prepared by Arthur Lyon Dahl
also available as a powerpoint presentation
Who was Agnes Alexander, and why do we celebrate her memory today?
Agnes Baldwin Alexander was born in Hawai'i on 21 July 1875 into two families of Protestant missionaries, the Baldwins and the Alexanders. Her grandfathers were some of the first to bring Christianity to the Hawaiian Islands. Her father was the head of a church school.
Agnes Alexander with her parents
Imagine what it must have been like for a shy young woman in such a family in that time to become a Bahá’í. She declared her faith as a Bahá'í in Rome on 26 November 1900, and was taught by May Bolles and Mirza Abu’l-Fadl in Paris in 1901. She opened Hawai'i to the Faith on 26 December 1901, and was the first Bahá'í to visit Alaska in 1905. She was a Bahá’í pioneer to Japan 1914-1937 and 1950-1967, and opened Korea to the Faith in 1921. She was named Hand of the Cause of God in March 1957, and passed away in Honolulu on 1 January 1971.
Agnes Alexander in 1900
I had the privilege to visit Agnes Alexander several times during a travel-teaching trip to Japan in 1966, and heard from her own mouth much of the story described here, supplemented from published sources including a description she wrote herself in the 1930s at the request of Shoghi Effendi, and a history by Barbara Sims. The photographs come from many sources.
Like many young people of good family, Agnes sailed to Europe 5 May 1900 for a grand tour. While in Rome, she met in her hotel Mrs. Charlotte Dixon and her two daughters, who were returning from a Bahá’í pilgrimage to 'Akka in Palestine to visit ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of the founder of the Bahá’í Faith and its Head at that time, still a prisoner in ‘Akka. Something drew her to them, and they gave her a Bahá'í prayer. She was convinced in the night that Christ has returned to this Earth. The Dixons told her a little about the Bahá’í Faith and suggested that she go to the first Bahá’í community in Paris to learn more. Agnes sent her letter declaring her faith to 'Abdu'l-Bahá on 26 November 1900. She traveled to Paris in the Spring of 1901 to see May Bolles, and spent three and a half months in the Bahá'í group in Paris.
To Miss Alexander, the servant of God, through Miss Bolles.
O thou maid servant of God!
The tongues have spoken of thy attraction to God and the pens have testified of thy burning by the Fire of the Love of God. Indeed the heart of 'Abdu'l-Bahá approves of this because it feels its heat. O maid servant of God! 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. Be therefore 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.
Upon thee be salutations and praise.
Obedient to Âbdu’l-Bahá, Agnes returned to Hawai'i via London, Greenacre and San Francisco on 26 December 1901.
The first Bahá’ís in Hawai’i taught by Agnes Alexander included:
Clarence Smith (who had already declared in Paris)
Elizabeth Muther (Governess of the Smiths)
Mme Otis (soloist at Central Union Church)
Dr. George Jacob Augur (Disciple of 'Abdu'l-Baha) and Mrs Augur (sister of Mrs Otis) who pioneered to Japan 1914-1919
Mme Katherine Baldwin (sister of Clarence Smith)
First Baha'is in Hawai'i 1909
"One night, in Honolulu, I had gone to hear a lady speak on her efforts to raise money for a school for girls in Japan and this tremendous feeling came to me. I went to the library and began to take notes and study about Japan. My father asked what I was doing. I said I was going to Japan. My father immediately put money in the bank for me to go to Japan when the time came."
[Agnes Alexander, about 1911]
Agnes’ parents passed away in February and April 1913, and her sister departed to California, leaving her alone.
“Torn from the home I loved, the only desire I had left in life was to serve His Cause. I had read words of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá spoken in England in which He said, '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.' The words rang in my ears and I supplicated that His lamp might find me.”
In October 1913, she left Honolulu for a month with May Maxwell in Montréal, and was inspired to learn Esperanto, the invented international language. She spent the winter of 1913-1914 with the Bahá'ís in Brooklyn, New York, and studied Esperanto, which later proved very useful for her teaching work in Japan.
She received a Tablet from 'Abdu'l-Baha:
O thou dear daughter, thy letter was received. It became the cause of infinite rejoicing for it expressed eloquently thy faith and thy turning thy face toward the Kingdom of God. This light of guidance which is ignited by the lamp of thy heart must become more brilliant day by day and shed its light to all parts. Therefore, if thou travelest toward Japan unquestionably divine confirmations shall descend upon thee . . .
Agnes had an invitation to visit her aunt in Milan, so she left by ship from New York to Genoa in May 1914. As she had never met 'Abdu'l-Bahá, she wrote to Him for permission to visit on pilgrimage. While waiting for a reply, she left Milan on 1 July for Locarno to stay with Mme Forni, a Bahá’í. World War I broke out in August 1914. At the beginning of the war and without money, Agnes went to Geneva. She had already sent her trunks ahead to Stuttgart where she planned to visit the Bahá’ís, and her money was in a bank in London. On 22 August 1914 she received a Tablet from 'Abdu'l-Bahá.
O thou my dear daughter! Thy letter was received. It imparted great happiness. Praise be to God that dear daughter is sacrificing herself in the Path of Bahá'u'lláh and enduring every difficulty. 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. Every teacher is confirmed and is favored at the divine Threshold. In the estimation of the Ideal King, the army which is in front of the battlefield is encircled with the glances of His mercifulness and in the sight of the divine Farmer, the sower of the seed is accepted and favored. I hope that thou mayest be like a realm conquering army and a farmer, therefore thy voyage to Japan is preferred to everything else. Still thou art perfectly free.
Mont Carmel, Haifa, 4 August 1914
Everyone said that travel during the war was impossible, as the trains were moving troops to the front, but she was determined to obey ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. She sent for her trunks and her money, which duly arrived, and took a train to Marseilles with her baggage. However, with the war many sailings had been cancelled, and there was no space on ships sailing for Japan. She persisted, and one agent, going down the passenger list, saw that one was German, and should be arrested as an enemy alien, giving her the place. She left the next day on a ship to Japan. As they crossed the Indian Ocean, all lights extinguished, the German cruiser Emden sank 5 ships, but they made it across. The woman with whom she shared a cabin became a Baha'i before they reached Hong Kong. On 1 November 1914 Agnes Alexander arrived in Japan at Kobe.
"I was then in Geneva but I went to Marseilles and took a steamer for Tokyo. I was on it one month without any news at all. When I arrived at the port of Yokohama in Japan, there was a letter from my sister, saying that she was so worried because there had been no word. In Tokyo, I had friends from Honolulu who were teachers, and very broadminded. They arranged for me to come there and live in a boarding house beside their house. They had a meeting Sunday night and deeply believed that all religions were true. I arrived in Tokyo on a Friday, so in two days I was able to attend their meeting. After the meeting, I found myself surrounded by some Japanese men and I told them I was a Baha'i. The next morning one came to see me, wanting to know more about the Faith. That was the beginning."
Vasily Eroshenko, who was blind, and Agnes Alexander 1915
Agnes Alexander with Martha Root, Tokyo, 18 July 1915
Agnes Alexander with Rabindranath Tagore 1916
The Baha'is of Japan, with Agnes Alexander and Dr. Augur, Tokyo, October 1916
with Tokyo Baha'is 1916
On 27 July 1917 Agnes left Yokohama for Honolulu. She visited John and Louise Bosch in California, and attended the National Bahá’í Convention of 1918 in Chicago. She took part in an Esperanto convention at Greenacre in the Summer of 1918, and spent the winter in New Jersey with her aunt Victoria Bedikian 1918-1919.
Agnes Alexander and her aunt Victoria Bedikian, Montclair, New Jersey, 1918
O thou daughter of the Kingdom! Although your letter has not yet been received, yet we do answer it. Praise be to God that in Japan thou hast been assisted in the accomplishment of a distinguished service. Thou hast raised the Call of the divine kingdom and hast led the people to an illumined world and a heavenly Cause. Thou hast become the cause of enlightenment and the wisher for the education of human souls. For those regions are in sheer need of divine Teachings, and are endowed with sufficient capacity. Those souls must be emancipated from the obscurity of blind imitations and be illumined by the light of heavenly instructions. Whosoever arises for such a work, divine confirmations shall assist him and the power of the Kingdom shall be made manifest.
Effort must be exerted that the East and West may be reconciled, that the darkness of bigotry may vanish, that the unity of mankind may be made manifest and that East and West, like unto two longing souls, may embrace each other in the utmost of love, for all are the sheep of God and God is the Real Shepherd and is kind to every one.
In accordance with the wish of the attracted maid servant of God to the love of God, Mrs. Maxwell, go thou to Canada and stay there for a time, and then hasten back to Japan, for in Japan you will be assisted and exalted. Some letters are enclosed for the friends in Japan. Forward them.
Obedient to the wishes of the Master, Agnes went to Montréal to stay with May Bolles Maxwell. While there she received a message from 'Abdu'l-Bahá to go to the National Bahá’í Convention 1919, which would make her very happy.
At that 11th Bahá'í Convention in New York 26-30 April 1919, there was the presentation of the Tablets of the Divine Plan, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s call to take the Baha’i Faith to every country in the world. Agnes Alexander is mentioned by name twice in one of the tablets written in 1916.
Consider ye, that Miss Agnes Alexander, the daughter of the Kingdom, the beloved maidservant of the Blessed Perfection, traveled alone to the Hawaiian Islands, to the Island of Honolulu, and now she is gaining spiritual victories in Japan! Reflect ye how this daughter was confirmed in the Hawaiian Islands. She became the cause of the guidance of a gathering of people.
O that I could travel, even though on foot and in the utmost poverty, to these regions, and, raising the call of “Yá Bahá’u’l-Abhá” in cities, villages, mountains, deserts and oceans, promote the divine teachings! This, alas, I cannot do. How intensely I deplore it! Please God, ye may achieve it.
At this time, in the Hawaiian Islands, through the efforts of Miss Alexander, a number of souls have reached the shore of the sea of faith! Consider ye, what happiness, what joy is this! I declare by the Lord of Hosts that had this respected daughter founded an empire, that empire would not have been so great! For this sovereignty is eternal sovereignty and this glory is everlasting glory.
Tablet to the Baha'is of the United States and Canada, revealed 11 April 1916
After the convention, Agnes spent 10 days in Toronto with May Maxwell, and went to Chicago to say prayers at the site of the temple. She then went on to Honolulu for a month, and later in Japan received instructions from 'Abdu'l-Baha to “remain for some days in Honolulu”. On 9 August 1919 she left Honolulu for Japan. She suffered the loss of all her affairs and tablets on 28 December 1919 in a fire at her hotel in Tokyo.
with women students 1920s
with male students 1920s
Children from her neighborhood in Tokyo 1920
Agnes decided to go to Korea to teach the Baha'i Faith in 1921. At the time the country was under Japanese rule and closed, but through friends in high places she was able to get permission to travel there. Using her Esperanto, she met some students there and taught them the faith. In the picture below, we see them writing their letters of declaration to 'Abdu'l-Bahá. He replied in one of the last tablets written before His passing.
Agnes Alexander with the first Baha'is in Korea 9 September 1921
Chinese in Tokyo 1922
Great Tokyo Earthquake 1923
with surviving children 1923
after the earthquake 1923
Martha Root, Agnes Alexander, Mrs Finch 1923
Agnes Alexander, Martha Root, Keio University 1923
Agnes Alexander in Nagoya 1923
Esperanto Congress, Tokyo 1924
In 1924, Agnes Alexander and Martha Root traveled to China. They met with Sun Yat-Sen, President of the Republic of China, to give him two Bahá'í books.
Esperanto group 1929
Agnes Alexander with the Tsu family 1929
Agnes Alexander and Yasukuni 1929
School for the blind 1930
Esperantists at Kanazawa 1930
Agnes Alexander in Nagasaki 1930
The faculty at Seikei 1930
Agnes Alexander and Martha Root 1930; at Buddhist Temple 1931
Keith Ransom-Kehler and Agnes Alexander 1931; Agnes Alexander with Mr. Touty, Kamakura 1932
Keith Ransom-Kehler and Agnes Alexander at Buddhist Temple 1931
Esperanto Congress 1931
at Keio University 1931
Feast of Naw-Ruz 1931
The first Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Tokyo was formed in 1932. At that time there were 19 Baha'is in Japan.
Esperanto Congress 1932
Esperanto Congress, Hokkaido 1932
Esperantists on Hokkaido 1932
Feast of Naw-Ruz 1932
Agnes visited Hawai’i for two years, departing from Japan on 30 May 1933, arriving in Honolulu on 8 June 1933. She visited May Maxwell in 1934. On 9 May 1935 she left Honolulu to return to Japan.
on the ship for a visit home to Hawai'i 1933-35
"He was very glad to learn that you have decided to leave for Honolulu as he firmly believes that such a visit will give you a chance to rest and will enable you on your return to Japan, to better serve the Cause. There should always be a limit to self-sacrifice. The Guardian is fully confident that your journey to the Hawaiian Islands will be a great benefit to the friends there and it will stimulate them to pursue with refreshed zeal their Bahá'í activities...."
Dear and valued co-worker:
I immensely appreciate your outstanding services in those faraway islands, and I will pray that you may be assisted to resume in the not distant future your manifold and valued activities in the service of our beloved Faith. 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 endeavors will shed on its annals a lustre that time can never dim.
Your true and grateful brother, Shoghi Effendi
"Concerning your plan to leave for Japan after your visit to Honolulu, Shoghi Effendi fully approves of your intention to re-visit our Japanese friends, and to resume your pioneering work with them. His best wishes for the success of your plans will surely be with you all through this long journey, and it is hoped that as in the past you will be effectively guided and assisted in attracting and converting new souls to the Faith."
May the spirit of Bahá'u'lláh illumine your path, cheer your heart and reinforce your efforts for the continuation and expansion of your historic services and may He protect you, and enable you to achieve your heart's cherished desire, Shoghi
Agnes spent some time in California in the summer of 1934 and attended the Geyserville Bahá'í Summer School on the Bosch ranch north of San Francisco. She wrote to my mother, Joyce Lyon, just before leaving to return to Hawai'i.
Letter from Agnes Alexander to Joyce Lyon 25 Sept 1934
"Do not feel discouraged at the meagerness of the results you now obtain. The Master's promises regarding the share you are destined to contribute towards the spread of the Faith in the Far East will sooner or later be completely realized. No matter how dark the present may appear, you should feel nevertheless confident that the distant future is immeasurably bright. Strive, therefore, with a joyful, radiant and confident heart to hasten the fulfilment of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá's glorious promises. Your reward is unimaginably great, and the success that awaits your labours certain."
With the assurance of my deepfelt and abiding appreciation of your wholehearted and touching response to my request, and wishing you success and happiness from the depths of my heart, Your true and grateful brother, Shoghi
Agnes Alexander and Mr. Uskuli 1935
at Meiji University 1935
Agnes Alexander at home in Tokyo 1936
Agnes Alexander with Fujita's family 1936
Agnes Alexander and Martha Root in Peking 1937
at Meiji University 1937
With the storm clouds of war gathering, it became impossible for an American to remain in Japan. Agnes departed from Japan in March 1937. This gave her the opportunity to go on her first pilgrimage to the World Centre in the Holy Land in April-May 1937 and meet the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi. She also visited Baha'is in Germany, Paris and London, and attended Summer schools in the U.S.A. She returned to Hawai'i in December 1938.
During the war she also spent time in the USA, and gave firesides at my parents' home in Palo Alto, California. I was too small to remember.
Valera Allen,?, Louise Bosch, Agnes Alexander at Geyserville
Agnes Alexander was only able to return to Japan in 1950 with the help of some Americans stationed there after the war. The LSA of Tokyo was reestablished in 1951.
with Robert Imagire and Fujita, Fudan, 23 May 1950
Summer School at Amagasaki, June 1954
The development of the Bahá’í community in Japan accelerated. In 1954, there were 52 Baha'is including 10 Americans and 13 Persians. Agnes Alexander was named an Auxiliary Board Member. By 1956, there were 8 Local Spiritual Assemblies, and in 1957 the first National Spiritual Assembly of North-East Asia was formed.
Summer School at Amagasaki 1955
Conference at Nikko 1955
Agnes Alexander speaking at Nikko Conference 1955; First Local Spiritual Assembly in Kyoto 1956
National Teaching Conference, Kyoto 1956
at a wedding 1956; Agnes Alexander 1957
Six months before his passing, Shoghi Effendi named Agnes Alexander a Hand of the Cause of God, the highest appointed station in the Bahá'í Faith.
AGNES ALEXANDER DISTINGUISHED PIONEER FAITH ELEVATED RANK HAND CAUSE CONFIDENT APPOINTMENT WILL SPIRITUALLY REINFORCE TEACHING CAMPAIGN NORTH SOUTH HEART PACIFIC
Convention of North-East Pacific 1957
First National Spiritual Assembly of North-East Asia 1957
Summer School 1957
Agnes Alexander in Hiroshima 1958
Agnes Alexander with Hand of the Cause General Ala'i 1959
at Matsue 1959
at Tokyo Baha'i Center 1960; birthday 21 July 1963, 88 years old
Birthday 21 July 1963
Birthday party in Osaka 1963
Agnes Alexander in Osaka 1960s
National Spiritual Assembly of Japan 1963
Agnes Alexander in Hokkaido 1964; Hand of the Cause Dr. Muhajir and Agnes Alexander 1964
Agnes Alexander and Dr. Muhajir, Naw-Ruz 1964
NSA of Japan, Dr. Muhajir, Agnes Alexander 1964
Ainu village, Hokkaido 1964
Teaching Conference, Hokkaido 1964
Summer School 1964
Bernard Leach and M. Moritaki, first Ainu Baha'i, Hokkaido 1964; Agnes Alexander 1965
Agnes Alexander, M Umegai, ABM, Dr. Muhajir 1965; Agnes Alexander
Agnes Alexander and Yamazaki family 1965
National Convention 1965, with Hand of the Cause Colis Featherstone
Esperanto Congress 1965, last event for Agnes Alexander
In 1965, Agnes Alexander fell and broke her hip. While it eventually healed, she had other health problems that required her hospitalization.
Dr. Muhajir and Agnes Alexander 1965
NSA with Dr. Muhajir and Agnes Alexander in hospital 1965
91st birthday of Agnes Alexander 1966; Agnes Alexander
I had the bounty of visiting Agnes Alexander in the hospital several times in August 1966, when Barbara Sims and I recorded many of her stories recounted here. As she told me her stories, she often repeated the following prayer, which exemplified her life of service:
Oh, God, make me a hollow reed, from which the pith of self hath been blown so that I may become as a clear channel through which Thy Love may flow to others.
She also gave me a rose petal from Bahá'u'lláh's house in Adrianople.
Rose petal from Adrianople, gift to Arthur Dahl
With her health not improving, it was decided to move Agnes Alexander back home to Honolulu. The friends gathered in her apartment to prepare for her move.
Agnes Alexander in her apartment 1967 before her return to Hawai'i
She passed away in Honolulu on 4 January 1971.
PROFOUNDLY GRIEVE PASSING ILLUMINED SOUL HAND CAUSE AGNES ALEXANDER LONGSTANDING PILLAR CAUSE FAR EAST FIRST BRING FAITH HAWAIIAN ISLANDS STOP HER LONG DEDICATED EXEMPLARY LIFE SERVICE DEVOTION CAUSE GOD ANTICIPATED BY CENTRE COVENANT SELECTING HER SHARE MAY MAXWELL IMPERISHABLE HONOUR MENTION TABLETS DIVINE PLAN STOP HER UNRESTRAINED UNCEASING PURSUIT TEACHING OBEDIENCE COMMAND BAHAULLAH EXHORTATIONS MASTER GUIDANCE BELOVED GUARDIAN SHINING EXAMPLE ALL FOLLOWERS FAITH STOP HER PASSING SEVERS ONE MORE LINK HEROIC AGE STOP 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, photo John Schwerin