Agnes Alexander: 70 years of service
The first in a three-part series on the life of the Hand of the Cause of God
Agnes Baldwin Alexander. Originally published in October 1983 Bahá’í News.
"Had this respected daughter founded an empire, that empire would not have been so great! For this sovereignty is eternal sovereignty and this glory everlasting glory."
— 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, pp. 13-14.
In May 1832 a young missionary couple strained at the horizon for their first glimpse of land in months. Out of the sapphire deeps arose "the loveliest fleet of islands that lies anchored in the ocean" the Kingdom of Hawaii.
In time the family of these newly-weds would become synonymous with the establishment of Christianity in Hawaii. Here they would raise nine children. And among their many grandchildren would appear a timid, sickly child who would in time be praised by 'Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice. She would become the first Bahá'í of Hawaii and the Pacific.
Agnes Baldwin Alexander was born July 21, 1875, during the reign of King David Kalakaua (1874-91), the youngest of five children born to Professor William DeWitt and Abigail Charlotte Alexander.1
By Agnes' own account, she was raised a Christian. "My father and mother were real Christians," she said. "And we always had family prayers every day. But I felt that something was wrong with me, because Christ said we must be born again, and I had never experienced anything like that. So I thought something was wrong with me. It didn't trouble my friends or my sister."2
Shy and sensitive, Agnes was more at ease with cats or horses than with people. Some of her happiest childhood memories were of summer stays with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry on the neighboring island of Maui. There she would ride on horseback into lush tropical valleys, inhaling the balmy air and listening to the distant surf boom against the white sand beaches. But her heart was never completely at rest, for she had not been "born again."
In 1890 she was graduated from Punahou School, the oldest college preparatory school west of the Rockies. That fall she entered Oahu College, graduating in a class of seven students in 1895. Her graduation essay, "Our Poor Relations," urged fellow Christians to show kindness toward animals.
From 1895 to 1897 Agnes studied education at the University of California at Berkeley and at Oberlin College in Ohio. But she did not take a degree. Instead, she returned home to Honolulu where she lived with her parents and her sister, Mary Charlotte (1874-1961). For the next two years (1898-1900) Agnes taught elementary school at her alma mater.
The turning point in her life came in May 1900. A party of islanders was going on a tour of the mainland U.S. and Europe. Although she was not well, and her mother felt she was "hardly strong enough" for "such a rushing trip,"3Agnes wanted badly to go. But who would buy the ticket? At this point kindly Aunt Em and Uncle Henry intervened with words of encouragement and a steamship ticket.
The journey did not begin auspiciously. Upon arriving in England, Agnes learned that her youngest brother, Henry (1868-1900), chronically ill since childhood, had died some days before in Napa, California. She wrote home: "We should all rejoice that Henry is at rest and living in paradise . . ."4
By October 1900 Agnes had visited England, France and Switzerland and was en route to Rome, the "eternal city." As the train approached Rome, she later wrote, "a thrill passed through me, as though I had attained my goal."5 While staying at a pension, she felt herself irresistably drawn to a radiant American woman, Mrs. Charlotte Dixon, and her two daughters.
Overcoming her shyness, Agnes approached Mrs. Dixon in the elevator. Taking the woman's hand, she asked her "what it was she had." Mrs. Dixon invited Agnes to meet her in the back parlor after supper. "That evening, as I sat listening to her," Agnes said later,
"my heart was touched and tears came to my eyes. She gave me a prayer copied in longhand, for printed Bahá'í literature was then very scarce. The prayer seemed to answer all the longings of my heart. After that we met for three successive evenings. She was endeavoring to prepare me for something which was to come, but did not tell me of the Coming of the Promised One. In those early days of the Cause in America the Bahá'í Message was considered too great to be conveyed at once. As teachers were few, God revealed His Message in strange and wonderful ways. The third evening after meeting with Mrs. Dixon, when I retired to my room, sleep did not come.
"That night (November 26, 1900) an overwhelming realization came to me, which was neither a dream nor vision, that Christ had come on the earth. When morning came, I met Mrs. Dixon as she came from breakfast, and together we entered my room. There I turned to her and said, 'Christ is on this earth!' She replied, 'Yes, I can see by your face that you know it.' In a Tablet which I later received from 'Abdu’l-Baha, He wrote: 'By God, the Truth, the Spirit of Christ from the Supreme Concourse doth in every time and aspect announce to thee this Great Good News.'"
The Dixons cautioned Agnes to "tell only the thirsty" but she felt that such wondrous news must be told to everyone.7
After the Dixons left Rome, Agnes did not meet another Bahá'í for three months. One Sunday she attended church services with her Italian cousins, and afterward told the minister about 'Abdu’l-Baha. He took up the Bible and read to her from the Scriptures to show her that she was misled. Agnes said, "As I did not know the interpretation myself, I could not answer him. In my heart though, I had the assurance I was right."8
Taking God for her Teacher, Agnes bought a Bible. Before reading she prayed for understanding. "Little by little the prophecies of the coming of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá were unfolded to me."
At last she felt she must find others who believed as she did. It was then that she found the address of a Bahá'í in Paris that Mrs. Dixon had given her. "From the depths of my longing heart I wrote," she later recalled, "asking if she could tell me more of the wonderful Message. The heavenly letter which came in reply was so permeated with divine love that my heart was filled with assurance."9
January 28, 1901
"My precious Sister!
"Praise be to God that He has enlightened your heart in these wonderful days of the Coming of His Kingdom, and that He has in His Mercy guided you to the Truth.
"Please God we may soon welcome you in our midst in Paris and that you may then receive the full Revelation, and much help and instruction. . . .
"My Lord appeared to me in a vision twice, two years before I heard the Great Message, and when, by the great bounty of God, and without regard to my unworthiness, I was permitted to be among the first Americans to visit 'Akká I beheld my dear Lord, I knew Him by my visions. . . .
"I feel by your beautiful letter that God has chosen you to be a servant in His blessed Vineyard, and that you will be greatly blessed.
"I am longing with great love to see you, to greet you in the Truth, that you may enter with your brothers and sisters in this city into the full joy and peace. . . .
"I am your loving and devoted sister in the love and service of our Lord.
(signed) May Ellis Bolles"10
Agnes traveled alone to Paris, arriving March 14, 1901. She quickly made her way to 100 rue de Bac and anxiously knocked on the door. A woman answered. Agnes embraced her warmly, thinking she was May, but the woman did not respond. The awkward silence that followed was at last broken by a statement to this effect: "I think you want to see my daughter."11
Meeting May Bolles was one of Agnes' most precious memories. "From that day she became my spiritual mother, and through all the years her tender mother love" became "a guiding star in my life."12
May "was then very slender and seemed like an angel of light. She gave me some pressed violets which had been given to her by the Master in 'Akká, and a photograph taken of Him when He was a young man . . .The feelings which came over me as I gazed on the photograph cannot be described in it I beheld my Lord."13
The first time Agnes entered the studio where the Bahá'ís of Paris14gathered, someone asked, "Is she a believer?" Another replied, "Look at her face!" "As I looked around the room," Agnes said, "I saw the same look of peace and light on the faces. They had found their Lord and were at rest . . .Such an atmosphere of pure light pervaded the Paris meetings that one was transported, as it were, from the world of man to that of God."15
One of the great blessings of her stay in Paris was the coming of Mirzá 'Abu'l-Fadl, sent by 'Abdu’l-Baha to teach the Bahá'ís in Paris before going on to America. Agnes said, ". . .he was the most gentle and humble person" she had ever met. He told her, "If in the future there are five believers in the Hawaiian Islands, you will have done a great work."16
During Agnes' stay in Paris a relative from Honolulu, Clarence Hobron Smith, came for a visit. Agnes was eager to teach him the Faith, but the proper words wouldn't come. Unable to hold back, she blurted: "Christ has come!" The next day he came to tell her that "the power of the spirit had been so great" when she spoke the day before "that he had believed at once," thus becoming Hawaii's second Bahá'í.17
When it came time to leave Paris, Agnes received a Tablet from the Master advising her to be "a divine bird; proceed to thy native country; spread the wings of sanctity over those spots and sing and chant and celebrate the Name of thy Lord, that thou mayest gladden the Supreme Concourse and make the seeking souls hasten unto thee as the moths hasten to the lamp and thus illumine that distant country by the Light of God."18
En route home Agnes spent two months as the guest of Sarah Farmer19 at Green Acre in Eliot, Maine. There she met more of the friends and further deepened her understanding of the Faith.
On the morning of December 26, 1901, the S.S. Peru neared Honolulu's wharf. On board, Agnes said she felt "strange feelings" come over her "alone I was to stand there, the first Bahá'í to touch that soil. The youngest of my family and hitherto extremely timid, God raised me up to carry His Message to these islands of the Pacific."20
After her return Agnes continued to live at home. Letters written to her during this period hint at household tensions her new beliefs must have provoked. In one a Bahá'í promises to be cautious in sending her letters.21 Nevertheless, Agnes was determined to let her actions speak for her: "I had to show through my life and not by words, the great happiness that had come into my life."22Undoubtedly, she reached some accommodation with her parents, for she lived at home until they died, and correspondence between them remained warm and affectionate to the last.
Two months after her return to Hawaii Clarence Smith came home. Through his efforts, and a visit by Helen and Ella Goodall, Miss Elizabeth Muther (1858-1940) became, in 1902, the first on Hawaiian soil to embrace the Faith. Through Miss Muther, Kanichi Yamamoto (1879-1961) became the first of his race to declare his belief in Bahá'u'lláh. In fact, he accepted Bahá'u'lláh so quickly that Miss Muther was somewhat taken aback. Asked how he knew, Mr. Yamamoto solemnly placed a hand over his heart.
Having no place to hold their meetings, Hawaii's first four Bahá'ís took the trolley to a lookout above Honolulu where they said their prayers. The group included a gardener, a governess, a clerk and a school teacher.
Virtually no public mention of the Faith was made in Hawaii for the next eight years.23 Agnes and her fellow Bahá'ís taught quietly, patiently, person-to-person. In November 1909 that was changed by the visit of two traveling teachers Howard Struven of Baltimore and Charles Remey of Washington, D.C. 'Abdu’l-Baha had sent the two men on a global teaching trip, the first of its kind. The day they landed in Hawaii, Agnes persuaded her father to let them deliver their first address on his lanai (porch). "Would Unite Mankind" ran the headline in the Pacific Commercial Advertiser. Professor Alexander was not amused. He responded with a critical editorial, "What the Bahá'í Movement Really Is."24
Despite her father's opposition, many people were attracted to the Cause. The influx of new believers enabled Honolulu to form its first Spiritual Assembly in 1910 with Agnes Alexander as its chairman. 'Abdu'l-Bahá sent them a message: "From afar! From afar! I entertain the greatest love for them. Because they are so far away, but yet they have promulgated the word of God there. They have heard it from afar, therefore I am attached to them and bear my greetings to all of them."25
Professor and Mrs. Alexander both succumbed to old age early in 1913. Agnes said 'Abdu'l-Bahá's words rang in her ears: "I have a lamp in My hand searching through the lands and seas to find souls who can become heralds of the Cause. Day and night I am engaged in this work."26 She prayed that His lamp might find her.
That fall she sailed to the mainland, and from there proceeded to Montreal to stay with her spiritual mother, May Bolles Maxwell. Then it was on to New York City to spend the winter with relatives. While there she received a Tablet from 'Abdu’l-Baha promising her "Divine confirmations" if she were to travel "toward Japan."27 She sailed to Europe in the spring of 1914. As Italy was "toward Japan," she decided to visit her Aunt Lottie and Uncle Guilio in Milan. Two days before she left Italy a Serbian terrorist assassinated the Archduke Francis Ferdinand in Sarajevo, precipitating World War I.
Agnes was in Switzerland when the doors of Europe began to close. She couldn't cash her bank drafts. The trunk containing her clothing and other personal effects was in Germany. Her money was running out. And everyone advised her to stay put . . . except One. The Master wrote: "It is now more advisable for thee to depart directly to Japan and while there be engaged in the diffusion of the fragrances of God . . .Today the greatest of all divine bestowals is teaching the Cause of God for it is fraught with confirmations."28
She requested passage on the only available ship to Japan, the Miyazaki Maru, which was sailing from London and would make one European stop at Marseilles, France. Unfortunately, all accommodations on the steamer were taken. Desperate, Agnes wrote to a steamship agent in Marseilles saying she would accept anything if he could only get her on board. No answer. As she was reciting the "Remover of Difficulties" someone knocked on the door. The telegram that was handed to her said there was a space if she would come immediately.
Riding in a third class coach with two wounded soldiers, she crossed war-stricken France, arriving safely at Marseilles where the Miyazaki Maru waited at the dock. The ticket agent explained that he was giving her a German woman's place on board. Since France and Germany were at war he could have the woman arrested if she showed up. Only one other passenger embarked at Marseilles Mme. Casulli, a Frenchwoman. Coincidentally, she became Agnes' cabin mate, and before disembarking at Hong Kong she became a Bahá'í!29 Unquestionably, "divine confirmations" were attending Agnes' every step.
The Miyazaki Maru steamed cautiously toward Japan, running without lights at night to evade the dreaded German battle cruiser Emeden, which was responsible for sinking many ships. After five perilous weeks Agnes disembarked safely at Kobe, Japan, on November 1, 1914. Unfortunately, the ill-fated Miyazaki Maru was sunk on its very next voyage.30
- Professor Alexander (1833-1913) was one of Hawaii's most distinguished citizens. He was the eldest son of the Rev. William Patterson and Mary Ann Alexander who were in the fifth company of missionaries sent to Hawaii from the U.S. in 1831. Professor Alexander was the Kingdom's first Surveyor General (1870-1901); a member of the King's Privy Council; president of Punahou School and Oahu College, and a prolific scholar on a broad range of topics. Mrs. Abigail (Baldwin) Alexander (1833-1913) was the daughter of another famous missionary couple, the Rev. Dr. Dwight and Abigail Charlotte Baldwin. She was born in a grass hut on Hawaii and reared on Maui. As a young woman she accompanied her father on horseback to the villages where she would help in his ministrations to the Hawaiians. In 1850 she sailed to the U.S. with her brother where she studied at Oberlin College. Ten years later she was married to William DeWitt Alexander.
- Audio recording of Agnes Alexander in Menlo Park, California, 1961. "Legacies of Service" tape, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois, 1980.
- Abigail Charlotte Alexander Journals, Hawaiian Mission Children's Society Library, Honolulu, Hawaii.
- Letter from Agnes Alexander, September 8, 1900, National Bahá'í Archives, Honolulu, Hawaii.
- Agnes Alexander, Forty Years of the Bahá'í Cause in Hawaii: 1902-1942 (Honolulu: National Spiritual Assembly, rev. ed., June 1974), p. 7.
- Notes of David Ned Blackmer taken October 15, 1959, in Rome, Italy. National Bahá'í Archives, Honolulu, Hawaii.
- Agnes Alexander, Forty Years, p. 7.
- May Ellis Bolles (1870-1940), later to become Mrs. William Sutherland Maxwell, was taught the Faith by Lua Getsinger in 1898. In December of that year she was in the first party of Western pilgrims to visit 'Abdu’l-Baha and wrote a moving account of that experience in An Early Pilgrimage. She is the mother of Mary Maxwell, who became Amatu'l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum, the wife of Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith (1921-57). 'Abdu’l-Baha once said of May Maxwell: "Whoever meets her feels from her association the susceptibilities of the Kingdom. Her company uplifts and develops the soul." (Quoted in Star of the West, 10:13, p. 247). She died in 1940, only a month after reaching her pioneering post in Buenos Aires, Argentina the second American to be designated a martyr by Shoghi Effendi (the first was Keith Ransom-Kehler).
- Alexander, Forty Years, p. 8.
- Audio recording of Agnes Alexander in Honolulu, Hawaii, April 1964. National Bahá'í Archives, Honolulu, Hawaii.
- The Paris Bahá'í community of 1901 was the spiritual heart of Europe the favorite stop-over of "God-intoxicated pilgrims" (God Passes By, p. 259) recently returned from the presence of 'Abdu’l-Baha. The Master once wrote to them: "All men are asleep; you are awake. All eyes are blind; yours are seeing. All ears are deaf; your hearing is clear. All tongues are mute; you are eloquent. All humanity is dead; and you are full of life, vigor and force through the benefits of the Holy Spirit." (The Bahá’í World, Vol. XIII, pp. 878-79).
- Alexander, Forty Years, p. 8.
- Ibid., p. 9.
- Sarah Farmer (1847-1916), a disciple of 'Abdu’l-Bahá, was described by Agnes in a letter home as "a woman with a soul that could hold the world. She is always ready to take in & help anyone. It matters not what their past may be. Her only aim is to help humanity." (Letter dated September 22, 1901, in National Bahá'í Archives, Honolulu. In 1900 Miss Farmer met 'Abdu'l-Bahá in Haifa and became a Bahá'í. The Green Acre School in Eliot, Maine, is her legacy to the Faith. (World Order magazine, July 1946, pp. 105-09.)
- Alexander, Forty Years, p. 10.
- Letter from Charles Mason Remey, dated December 22, 1905, in National Bahá'í Archives, Honolulu.
- Alexander, Forty Years, p. 10.
- It should be noted that Agnes Alexander took a steamship trip to Alaska between July 19-27, 1905. She visited Ketchikan, Wrangell, Tonka, Juneau, Treadwell, Skagway, White Horse, Haines, Hunter's Bay, Hillinore and Sitka. It is not known what mention, if any, she made of the Faith in those places. Nevertheless, it earns her the distinction of having been the first Bahá'í to set foot in that land. (Letters of Agnes B. Alexander dated July 19, 22 and 25, 1905, in National Bahá'í Archives, Honolulu.)
- Professor Alexander remained unsympathetic to the Cause to the end of his life. Two years before his death he wrote to a Christian clergyman charging that 'Abdu'l-Bahá "permits himself to be worshipped by American women, who believe him to be a reincarnation of Jesus Christ"; that "Bahá'ísm aims at superintending Christianity, whose cardinal doctrines it rejects . . .Long after Bahá'ísm shall have died out, Jesus Christ will be Lord of all." (Letter from William D. Alexander dated October 9, 1911, at Cooke Library, Punahou School, Honolulu.)
- Alexander, Forty Years, p. 22.
- Ibid., p. 24.
- Agnes Alexander, History of the Bahá'í Faith in Japan: 1914-1938. Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Japan, 1977, p. 8.
- Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Vol. 7, No. 5, p. 35.
- Alexander, Japan, p. 11.
- Audio recording of Agnes Alexander in Menlo Park, California, 1961.
The second in a three-part series on the life of the Hand of the Cause of God
Agnes Baldwin Alexander. Originally published in November 1983 Bahá’í News.
Agnes Alexander traveled to Japan six times twice at 'Abdu'l-Bahá's request and four times at the bidding of Shoghi Effendi.1
Altogether, her pioneering services there totaled some 32 years, spanning more than half a century.
Shortly after her arrival in Japan in November 1914 she traveled to Tokyo where she joined forces with another Bahá'í from Hawaii, Dr. George Augur.2 Together they began the first Bahá'í meetings in that land.
The first Japanese to embrace the Cause in Japan itself3 was an 18-year-old schoolboy. A school teacher had attended a Bahá'í meeting and told his class that a woman in Tokyo was teaching a new religion. When Kikutaro Fukuta heard this, he felt instantly that it was the truth and began attending the meetings. In broken English he worded this touching petition to 'Abdu'l-Bahá:
"O my Master 'Abdu'l-Bahá! How great mercy and benevolence that Thou hast descended upon us through an apostle Alexander! Though I am a base and poor youth in this world, I am being awakened and bathed in the ocean of Thy mercy, so happy that I pity the king and the prince who are wandering about in the dream of temporal variance. Accept, O Master, my deep thankfulness from the bottom of my heart. I am very sorry when I think of our fellowmen who take no thought about real happiness and do not rely upon the warm hand of Thy love. O my Lord! Water me forever with the fountain of mercy; I will never refuse Thy command whatsoever it may be. Forgive my sins, and allow me to awaken my fellow men."4
Not long after her arrival, Agnes joined the Universal Esperanto Association. Through it she met Vasily Eroshenko, a blind Russian youth. He became the "door through which a new world opened to the Japanese blind through the Esperanto language."5
He taught Agnes Braille in English and Esperanto. Using the medium of Braille, she was able to communicate the Bahá'í Teachings to those who possessed spiritual insight. In 1917 she wrote "A Letter to the Blind Women of Japan," which was translated into Japanese Braille. This was Japan's first Bahá'í publication.
In July 1915 Agnes was visited by a Miss Martha Root who was making a "journalistic trip around the world" to see for herself "how the Bahá'í Teachings were really uniting into one great spiritual brotherhood the diverse races and religions."6
Agnes and Martha instantly forged a deep spiritual attachment to one another. Martha Root was Agnes' inspiration to begin writing for the Cause. Throughout the rest of her life she wrote of the Faith in books, articles, radio scripts, and press releases. For a time she was a contributing editor to the Bahá'í magazine Star of the West.
When Martha left Japan, Agnes said she left behind a bright spot "and certainly sowed many seeds for the Cause."7
Every teaching trip Agnes embarked upon in those days was important in one way or another. But of all the trips she took, the one to Ejiri in the summer of 1916 brought her the greatest joy, for it was on that trip that she gave the Message to a blind student, Tokujiro Torii.8 He later said there came to him one day "a messenger of the Kingdom of Abha and lifted up the veil of my soul. . . . Every word she spoke to me was wonderful and luminous. It dispelled the darkness from my soul, brought fragrances to my heart like the breeze from the green fields, and made my inner sight keener and fresher than ever."9
Miss Alexander left Japan in 1917 after receiving an urgent cable from home. She spent the next two years in Hawaii and on the U.S. mainland. While staying with an aunt in Montclair, New Jersey, she received a Tablet from 'Abdu'l-Bahá containing this astonishing opening: "O thou daughter of the Kingdom! Although your letter has not yet been received, yet we do answer it." He advised her to "hasten back to Japan, for in Japan you will be assisted and exalted."10
Before returning to her post, Agnes attended the 1919 U.S. Convention, held that year at the McAlpin Hotel in New York City.11 It was there that 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablets of the Divine Plan were unveiled for the first time. In them He said this: "Consider ye, that Miss Agnes Alexander, the daughter of the Kingdom, the beloved maidservant of the Blessed Perfection, traveled alone to Hawaii and now she is gaining spiritual victories in Japan!"12 Agnes returned to Japan in August 1919.
Agnes always awaited inspiration before carrying out any activity for the Cause. One day in 1920 she was praying, "Then suddenly, like a flash of light, a great joy filled my heart. The inspiration which came was entirely unexpected. It was that I would go to Korea and take His Message."13
In the fall of 1921 she became the first Bahá'í to set foot in Korea. Because the activities of foreigners were then closely scrutinized by the Korean police, Agnes decided to obtain permission to carry out her teaching plans. She went to the official in charge and explained the purpose of her visit. She also presented him with a translation of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's advice to another pioneer, Fanny Knobloch of South Africa. Some of the Master's words were: "It may be that the government of those regions will check thee. Thou shouldst say, 'I am a Bahá'í and a friend with all religions and nations. I consider all to be of one race and count them as my relatives. I have divine love and not racial and sectarian love.'"14 The official was so delighted with the Master's words that he gave Agnes three letters of introduction to important officials in that country one of whom was the governor of Korea.
En route to Seoul, Agnes said she felt as though she were "going to my family instead of to a strange country," and she was "thrilled with the realization that it was virgin land where the soil was pure and ready for seed sowing."15
While in Japan she had met a Korean named Mr. Oh who told her she should go one day to Korea because the people there were "thirsty for true religion."16 Since then her link with Mr. Oh had been severed. Now she turned to 'Abdu'l-Bahá in prayer, supplicating Him to bring them together. Shortly afterward she was riding in a streetcar when she felt someone grasp her hand. She looked up to see Mr. Oh!
From that point on he became her guide and interpreter. Together they planned Korea's first Bahá'í public meeting. With only one day's lead time, they advertised the talk in the local paper. When they reached the meeting place they were astonished to see about 900 Koreans patiently waiting! Agnes spoke to them simply, holding aloft a photograph of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Afterward, she invited seekers from that meeting to a Bahá'í feast. Each one who came was asked to write his sentiments and name on a card addressed to the Master. These are a few of their comments: "Just now I found the brilliant light of Baha." "The universal supreme mountain of Truth." "Oh freedom! Oh Bahá'í!"17
After a month of successful proclamation and teaching in Korea, Agnes returned to Tokyo. She then received a Tablet from 'Abdu'l-Bahá (delivered posthumously) praising her efforts in Korea. Although they never met, her attachment to 'Abdu'l-Bahá was great. Throughout the remainder of her life she would turn to Him for help in times of need. The strength of her conviction is revealed in her response to His passing. Instead of dampening her ardor, the event seems to have inflamed it still further. In letters written to a Bahá'í friend at that time she says:
". . .let us be very near to each other in spirit in these great days.
"In His great love and mercy He left a Tablet for the new friends of Korea and one to me. Pray dearest sister, that I may fulfil His Hope in Korea and may be selfless at His Door."18
". . .I wish you were here with me in this little house, because with united hearts we could spread a great bouquet of love. We could sacrifice all in love to Him."
'Herald of Truth' in Japan
"It seems I must always stand alone, but dear, He does not forsake His children. We know His Love that is all we must seek."19
In a Tablet to a Japanese Bahá'í, written in the last year of His life, 'Abdu'l-Bahá called Agnes "the herald of Truth in Japan. Rest assured that she will be confirmed and assisted."20
In later years the Guardian assured her, "The Master is watching over and blessing your historic services."21
Shoghi Effendi Rabbani (1897-1957) became Guardian and head of the Bahá'í Faith. His first letter to the Bahá'ís of Japan was sent in care of Agnes. In it he recalled a statement of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's concerning Japan, saying: "These were His very words, that still keep ringing in my ears: 'Japan will turn ablaze! Japan is endowed with a most remarkable capacity for the spread of the Cause of God!' "22
Rock-firm in the Covenant, Agnes had no difficulty accepting the Master's successor, Shoghi Effendi, as "the sign of God on earth." Of the first personal letter received from him she wrote, "The words penned by his hand at the end of the letter so affected me that, for several days my heart was filled with joy and inspiration, and a realization came to me of the power with which God had endowed him."23 She was one of those who in later years cheered his heart when disunity and Covenant-breaking drove him into seclusion in Switzerland. He wrote that "her glorious service in Japan" had rejoiced his heart and strengthened his "confidence in the future glories of that far eastern land."24
'Two weeks in Heaven'
arrived in Tokyo in April 1923. Indefatigable Martha! Agnes arranged a full schedule of teaching activities for this remarkable Bahá'í. Martha spoke to schools, universities, Esperantists, peace societies, YMCA groups and the blind. When the time came for her departure for China she wrote in Agnes' guest book: "I have spent two weeks in Heaven with my precious sister, Agnes. Ya Baha El Abha!"26
Agnes was in Tokyo on September 1, 1923, when a stupendous earthquake rocked Japan. "It shook Tokyo as a terrier does a rat, at noon when all the luncheon fires in the city were lit, and within a few seconds the city was ablaze from end to end."27 Agnes said, "As soon as the first tremor subsided, I rushed into the house and procured my hand bag in which I carried the Prayer for protection revealed by 'Abdu'l-Bahá. . . .When the earth began again to tremble, I read the Prayer aloud. Three times this occurred, and each time quiet came after the reading."28
When it was over, Tokyo, Yokohama and the neighboring villages were utterly destroyed. The death toll exceeded 150,000; more than 100,000 others were injured. From throughout the Bahá'í world Agnes received letters of concern and consolation. One precious letter came from Bahiyyih Khanum, the Greatest Holy Leaf:29 "The Lord has surely kept you safe amid the crumbling walls of that great city of Japan, that you in turn might accomplish the task that lies before you and I never doubt that you are surely worthy of His Grace."30
Homeless, Agnes traveled to Korea and then to China where she joined Martha Root. Only four years earlier 'Abdu'l-Bahá had told some pilgrims, "New China has awakened."31 The white faces of Agnes and Martha were a curious novelty to many Chinese.
Travel was sometimes difficult and dangerous. Seated on the wooden floor of a springless, donkey-drawn cart, they traveled for miles in bitterly cold weather. On another occasion they encountered 13 freshly decapitated heads hung from the gate of a city, proclaiming to all the fate of Chinese bandits who are caught. It could not have been a reassuring sight to three middle-aged women traveling without escort (Agnes' sister, Mary Charlotte, who was not a Bahá'í, accompanied them on the trip).32
After three months Agnes left China to return home to Honolulu. It is surprising to learn that she did not plan to make her home in Japan. "In the future," she wrote, "I will return to China & Korea and of course pass through Japan, but I don't think I will live there again." She intended to visit Korea and make an indefinite stay in China.33
Shoghi Effendi praised her efforts in China, but reminded her of "the sacred interests of the Cause in Japan," saying, "you are that radiant herald who has raised the Call of Salvation in its very heart and to whom it owes a great debt of gratitude."34 On another occasion he wrote, "I feel that your destiny lies in that far-off and promising country (Japan) where your noble and pioneer services future generations will befittingly glorify and thankfully remember."35 And, "Your name will forever remain associated with the rise of the Faith and its establishment in Japan, and the record of your incessant and splendid endeavours will shed on its annals a lustre that time can never dim."36
Agnes accomplished some notable firsts during her Hawaiian sojourn, 1924 to 1928. In May 1924 she completed the maiden travel teaching voyage to the island of Hawaii, traversing the largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago. She spoke in churches, Buddhist temples, YMCAs and schools. Her talks were published in both the English- and Japanese-language press. In July she sailed for Kauai where she gave the premier presentation of the Teachings to that island. In 1927 she began a Bahá'í children's class "under a spreading monkeypod tree . . ."37 Nevertheless, she had not forgotten the Guardian's wish that she return to Japan. Before returning she collected, and had published, 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablets to Japan.
Agnes' third visit to Japan began on January 24, 1928. She landed in Tokyo, now completely rebuilt since the catastrophic quake five years earlier. Always thrifty in her habits, Agnes had decided not to ship her car from Honolulu: "This is not the place for a lady to drive an auto. The streets are bad & there are many bicycles & disorder. One can hire an auto within the city for 1 yen fixed price, so it is very convenient. There are 2 men to manage the taxi. One drives, & the other jumps out to inquire the way."38 She later found the drivers quite reckless and often resorted to squeezing her eyes shut whenever things looked dangerous.
Once-timid Agnes continued her public talks, employing a technique gleaned from Martha Root. Before delivering a talk she wrote everything out, keeping as close to 'Abdu'l-Bahá's words as she could. When she finished talking she would hand out copies of the address to the newsmen in attendance, thereby assuring the best chance for full and accurate reporting.
The year of Agnes' return to Japan coincided with the coronation of Emperor Hirohito who succeeded his father, Yoshihito, two years earlier. He was presented with seven specially bound Bahá'í books along with a message from Shoghi Effendi: "May the perusal of Bahá'í literature enable your Imperial Majesty to appreciate the sublimity and penetrative power of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation and inspire you on this auspicious occasion to arise for its worldwide recognition and triumph."39 Aside from Queen Marie of Rumania, the Emperor was the only sovereign addressed by the Guardian.40
At 54, Agnes climbed Mt. Fuji, Japan's highest peak (elevation 12,365 feet), in the company of Buddhist pilgrims. Climbing throughout a moonlit night, she joined her companions at dawn for prayers. "All stood in reverence with heads bared while from under the clouds the glorious sun rose illuminating the mountainside. . . . Looking down the mountain, as far as the eye could see, there was a continuous white-robed procession ascending the winding trail. . . ."41
Martha Root, fresh from a triumphant pilgrimage through Persia, returned to China in September 1930. Agnes left Tokyo and rendezvoused with her in Shanghai. The Bahá'í pioneers residing in that city warmly welcomed the energetic duo. A major triumph of the trip was the spontaneous offer by Dr. Tsao, the president of Tsing Hua University, to translate Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era into Chinese. Martha was so touched by his offer that her eyes filled with tears of gratitude.42
Returning to Japan, the two plunged into an exhausting round of speaking engagements. The crowning event was Martha's talk over Tokyo radio station JOAK on "The Progress of the Bahá'í Movement in the Five Continents." The talk was later published in the Japan Times.43
Inspiration guided Agnes Alexander's life. On many occasions she anticipated by some mysterious intuition spiritually significant events. One of these was the visit to Japan of Keith Ransom-Kehler44 in June 1931. Agnes had never met Keith: "... I had only known her through her writings, yet even before the cable reached me telling of her coming, an expectant joy filled my heart a joy which came from an unseen source and was not connected with the world about me."45 Keith's intellectual and spiritual brilliance dazzled Agnes and all others who heard her. Agnes credited her with laying the foundation for the formation of Japan's first Bahá'í Assembly a goal Shoghi Effendi had set for Agnes. One day Keith came into Agnes' room and read aloud to her an article she had just written on "The Station of Martyrdom." "How significant it now seems," Agnes later recalled, "when she herself has attained this high distinction among the American believers and become their first martyr."46
The year 1932 was one of victories for Agnes. On March 13 she awoke with the inspiration to form Japan's first Bahá'í Assembly. Eight days later she cabled the Guardian: "NAW RUZ GREETINGS TOKYO ASSEMBLY." He replied, "LOVING REMEMBRANCE SHOGHI."47
That December, the long-awaited translation of Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era
into Japanese came from the printers. When copies reached the Holy Land, Shoghi Effendi placed them with his own hands alongside 14 other versions at Bahji, where they would be "a constant reminder" of Agnes' "perseverance," "magnificent efforts" and "exemplary devotion to the Cause of God."48
A death in the family in June 1933 prompted Agnes to return to Hawaii. By May 1935 she was back at her post in Japan. The fledgling Assembly she had helped form was scattered. It appeared that the Cause had not progressed during her absence; but this did not trouble her. She was confident that "His guiding power" was leading the way.49
A tragic event during this time was the Toriis' loss of their only son, 17-year-old Akira, whose name means "shining light." Instead of despairing, however, they were happy, and sensed that he was spiritually near. As a memorial to Akira, Mr. Torii translated Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era into Japanese Braille. Perhaps it was a fulfillment of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's wish, expressed in a Tablet to Akira's parents at the time of his birth: "Akira, whose name may be ever blessed for it is quite an appropriate one. . . ."50
- Audio recording of Agnes Alexander in Menlo Park, California, 1961. "Legacies of Service" tape, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois, 1980.
- Dr. Augur (1858-1927), a homeopathic physician, had moved to Hawaii from Oakland, California, in 1898. Around 1909 he and his wife Ruth embraced the Faith. He was the first from Hawaii to pioneer, and reached Japan only months before Agnes. 'Abdu'l-Bahá commended him for his pioneering efforts: "A thousand times bravo to thy high magnanimity and exalted aim! . . .Ere long this transcendent Light will wholly enlighten the East and the West!" (History of the Bahá'í Faith in Japan: 1914-1938, pp. 12-13). After his passing, Dr. Augur was designated a "Disciple of 'Abdu'l-Bahá" by Shoghi Effendi (The Bahá'í World, Vol IV, pp. 118-19).
- Though the first to declare in Japan, Mr. Fukuta was actually the fourth Japanese Bahá'í in the world. The first was Mr. Kanichi Yamamoto (1879-1961) who embraced the Faith in Honolulu in September 1902. The second was the well-known Saichiro Fujita (1886-1976) who became a Bahá'í in Oakland, California, around 1905. (Japan Will Turn Ablaze!, p. 18). Mr. Fujita served the Master, the Guardian, and the Universal House of Justice as a gardener at the World Centre. The third Japanese Bahá'í was Mr. Kenzo Torikai of Seattle, Washington.
- Helen Bishop, "His Japanese Witnesses," The Bahá'í World, Vol. X (1944-46), p. 686.
- Agnes Alexander, History of the Bahá'í Faith in Japan: 1914-1938, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Japan, 1977, p. 20.
- Star of the West, Vol. 14, No. 4, p. 898.
- Agnes Alexander, History of the Bahá'í' Faith in Japan, p. 17.
- Mr. Tokujiro Torii (1894-1970), whose surname means "gate," was described by Martha Root as being "lovable like St. John" (Bahá'í News, No. Ill, October 1937, p. 4). Keith Ransom-Kehler stayed at the Torii home in 1931 and said she had "never known such kindness." (Star of the West, 24:12, p. 374). He translated into Japanese Braille such works as the Kitáb-i-Iqán, The Hidden Words, and The Seven Valleys. The Emperor decorated Mr. Torii for his services to his blind countrymen (History of the Bahá'í Faith in Japan, p. 109).
- Tokujiro Torii, "The Bahá'í Movement in Japan," The Bahá'í World, Vol. IV (1930-32), p. 490.
- Alexander, Japan, p. 30.
- Also present on that historic occasion were Agnes Alexander's "spiritual mother," May Maxwell, and "the incomparable" Martha Root. Martha arose immediately after the Convention to take the Message to every major city in South America. Shoghi Effendi said she was "the first to arise, in the very year the Tablets" were unveiled to put the Plan into action. (God Passes By, p. 386).
- Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois, 1959, p. 13.
- Alexander, Japan, p. 64.
- Ibid., p. 65.
- Ibid., p. 67.
- Letter from Agnes Alexander, April 11, 1922, National Bahá'í Archives, Hawaii.
- Letter from Agnes Alexander, April 23, 1922, National Bahá'í Archives, Hawaii.
- Japan Will Turn Ablaze!, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Japan, 1974, p. 27.
- Ibid., p. 53.
- Alexander, Japan, p. 58.
- Japan Will Turn Ablaze!, p. 45.
- Star of the West, Vol. 4, No. 6, p. 184.
- Martha Louise Root (1872-1939) was on her fourth trip around the world when she passed away in Honolulu in September 1939. Shoghi Effendi said, "posterity will establish her as (the) foremost Hand (of the Cause) which 'Abdu'l-Bahá's will has raised up (in the) first Bahá'í century." (Messages to America: 1932-1946, p. 30).
- Alexander, Japan, p. 46.
- Laurens van der Post. A Portrait of Japan, London: The Hogarth Press, 1968, p. 15.
- Alexander, Japan, p. 48.
- Bahiyyih Khanum (1846-1932) was the daughter of Bahá'u'lláh, and His companion throughout His years of exile and imprisonment. Bahá'u'lláh revealed a Tablet in which He said of her: "Verily, We have elevated thee to the rank of one of the most distinguished among thy sex, and granted thee, in My court, a station such as none other woman hath surpassed." (The Bahá'í World, Vol. V, p. 171). Shoghi Effendi said she was "comparable in rank to those immortal heroines such as Sarah, Asiyih, the Virgin Mary, Fatimih, and Tahirih." (God Passes By, p. 347).
- Alexander, Japan, p. 49.
- Ibid., p. 55.
- Letter from Mary C. Alexander, January 3, 1924, National Bahá'í Archives, Honolulu, Hawaii.
- Letter from Agnes Alexander, October 27, 1923, National Bahá'í Archives, Honolulu, Hawaii.
- Alexander, Japan, p. 60.
- Japan Will Turn Ablaze!, p. 1.
- Ibid., p. 51.
- Agnes Alexander, Forty Years of the Bahá'í Cause in Hawaii: 1902-1942, published by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the Hawaiian Islands, 1970, rev. ed. 1974, p. 32.
- Letter from Agnes Alexander, February 2, 1928, National Bahá'í Archives, Honolulu, Hawaii.
- Alexander, Japan, p. 77.
- On November 9, 1930, at the request of Martha Root, the following cable was sent by Shoghi Effendi to the Emperor: "Kindly transmit his Imperial Majesty, Tokyo, Japan, on behalf of myself and Bahá'ís world over, expression of our deepest love as well as assurance of heartfelt prayers for his well-being, and prosperity of his ancient realm." (The Bahá'í World, Vol. IV, p. 433).
- Agnes Alexander, "The Pilgrims of Mount Fuji," Star of the West, Vol. 20, No. 9, p. 286.
- Alexander, Japan, p. 61.
- Alexander, "The Pilgrims of Mount Fuji," p. 286.
- Keith Ransom-Kehler (1878-1933) died of smallpox while on a special mission to Persia to appeal to the Shah to remove the ban on Bahá'í literature. "American believers grateful and proud of the memory of their first and distinguished martyr," wrote Shoghi Effendi. Her "international services entitle her to an eminent rank among the Hands of the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh." (The Bahá'í World, Vol. 5 p 398).
- Agnes Alexander, "Keith Ransom-Kehler in Japan: A Tribute," Star of the West, Vol. 24, No. 12, p. 372.
- Ibid., p. 374.
- Alexander, Japan, p. 84.
- Ibid., p. 87.
- Ibid., p. 90.
- Ibid., p. 94.
The third in a three-part series on the life of the Hand of the Cause of God
Golden years of service
Agnes Baldwin Alexander. Originally published in December 1983 Bahá’í News.
In 1937 Agnes Alexander received the following message: "I would be pleased to meet you face to face at this Holy Spot. Your true brother, Shoghi."1
Her dream had finally come true. As far back as 1914 'Abdu'l-Bahá had given her permission to visit the Holy Land, but world war had prevented it.2 Shortly after the invitation arrived, Agnes received another cable from the Guardian asking her to "extend assistance" to Saichiro Fujita's mother who was ill. Although she had no address, Agnes was confident she would be assisted to find the woman. And of course, she was: "I know this is always true when we arise in His service and respond to His call."3 Mrs. Fujita's hearty laughter explained much to Agnes about the joyous nature of her son.
En route to Haifa, Agnes' ship stopped at Port Said, Egypt, where two excited Bahá'ís came aboard with surprising news: "The Guardian is married, and you'll never guess to whom." Without hesitating Agnes answered. "Mary Maxwell," which was exactly right.4 Her answer is all the more extraordinary when one considers that no one had the slightest intimation that the Guardian was planning to marry at all.
Saichiro Fujita met Agnes at the train station in Haifa and drove her to the Western Pilgrim House where she was greeted by her "spiritual mother," May Maxwell, now a member of the Holy Family through her daughter's marriage to Shoghi Effendi.
Agnes was a favored pilgrim. The Japanese scroll she brought as a gift was graciously accepted by the Guardian and hung in a place of honor at Bahji. She was able to listen to his melodic chanting in the Shrine of the Báb. "In his voice there was a power which was different from all others," she said.5
The Guardian told her, "The immediate future in Japan is very dark. Japan is going to suffer.6 The time is not now for great headway. The Pacific will become a great storm center in the coming war — great suffering. What we require in Japan is the recognition of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh and of His station."7
On the first night of her pilgrimage the Guardian asked Agnes to record her Bahá'í experiences. As a result, "Forty Years of the Bahá'í Cause in Hawaii: 1902-1942" and "History of the Bahá'í Faith in Japan: 1914-1938" [see bahai-library.com/author/alexander] were completed during World War II and copies were gratefully received by Shoghi Effendi. (These manuscripts were not published until the 1970s.)
Agnes was away from Hawaii when Martha Root arrived in Honolulu in June 1939. For 20 years the Faith's "leading ambassadress" had taught at a pitch exceeded only by the Master Himself during His journey to the West. Cancer had all but eaten the life out of her wasted frame, but her spirit was indomitable. From her deathbed she wrote:
"I am so near the shore of eternity ... I do not speak, so late tonight of the glorious side of life after death ... I am glad to go through this terrible agony, for if it came it must have come for a purpose ... If our love for each other has been deepened, if this servant has been able to witness for her Lord, if the ties between India, Australia, New Zealand and the Hawaiian Islands are strengthened, then I have not come in vain."
In her final delirium she repeated often over and over, "Shoghi Effendi, Shoghi Effendi."9
Martha Root is buried in Honolulu where she died — a symbolic spot where East meets West, and an appropriate resting place for one who devoted her life to the cause of world unity.
When Agnes learned of Martha Root's passing she wrote the friends in Hawaii:
"She (Martha) was near and dear to me ever since 1915 when she first came to Japan and we met there. . . . Shoghi Effendi said to me when I left Haifa, 'Keep in touch with Martha', so eternally I pray we may all be in touch and helped by her spirit.
"I long, though, from the human point, to once more speak with her. It is eight years now since we parted, or at least it will be the last of December.
"Blessed Martha, the whole world of Bahá'ís mourn her!"10
On March 1, 1940, Agnes' spiritual mother, May Maxwell, cabled her husband from Buenos Aires, Argentina: "SEVERE NEURITIS. BEG PRAYERS."11
A few hours later she was dead. It was scarcely more than a month after she had arrived at her pioneering post.
'Kindled with divine flame'
May, whose tender love had been "a guiding star" to Agnes;12
whom Keith Ransom-Kehler called "a gift and evidence lent me by the Master";13
whom 'Abdu'l-Bahá described as "pure in heart and attracted in soul," was now "gathered into the glory of the Abha Kingdom."14
Agnes penned a tribute to May Maxwell which is at once luminous and soul-stirring. These are some lines from it:
"From the time May met her Lord in 'Akka in 1899, and 'beheld the King in His Beauty,' her whole being was kindled with the divine flame. . . . Countless are the souls who have been ignited through her divine love. In every land which had the blessing of her presence they are to be found. . . . A precious gift from God to May was exquisite speech. One was always conscious that what ever she said was the truth. She had true spiritual humility and reverence which increased as she became a member of the Holy Household. . . .
"A thousand loving hearts are now turning toward South America, and Buenos Aires, in longing to attain the spot (at) which our precious mother is laid to rest and there to supplicate her intercession for us all."15
Agnes returned to Honolulu in June 1941. That same year, on the anniversary of the Birth of the Báb, she took part in the dedication of the first Bahá'í owned Center in the Pacific.
Forty-eight days later, on December 7, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Fortunately, neither Agnes, the friends, or the Center was hurt in the surprise attack. "Shoghi Effendi's thoughts, and mine too," wrote Amatu'l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khanum, "were with you at the time of the raid on Hawaii."16
An indication of the Guardian's close contact with and love for Agnes is revealed in a letter she received from the Archives and History Committee of the U.S. and Canada in 1944, acknowledging receipt of 69 of Shoghi Effendi's letters.
When the guns of war were finally silenced in the fall of 1945, pleas for help were heard — and Agnes answered. From Japan, Mr. Torii wrote: "Dear spiritual mother! Thank God, your heavenly presents reached me safely ... Opening the sugar sack Mrs. Torii doubted her eyes; at first what the white thing is and she tasted it, how sweet it was! Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for your hearty kindness."17
From Germany came thanks for some Bahá'í books: "O dearest, I know you can duly appreciate what this now means to me ... It is like entering a garden in spring and breathe (sic) the fragrance of the most exquisite flowers and feel the cool and refreshing waters watering that garden directly from the Source of Life itself."18
After an enforced absence of 13 years, Agnes returned to Japan in May 1950. Incredibly, her entire Bahá'í library, which "included hundreds of copies in Japanese of Dr. Esslemont's book, was found intact in a ruined part of Tokyo."19
She transferred her residence from Tokyo to Kyoto, which abounds in magnificent temples and quaint gardens.
In the midst of this splendor Agnes continued her habit of living simply. In her tiny apartment "she cooked and served meals to her guests in a kitchen no larger than a closet, and often on trips to Tokyo would astonish visitors by opening up a large suitcase filled with pots, pans, dishes and a hotplate" and proceed "to cook them a meal."20 Another Bahá'í recalls how Agnes once wore two suits of clothing aboard an airplane flight to avoid paying an excess baggage fee. Though moderate and thrifty in all that pertained to her personal life, she was quite generous where the Faith was concerned.
In 1950 she was 75 . . . old chronologically, but not spiritually or mentally. She wrote to a friend at that time, "You will see that I must take time off to learn to use my (new) typewriter. The trouble is I am always in a hurry!"21
The Guardian instructed Agnes to lay special emphasis on the Covenant in her teaching.22 Instantly she directed the friends to focus on its living embodiment, Shoghi Effendi: ". . . We have to strive to make them (every believer) understand and come closer to our beloved Guardian, as he is 'the ark of safety for every believer'."23
At Ridvan 1954 the Guardian instructed the 15 Hands of the Cause residing outside the Holy Land to appoint Auxiliary Boards. Agnes was one of seven appointments for Asia.24 Three years later, in a cable announcing the passing of the Hand of the Cause of God George Townshend, the Guardian added this:
"Agnes Alexander, distinguished pioneer (of the) Faith, elevated (to) rank (of) Hand (of) Cause. Confident (her) appointment will spiritually reinforce teaching campaign simultaneously conducted (in) North, South (and) heart (of) Pacific Ocean. Haifa, March 27, 1957 Shoghi."25
She wrote of her appointment to a close friend, Auntie May Fantom, the first of Hawaiian blood to embrace the Cause:
"Probably you have heard by now that a great new spiritual life has come to me, that is, to be a Hand of the Cause. It is something I could not have dreamed of, but God works in mysterious ways, and this is His Plan, or it could not come, so I leave all and turn to our beloved Guardian; knowing that he will guide me, and if I keep in the right direction, I cannot fail with his prayers. It makes the beloved Guardian seem so much nearer now."26
Just eight months after Agnes' appointment as a Hand of the Cause came the shocking news that Shoghi Effendi was seriously ill. Agnes wrote,
"How all the hearts of his lovers fly to Haifa in prayers for our glorious and 'sacred' Guardian! whom God in His mercy . . . has bestowed on us!"27
The beloved Guardian passed away on November 4, 1957, and some days after he was buried in London's Great Northern Cemetery, Agnes joined 25 other Hands of the Cause in the Holy Land for a conference. The Guardian's widow, Amatu'l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khanum, told the Hands of his last days. On November 19, they went to the Mansion of Bahá'u'lláh at Bahji. They were in the abyss of despair. The Guardian had not left a will, nor had he appointed a successor. Agnes was one of those who realized that Shoghi Effendi could have no will, "as there was no one the beloved Guardian could appoint in his place as Guardian of the Faith."28
In April 1957 she was elected to the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of North East Asia, and served as a member for six years, during which time she shuttled back and forth between Japan and meetings of the Hands in the Holy Land.
In 1963, at the culmination of the Ten Year Crusade, Agnes participated in the long-awaited election of the Universal House of Justice, which was held on Mount Carmel in Haifa. Israel. The nine members of that body were introduced to 7,000 jubilant Bahá'ís who were gathered at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Agnes was present for that event, which gloriously fulfilled Daniel's ancient prophecy of the "1335 days."
The following year, at the age of 88, she represented the new Universal House of Justice at the formation of the first National Spiritual Assembly of Hawaii. On the eve of that election, Hawaii's governor paid tribute to the Bahá'ís and presented Agnes with the traditional flower lei and a kiss.
It was indeed a blessing for Bahá'u'lláh's "herald of the Pacific" to see her spiritual progeny grow from isolated Groups to Local Assemblies, and now to form the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the Hawaiian Islands.
From each of the six major islands in the archipelago the 19 delegates came — Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Samoans, Filipinos, Portuguese, and Haole (white) — all united by Bahá'u'lláh through the efforts of His herald, Agnes Alexander, the Spiritual Mother of the Pacific.
During the Convention she looked backward some 63 years to reminisce about that day in 1901 when, as a timid 26-year-old, she had returned home to the Paradise of the Pacific — as its first Bahá'í. What feelings must have surged within her heart that day! The photographs taken at the Convention portray a supremely happy, confident and radiant soul.
After the Convention. Agnes returned to Japan. In late July 1965. as she was preparing to attend the World Congress of Esperantists in Tokyo, she fell and broke her hip. For the next two years she was confined to a hospital bed in Tokyo; but even in this calamity she perceived His providence: "Dearie, nothing happens by chance," she wrote to a friend. "It is my great hope and prayer that through this accident the hearts of all the Bahá'ís in all Japan shall be so united and love each other with such deep love, it will be felt by all those around us. Then will the words of the Master be fulfilled, that Japan will turn ablaze."29
God's Will was not a metaphysical abstraction to which Agnes paid lip service. It was to her as real and bankable as gold coins. What for others were frustrating and unexpected turns of events were to her opportunities to brine oneself into closer harmony with the Infinite.
"It's God's Plan," was her confident response to all the vagaries of life. A young Bahá'í in Honolulu who tried to help her cross a street was told, "Dearie, do you think my Lord does not guide my step?"30 And when His inscrutable Will snatched "the beloved of all hearts" from this plane, she said, "Our beloved Guardian is now freed from his cares and is very near to us all . . . As for myself, I know that I am here because it is God's Plan. And when He so wills, then the next step will be shown, so I have no care but to 'turn' and do my best to serve."31
On September 10, 1967, Agnes was brought back to Hawaii by her nephew and was housed in an apartment in the Arcadia Retirement Residence. Ironically, from her window she could look down on the site of her birth.
Living in a retirement home did not stifle her sense of humor. On the occasion of her 93rd birthday a young Bahá'í couple visiting from Africa presented her with a hand-carved ebony cane. She took the cane and eyed them sharply. "Who is this for?" she asked.
"W-why, it's for y-you," one of them stammered.
Agnes threw back her head and laughed. "Hah! As soon as I'm well," she said, "I'll be running up and down the hall!"32
Somewhat later the young man inquired as to whether she ever had any dreams of 'Abdu'l-Bahá.
"No," said Agnes, "I am not a dreamer." And she smiled sweetly.33
Preoccupied with teaching
Most nonagenerians are preoccupied with medicine and hot water bottles, with rocking chairs and reminiscences. Not so Agnes Alexander. Teaching was her preoccupation. And deepening. At the age of 94 she told a visitor that she tried to read the Tablets of the Divine Plan
as often as she could because "they are full of spiritual food."34
Shoghi Effendi once told her, "Your reward is indeed great and glorious in the world to come for all your endeavors and exemplary services to the sacred Threshold."35 At 1 p.m. on January 1, 1971, the "cage" was broken, and the spirit of dear Agnes Alexander winged its long-awaited flight to the Abha Kingdom. She was 95.
But the story does not end there. It was the desire of Miss Alexander's family to have her interred in the graveyard of Kawaiahao Church, Hawaii's Westminster Abbey. Many of the most distinguished missionaries including Agnes' grandparents are buried there. Unfortunately, space was at a premium, and the officials decreed that her remains could not be buried in the family plot unless they were cremated — a condition unacceptable for a Bahá'í burial.
Faced with this dilemma, Hawaii's National Spiritual Assembly cabled the Universal House of Justice to ask for guidance. Meanwhile, Assembly members invited the friends to join them in an all-night prayer vigil at the grave of Martha Root. Clustered beneath umbrellas, the friends prayed at the unlit grave throughout a dark and rainy night.
Early the next morning a long-distance call from the House of Justice advised a direct appeal to the executors of Miss Alexander's estate. The appeal outlined her exemplary services to the Faith and described the esteem in which she was held all over the world. This approach proved successful, and dear Agnes was laid to rest only a few miles from her beloved spiritual sister, Martha Root.
From the Holy Land, the Universal House of Justice cabled:
"Profoundly grieve passing illumined soul Hand Cause Agnes Alexander longstanding pillar Cause Far East first bring Faith Hawaiian Islands. Her long dedicated exemplary life service devotion Cause God anticipated by Centre Covenant selecting her share May Maxwell imperishable honor mention Tablets Divine Plan. Her unrestrained unceasing pursuit teaching obedience command Bahá'u'lláh exhortations Master guidance beloved Guardian shining example all followers Faith. Her passing severs one more link Heroic Age. Assure family friends ardent prayers holiest Shrine progress radiant soul request all National Spiritual Assemblies hold memorial meetings and those responsible hold services Mother Temples."
Agnes Alexander's 70 years of certitude to the Threshold of Bahá'u'lláh are almost without parallel in the West. In her memory, the National Spiritual Assembly of Hawaii inaugurated, in 1975, the "Agnes Baldwin Alexander Award for Service to Humanity." To date, six outstanding citizens of the state have received this prestigious award at a banquet held annually on December 26, the anniversary of her arrival in Hawaii as a Bahá'í.
The Bahá'ís of Hawaii and the Pacific, of Korea, Japan and China, and all others whose spiritual inheritance derives from the services of Agnes Alexander are the denizens of that "spiritual empire" spoken of by "Abdu’l-Bahá: "Had this respected daughter founded an empire, that empire would not have been so great! For this sovereignty is eternal sovereignty and this glory everlasting glory."
- Agnes Alexander, History of the Bahá'í' Faith in Japan: 1914-1938, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Japan, 1977, p. 96.
- Star of the West, Vol. 7, No. 5, p. 35.
- Alexander, Japan, p. 96.
- Ibid., p. 99.
- Ibid., p. 101.
- In 1911 'Abdu'l-Bahá met Japan's Ambassador to France in Paris. The Master told him, "There is in existence a stupendous force, as yet, happily, undiscovered by man. Let us supplicate God, the Beloved, that this force be not discovered bv science until spiritual civilization shall dominate the human mind. In the hands of men of lower material nature, this power would be able to destroy the whole earth." (World Order magazine, June 1946, p. 68). And in 1920 He said, "In Japan the divine proclamation will be heard as a formidable explosion, so that those who are ready will become uplifted and illumined by the light of the Sun of Truth." (Ibid., p. 67).
- Pilgrim notes of Agnes Alexander. May 1, 1937. National Bahá'í Archive. Honolulu, Hawaii.
- Bahá'í News, No. 209, July 1948. pp. 6-8.
- Letter from Kathrine Baldwin, October 8, 1939, National Bahá'í Archives. Honolulu.
- Letter from Agnes Alexander. October 8. 1939. National Bahá'í Archives. Honolulu.
- Letter from William Sutherland Maxwell. March 1940. National Bahá'í Archives, Honolulu.
- Agnes Alexander, Forty Years of the Bahá'í Cause in Hawaii: 1902-1942, National Spiritual Assembly of the Hawaiian Islands, rev. ed.. June 1974. p. 32.
- Marion Holley. "In Memoriam: May Ellis Maxwell," The Bahá'í World, Vol. 8 (1938-40), p. 638.
- Shoghi Effendi. Messages to America: 1932-1946, Bahá'í Publishing Committee, Wilmette. III. 1947. p. 3S.
- Papers of Agnes Alexander. "Tribute to May Maxwell," undated, p. 6. National Bahá'í Archives. Honolulu.
- Letter from Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum. February 12. 1942. National Bahá'í Archives. Honolulu.
- Letter from Tokujiro Torii. August 5. 1947, National Bahá'í Archives. Honolulu.
- Letter from Elsa Grossmann. January 1". 1948. National Bahá'í Archives Honolulu.
- Eunice Braun. From Strength to Strength. Bahá’í Publishing Trust Wilmette, 1978. p. 31.
- Elena Maria Marsella. "In Memoriam: Agnes Baldwin Alexander." The Bahá'í World, Vol. 15 (1968-3). p. 428.
- Letter from Agnes Alexander. May 12. 1952, National Bahá'í Archives. Honolulu.
- Japan Will Turn Ablaze. Bahá'í Publishing Trust. Japan. 1974. p. 54.
- Letter from Agnes Alexander. January 3, 1951. National Bahá'í Archives. Honolulu.
- The Bahá'í World. Vol. 12 (1950-54). p. 40.
- Bahá’í News. No. 315, May 1957, p. 1.
- Letter from Agnes Alexander. April 16. 1957, National Bahá'í Archives. Honolulu.
- Letter from Agnes Alexander. November 6. 1957. private collection of Mr. William Smits. Makakilo. Hawaii.
- Letter from Agnes Alexander. December 1, 1957, National Bahá'í Archives, Honolulu.
- Elena Marsella, "In Memoriam," The Bahá'í World, Vol. 15, p. 429.
- Roger White. The Witness of Pebbles, George Ronald, London, 1981, p. 9.
- Letter from Agnes Alexander, January 31. 1958, National Bahá'í Archives, Honolulu.
- Light of the Pacific, Hawaii Bahá'í News. No. 29. September 1957, p. 1.
- Personal notes of Dr. Duane K. Troxel. August 15, 1968.
- Beth Mckenty, Bahá'í News, July 1974, p. 5.
- Agnes Alexander, Japan, p. 70.
- Personal notes of Mr. Tracy Hamilton, March 1980.
- Light of the Pacific, Hawaii Bahá'í News. No. 61. January 1971, p. 2.