly Gazette, December 27, 1893, p. 5.
  50. "Additional Locals," Dowagiac Times, February 1, 1894, p. 8; Kalamazoo Gazette, January 16, 1894; Michigan State Gazateer, 1897-1898, p. 724.
  51. Minerva Stahl is mentioned as a local resident in Dowagiac Times, February 8, 1894, p. 5, and is listed as a member of the Society of Behaists, a group formed by Kheiralla after he defected from 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1900. See Constitution of the Society of Behaists, Society of Behaists Records, Afsharian Library.
  52. Edward Getsinger, "Review of E. C. Getsinger of his entering into the Light of Bahá'u'lláh, and his experiences, given in brief form," chapter I, p. 6.; and chapter II, Ahmad Sohrab Papers, National Bahá'í Archives.
  53. Certificate of Incorporation No. 25438, dated June 24, 1892, box 593, Illinois State Archives. Degree from Universitas Saliitis Americana, dated February 10, 1894, Kheiralla/Saleeby Papers, box 4, folder 1.
  54. LL.D. degree from Universitas Saliitas Americana.
  55. Dodge, "The Bahai Revelation in the United States of America," [not paginated].
  56. Getsinger, "Review," Chapter II.
  57. Paul Carus, The Dawn of a New Religious Era and Other Essays (Chicago: Open Court, 1916) p. 19. Charles Bonney, "The World's Parliament of Religions," The Monist, Vol. 5, no. 3, (April 1895) pp. 322, 339-40, 345.
  58. Charles Bonney, "The World's Parliament of Religions," The Monist, Vol. 5, no. 3 (April 1895) pp. 322, 339; Paul Carus, "The World's Religious Parliament Extension," The Monist, Vol. 5, no. 3 (April 1895) p. 345; John Henry Barrows, The Christian Conquest of Asia: Studies and Personal Observations of Oriental Religions (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1899) p. 137; Henry Jessup, Fifty-Three Years in Syria, p. 637.
  59. William Harper to Ibrahim Kheiralla, September 5, 1894, Kheiralla/Saleeby Papers.
  60. Kheiralla, "Adam," Kheiralla/Saleeby Papers, Box 7, folder 15.
  61. Interview with Franklin Rosemont of the Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, conducted in April 1985. Rosemont's statement is based on research in the company archives, which are not available to the public.
  62. See Robert Stockman, The Bahá'í Faith in America: Origins 1892-1900, Vol. 1 (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1985) p. 36.
  63. "Copy of the First Memoranda," Ahmad Sohrab Papers. In 1909, Chase was providing Sohrab with information and documents for a history he was writing of the Bahá'í Faith in North America, so it seems likely that this document originated in the Chase Papers. See Thornton Chase to Ahmad Sohrab April 5, 1909 and June 9, 1910, Ahmad Sohrab Papers.
  64. Thornton Chase to Ahmad Sohrab, April 5, 1909, Ahmad Sohrab Papers.
  65. 'Abdu'l-Karim-i Tihrání to Ibrahim Kheiralla, 14 Safar 1312 a.h. (25 August, 1894), Kheiralla/Saleeby Papers. This letter mentions that Kheiralla had informed Tihrání of his intention to remain in the U.S. and divorce his Egyptian wife. Kheiralla is listed as one of those petitioning for citizenship under the date July 4, 1894, in "Index to Declaration Intention, 1894-1899," Cook County Archives. However, the earliest extent document relating to his naturalization is dated October 16, 1894, the day on which he appeared in court to renounce his allegiance to other sovereigns. See case #26629, Cook County Circuit Court. It is likely that some preliminary document, not regarded as an official legal document, was submitted on July 4, 1894, and subsequently discarded.
  66. "Review of E. C. Getsinger, of his entering into the Light of Bahá'u'lláh, and his experiences, given in brief form," Chapter I, p. 9. Bill for Divorce, p. 11.
  67. Thornton Chase to Ahmad Sohrab, April 5, 1909.
  68. Getsinger, "Review," p. 9.
  69. O Christians, p. 167 lists James, Dennis, Walcott, Kendall, Dodge, Straub, and Linderborg (I have corrected the spellings of the names in this list, and added the first names using the Chicago Membership Book). Dodge, "Bahai Revelation," p. 4, lists Chase, Greenleaf, Miller, Herron, Hoar, and Ives. Chase to Sohrab, April 5, 1909, lists James, Chase, Dennis, Miller, Hoar, and Ives as the first converts. Fadil Mazandarání, whose informants may have included Getsinger and Ives, lists Chase, Ives, Miller, Hoar, and Frederick O. Pease as the first converts (Tarikh-i Zuhuru 'l-Haqq, Vol. 8, part 2, Tehran, 132 B.E., p. 1186). However, Pease himself says he became a Bahá'í in December 1896 ("Dr. Ibrahim G. Kheiralla. A Biographical Sketch," The Occult Truth Seeker, Vol. II, no. 2 [July 1902] p. 27). The Chicago Supplication Book lists James, Miller, Dennis, and Chase as converts in 1894.
  70. "The Early History of the Bahai Movement in the U.S.," p. 2.
  71. Thornton Chase, "A Brief History of the American Development of the Bahai Movement," Star of the West, Vol. 5 (January 19, 1915) p. 263. Stockman (p. 35) interprets this as referring Chase himself, but this not the obvious reading of this text. That this, in fact, refers to James is suggested by the fact that the first Bahá'í in Chicago (James) was referred to in a newspaper article as a "Sanskrit bookworm." (See "After a New God," Cincinnati Enquirer, September 10, 1899, p. 1) This would seem to suggest that James had some involvement in Theosophy or Buddhism, but it is possible that his interest in Sanskrit was generated by a lecture on the "Sanskrit Bible" that was delivered at St. Paul's Universalist Church in early June (see Chicago Tribune, June 3, 1894, p. 15).
  72. Kheiralla, untitled typescript, Kheiralla/Saleeby Papers.
  73. Stockman, The Bahá'í Faith, p. 33.
  74. Getsinger, "Review," p. 9.
  75. Williard Hatch to Mrs. Stilson, n.d., Records of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Bahá'í Archives. Hatch states that this account was given to him by Chase shortly before his death.
  76. "Copy of the First Memorandum," Ahmad Sohrab Papers. This entire quote is in quotation marks in the original document and the underlining is also from the original text.
  77. Thornton Chase, "The First Commune," (a commentary on the prayer) p. 1, Thornton Chase Papers.
  78. Chase to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, April 21, 1899, Thornton Chase Papers.
  79. Chase, "The First Commune," pp. 2-6.
  80. Kheiralla, "Prayer" p. 11, Kheiralla/Saleeby Papers.
  81. "The Three Communicative Senses — The Sense of Motion," p. 8.
  82. "Prayer" p. 11. This document, a section of a typescript of Kheiralla's book, Beha U'llah, refers to a chapter "on the visions of our people," which was not included in the published version of the work.
  83. Kheiralla, "The Three Communicative Senses — The Sense of Motion," p. 8.
  84. These are in the papers of John and Louise Bosch and Albert Windust, in the U.S. National Bahá'í Archives.
  85. Behai Principles, Prayers, Supplications, Directions, and Communes [n.p., n.d.] not paginated.
  86. Isabella Brittingham reported that' Abdu'l-Bahá identified at least the first section of Second Commune as being taken from the "Prayer of the Dawn." See her pilgrim's notes for September 1901, p.5, in the Spiritual Assembly of Racine Records, Box 2, National Bahá'í Archives. The first paragraph of the Second Commune reads: "I beg of Thee, Most High is They Name, — by that Letter, which when it was pronounced by the Mouth of Thy Will, the seas moved, the winds did blow, the fruits appeared, the trees began to thrive, the traces were destroyed, the Curtains torn asunder, and the faithful hurried to the lights of the face of their Selected God, — to teach me what is hidden in the treasure is of Thine Understanding and secluded in the stores of Thy Knowledge." (Kheiralla/Saleeby Papers). The tenth paragraph of the Dawn Prayer for the Fast begins: "I beseech Thee, O my God, by that Letter which, as soon as it proceeded from the mouth of Thy will, hath caused the oceans to surge, and the winds to blow, and the fruits to be revealed, and the trees to spring forth, and all past traces to vanish, and all veils to be rent asunder, and them who are devoted to Three to hasten unto the light of the countenance of their Lord, the Unconstrained, to make known unto me what lay hid in the treasure is of Thy knowledge and concealed within the repositories of Thy wisdom." Bahá'í Prayers for Special Occasions (London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1975) p. 21. The second paragraph of the Second Commune bears an equal similarity to the remainder of the tenth paragraph of this prayer.
  87. Lecture notes, Kheiralla/Saleeby Papers.
  88. "The Early History of the Bahai Movement in the U.S.," p. 2.
  89. Thornton Chase to Ahmad Sohrab, April 5, 1909.
  90. Untitled notes on the letterhead of the Union Mutual Life Insurance Company, Ahmad Sohrab Papers. This is probably Thornton Chase's stationary, but the notes do not appear to be in his hand, and the themes are similar to contemporary documents authored by Haddad.
  91. Haddad, "An Outline," pp. 7-8.
  92. Getsinger, "Review," Chapter IV, pp. 9-10.
  93. After Bahá'is other than Kheiralla began teaching classes, it seems to have become customary for all students who had written supplications to be given the Greatest Name (See the Historical Record Card for John Osenbaugh, National Bahá'í Archives). However, Kheiralla seems to have treated this more as a privilege. See, for example, Fannie Lesch to "My dear Brother in Faith," August 23, 1899, Portland Bahá'í Archives. The recipient of this letter had been waiting for some time for his name to appear on a list of those who had been approved to receive the Greatest Name.
  94. "Extract from a report of a meeting held at Mrs. Bryant's," March 11, 1904 (TS), Ella Cooper Papers, San Francisco Bahá'í Archives. It is clear that many persons did not receive the Greatest Name until well after they had accepted the Bahá'í Faith, but without knowing the actual dates on which they wrote their supplications, it is difficult to determine how long they normally waited. I have been able to do this in only one instance: Mattie Keith wrote his supplication on October 28, 1897 and received the Greatest Name approximately three months later on January 20, 1898. (See Mattie Keith to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, 28 October 1897, International Bahá'í Archives; and Chicago Bahá'í Membership Book, House of Spirituality Papers.)
  95. It became customary to maintain separate lists of those persons who had written supplications and for those who had received the Greatest Name (Isabella Brittingham to Maude Lamson, June 6, 1898; Lua Getsinger to Maude Lamson, February 3, 1898, Maude Lamson Papers, National Bahá'í Archives). Such lists for communities other than Chicago can be found in the Spiritual Assembly of Kenosha Records and the Kheiralla/Saleeby Family Papers. No lists for the Chicago Bahá'í Community for the period under discussion here have yet come to light, and there is a strong likelihood that no such lists were maintained before 1896. The Supplication list in the National Bahá'í Archives, which includes a book for Chicago, appears to have been collated in 1899, from one or more of these lists, as it lists the names of those who wrote supplications and a check mark appears beside the names of those who had received the Greatest Name. The Chicago Membership Book, on the other hand, is a list Bahá'ís in Chicago initially composed in 1897, around the time of the community's organization. This is a list of those who were members of the Chicago Bahá'í community, and may not have included all persons in Chicago who had accepted the Faith.
  96. Edward Getsinger's notes on the back of his photograph, and the "Publicity Questionnaire" for Getsinger in the Los Angeles Bahá'í Archives; Fannie Lesch, "Dr. Chester I. Thacher," Albert Windust Papers, National Bahá'í Archives; Supplication Book-Chicago, National Bahá'í Archives; Chicago Bahá'í Membership Book, House of Spirituality Papers.
  97. 'Abdu'l-Karim-i Tihrání to Ibrahim Kheiralla [April 1895] translated in "Bill for Divorce," pp. 8-9. Although the original letter is listed as Exhibit C of this document, only the envelope in which it was sent, which is postmarked April 1895, has survived. The translation includes an acknowledgment of a letter dated 15 December 1894, which was accompanied by "many letters" that Tihrání says he forwarded for him. This acknowledgment is followed by the statement: "We ask God to that he will confirm all the people . . ." (p. 9) Although this is not direct evidence that supplications were sent to Tihrání on this date, it is known that Kheiralla sent such documents to him to be forwarded to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and the phrase translated here is characteristic of those employed when he acknowledged receipt of these letters.
  98. "The Early History of the Bahai Movement," p. 2. Getsinger first came into contact with the Bahá'ís in Chicago in the January 1895, and would not have had first hand knowledge of the formation of this group, but probably is signifying that it was formed before he made contact with it.
  99. Robert H. Stockman, The Bahá'í Faith in America, p. 34.
  100. Thornton Chase to Myron Phelps, December 19, 1903, Thornton Chase Papers, cited in Stockman, The Bahá'í Faith in America, p. 211, footnote 15.
  101. Getsinger, "Early History," p. 2
  102. "The Bahai Revelation in the United States of America," p. 3.
  103. Research Notes, Klieiralla/Saleeby Family Papers, Box 8, folder 13-14.1 have not been able to identify the handwriting found in these materials, but they are not in the hand of Ibrahim Kheiralla or his wife, Marian Miller Kheiralla. The materials are no longer extent in the Chase Papers, however, Robert Stockman reports that Helen Bishop described "sheets of biblical prophecies" she had seen in the these papers when they were in the hands of John and Louise Bosch that "dated back to the 'very early days.'" (Robert Stockman, "Love's Odyssey-The Life of Thornton Chase" (typescript) Chapter 11, p. 16, footnote 16.) This writer was informed by the late Harlan Jones that the Bosches removed from Chase's papers those materials that related to Ibrahim Kheiralla. Some materials that are in the Bosch Papers, such as the accounts of visions written by early Chicago Bahá'ís, appear to have been part of the Chase Papers, so the materials Bishop described may also be there.
  104. Ibrahim Kheiralla, "Dreams" (typescript), Kheiralla/Saleeby Papers.
  105. Thornton Chase to Ahmad Sohrab, June 9, 1910, Ahmad Sohrab Papers.
  106. Dodge, "The Bahai Revelation," p. 4.
  107. Getsinger, "Review", Chapter I, p26
  108. Rums Bartlett to Lua and Edward Getsinger, August 9, 1899, typescript copy in private hands.
  109. Frederick O. Pease, "Dr. Ibrahim G. Kheiralla. A Biographical Sketch," The Occult Truth Seeker, Vol II, no. 2 (July 1902) p. 27.
  110. Thornton Chase, "A Brief History of the American Development of the Bahai Movement," Albert Windust Papers, Box 15, folder 59.
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