Women be silent

On July 13, 1848, Elizabeth Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and several other women decided to hold their women’s convention in Seneca Falls, NY. Lucretia Mott was the principal organizer of the Convention; Elizabeth Cady Stanton was its driving intellect.

On the morning of July 19, 1848, the bumpy roads around Seneca Falls, NY, were crowded with carts and horses coming to the Wesleyan Church. The Convention that began the journey for American women’s suffrage was opened by a man so as not to offend public sensibility. Stanton’s father travelled to Seneca Falls fearing his daughter had gone insane, while his eldest daughter wept over her sister’s involvement in such a gathering.

Only women were supposed to have been in attendance that first day, but forty men showed up anyway. Stanton, who had experience in front of an audience, spoke courageously: “…we are assembled to protest against a form of government existing without the consent of the governed - to declare our right to be free as man is free…The right is ours. Have it, we must. Use it, we will.…”

The draft of the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments was read aloud. It followed the format of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” but then made the bold assertion “that men and women are created equal.”

The following day, the audience had grown considerably as word spread of the ideas being discussed. Out of the eleven resolutions, only one encountered opposition: “Resolved, that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.”

Stanton argued passionately for the right to vote, pointing out that “drunkards, idiots, horseracing rum-selling rowdies, ignorant foreigners, and silly boys.” all could vote—but not women. Other participants, including Lucretia Mott, found this a difficult resolution to adopt.

Frederick Douglass, who had been born into slavery and escaped its horrors, rose up to speak on behalf of the resolution:  

“In this denial of the right to participate in government, not merely the degradation of woman and  the perpetuation of a great injustice happens, but the maiming and repudiation of one-half of the moral and intellectual power of the government of the world.”

Douglass’ words carried the day and the resolution passed. All the resolutions of the Declaration had been passed by the convention. That evening the Declaration was signed by women and men.

But only one of these signatories lived to see the right to vote for women become part of the United States Constitution in 1920. 

A glorified presence

Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) founded the first female anti-slavery society in the world. Born into a Quaker family on Nantucket Island, she learned of the horrors of slavery from the stories she heard.

The Motts were so committed to abolitionism that they refused any products made from slave labor and James Mott even changed his business from cotton to wool, a very courageous act in a time when northern businessmen were still very much tied into the southern slave economy.

Lucretia Mott became a Quaker minister and frequent public speaker. Frederick Douglass remembered her oratorical skills:
“In a few moments after she began to speak I saw before me no more a woman, but a glorified presence, bearing a message of light and love.”

Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton went as two of the American delegates to the 1840 London anti-Slavery Convention. Organized by a Quaker, this Convention’s purpose was to fight slavery on a worldwide scale—the British had already outlawed it in general.

Women attendees were not allowed to speak—90 percent of male delegates voted against allowing this. Instead, the women were relegated to sitting in the galleries behind a curtain. While walking the streets of London together and discussing the affairs of women, that Mott and Stanton decided to hold a convention for the rights of women when they returned to the United States.

That convention would be very long in coming but the fight for abolition would soon succeed.

Click below for an excellent documentary on the abolitionists:

After you die

In March, 1848, a movement spontaneously brought thousands of American women into the public arena for the first time: spiritualism.

This mass movement began in the unlikeliest of places: the bedroom of two teenage girls who claimed to hear the sounds of knocking. This continued night after night, attracting neighbors and townspeople.

Beliefs in ghosts, spirits, and witchcraft were prevalent especially here in the ‘burned over’ district which was the geographical heart of the Second Great Awakening and a center for social reform movements.

Soon, meetings were being held regularly called séances, spirit circles. The rapid changes in American society shook the personal faith of many, and spiritualism provided evidence of the continuation of life of loved ones who had passed on. 

Within months, women emerged who were considered ‘mediums’. The role of the medium came to be seen as feminine with the primary trait being passivity, so that the spirit could work through the woman without the medium’s will interfering. So ‘spiritual’ meant ‘feminine’.

The movement was woman-centered and stood in contrast to the established churches. As a result it helped bring focus to the position of women in the country. They became committed to working for the emancipation of women and for women’s advancement in such areas as health and education. This rejection of the status quo also extended to the abolition of slavery. Spiritualists connected freedom for women with freedom for all.

The Baha’i Faith does not teach direct spirit communication or encourage psychic practices. The video below depicts young people today experiencing spiritualism much like the people of the 19th c. may have and raises interesting questions about the relationships between the spirit and physicality and the reasons of attraction of spiritualism for people, the psychological dynamics between mediums and groups…

First persecutions

Tahirih’s uncle railed from the pulpit against Shaykh Ahmad, the cleric who had foretold the coming of the Bab. One day while her uncle was at prayer, a follower of the esteemed Shaykh felt impelled to avenge the insult and stabbed him.

A mob forcibly brought Tahirih and her maid to the governor where she was interrogated. Tahirih’s maid was about to be tortured when news arrived that the killer had turned himself in.

Tahirih had played no role in this crime. She was put under house arrest in her father’s house. Her husband and cousins plotted to poison her so she did not eat the household food.

This shocking act gave the authorities the perfect pretext for wiping out the Babis. Tahirih’s husband, now the leading cleric of Qazvin, and his associates rounded up prominent Babis and ransacked their homes. Women were also attacked.

He had several of the leading Babis of Qazvin killed with great cruelty by mobs in the streets who were incited by clerics while government officials did nothing. These were the first public executions of the followers of the new faith in Persia and included the first Babi—one of Tahirih’s Arab followers—to be martyred on Persian soil.

The future persecutions of Babis and Baha’is in Persia followed the pattern in Qazvin—the clerics accused Babis and incited mob violence while the civil authorities allowed the bloodshed to take place to appease the powerful clergy.

Click below to see a segment from US news in the 1980s covering the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran.



When Tahirih returned to Baghdad in the summer of 1847, her family immediately held a family council. It didn’t go well. The family deeply divided by the Bab’s claims. Her time in the holy cities of Iraq had not brought her back to the traditional faith of her father. To the contrary, she was now acknowledged as a leading Babi teachers by the Bab himself.

Her father wanted conciliation between the family members and said that if Tahirih had been born a man and declared herself to be the Bab, he would have believed her, but he couldn’t understand her devotion to this “Shirazi lad” as he referred to the Bab. She told her father that she had come to her faith through reasoned consideration. This enraged her eldest uncle, the powerful cleric Mullah Taqi who cursed the Bab and then struck her. She uttered the warning that she saw his mouth filled with blood.

Tahirih moved into her brother’s house holding classes for women. She corresponded with the Bab who was imprisoned in the stone fortress of Mahku in the far northwest of Persia.
Tahirih’s estranged husband asked her to return to his home but she replied that she could have changed his unbelief into belief had he stood by her, but he hadn’t. Now, because he had rejected the religion of God, she was casting him out of her life forever and, in so doing, divorcing herself from him.

Click the first video to learn about the Bab’s days in the prison of Mah-Ku and the building of the Shrine of the Bab, and the second one to see first-hand a divorce court in action in Iran

The Jews of Iran

On her return home in the spring of 1847, Tahirih stopped in the important city of Hamadanwhere she touched off conversions to the new faith in the important Jewish community there. By the turn of the century, Hamadan had the largest group of Baha’is of Jewish background in Persia.
When she had been in Baghdad, Tahirih debated from behind a curtain a group of Muslim clerics. A Jewish doctor, Hakim Masih, who was accompanying the King of Persia to the holy cities of Iraq, was there and was swayed by her logical arguments expressed with such force and became a believer. Since he had never heard of the Bab, he thought this woman was the Promised One.

When he returned to Tihran, he treated a prisoner who was a Babi and a survivor of Fort Tabarsi who taught him about Tahirih and the Bab. Through Masih’s subsequent teaching, many Jews became Babis.

At the height of the Persian Empire there were 127 urban centers with significant Jewish populations. Click below to hear a talk on the Jews in Ancient Persia



Land of the Kurds

At the demand of her father, Tahirih left Baghdad for her home in Qazvin in the Spring of 1847, accompanied by about thirty of her followers, including Persians, Arabs, and women. In each town, she taught fearlessly about the appearance of a new revelation from God and met with both threats and enthusiastic acceptance.

In the village of Karand, hundreds of people—many of whom were Kurds—gave Tahirih their allegiance and volunteered to serve as her personal.  In these villages of Western Iran, many people followed a religion from the 15th-century CE, called Ahl-e Haqq. This religion whose central rituals were secret for reasons of protection is based on the teachings of Sultan Shak, a Kurdish spiritual teacher born in Northern Iraq who migrated to Iran and his holy book the Kalam-e Saranjam.
Among the teachings of Ahl-e Haqq is the concept that God makes Himself incarnate in successive Manifestations so Tahirih’s claims about the Bab may have resonated with its followers. Similarly to Hinduism, there is a belief in the transmigration of souls, and that the human soul is reborn in successive physical bodies in its quest for ultimate perfection. This religion is practiced today mostly in Western Iran and Northern and Eastern Iraq.
Click below for some beautiful music from this religious tradition and a short TED talk on the Kurds, one of the most numerous trans-national people in the world.

The "daughter of evil"

In Karbila, Tahirih taught the Bab’s message boldly and publicly including in long letters to all the leading clerics of the city even though the written word was the province of educated men whose prerogative it was to instruct, to debate, and to explicate.

She had come to believe that the Bab was both the redeemer foretold by Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim and the bringer of a new Divine revelation. God’s Revelation did not cease:

“And day after day the cycle of the universe is in progress and ‘there is no suspension in his emanation’. Praise be to God and our prayer and gratitude [to Him] that the Cause is everlasting.”[i]

She saw that few Shaykhis and Babis understood the true station and claims of the Bab who believed he was a divinely inspired reformer of Islam not the bringer of new revelation.

The leader of these more conservative Babis in that region did not approve at all of Tahirih’s more radical interpretation and of her public teaching, even going so far as to call her, in writing, the “Daughter of evil.”

Despite the opposition, Tahirih gathered a group of fervent followers around her, ‘the Qurratiya’, which included both male and female and Persian and Arab. One of the Arab men became the first martyr for the new religion on Persian soil. Women were attracted to her radical teachings and the possibilities that these created. Her most devoted students carried these new ideas beyond Karbila. Tahirih insisted that her followers observe dietary teachings that included abstaining from smoking or drinking coffee.

Click below to learn about to learn more about the extraordinary life of Rabia of Basra a female Muslim mystic who was a highly influential spiritual teacher--nine-hundred years before Tahirih!

The Return, Arabia

While the Millerites experienced great disappointment at not seeing the return of Christ in October, 1844, the Bab and one of his apostles, Quddus, were making their way to the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Arabia to announce that the time of the fulfillment of Islam had arrived.

They crossed the sea from Persia to Arabia and then went by foot and camel to Mecca; located on major trade routes between the near East and East Africa, this city had for centuries been criss-crossed by a great diversity of human beings.

In the heart of the city stood the Kaba’a, the holiest shrine in Islam This ancient, pre-Islamic shrine had stood since the 2nd millennium BCE and was where the Prophet Muhammad destroyed the pagan idols and asserted the truth of Allah, the One God.

There the Bab proclaimed his message. Quddus gave a text revealed by the Bab to the ruler of Mecca who, busy with the management of pilgrims, only realized later the importance of its contents.

From Mecca, they went north to Medina, the city of the Prophet, where the first Islamic community and mosque were established. The Bab prayed intensely to the Prophet of Islam and his saints.

Click below for 1) a video walk through of Mecca during pilgrimage, one of the largest gatherings of human beings to take place in the world and 2) A look inside the Mosque of the Prophet in Mecca where Muhammad is buried.


“This shop is closed in honor of the King of kings, who will appear about the 20th of October…”read the sign that a shop owner tacked up on his store in Philadelphia in October of 1844. Over the summer of 1844, eighteen Apostles came to the Bab while on the other side of the world, the Millerites were looking to October as the new time of the return of Jesus.

After the March disappointment, the Millerites were filled with a new spirit of hope. With a new reading of the parable of the Ten Virgins from the Gospel of Mathew Snow in which ten virgins fall asleep while waiting for the bridegroom who is “tarrying”, the Millerites believed that they were living in an ‘in-between’, a tarrying time. The virgins were woken by a midnight cry” announcing the return of the bridegroom.

The Millerites calculated that the “midnight cry” which was Christ’s return would be on October 22, 1844.

Some began giving away their belongings: one store owner invited people to come help themselves to his stock, debts were forgive, crops were left to rot, children were pulled out school…

But again, Jesus Christ did not come, and the disappointment was crushing. William Miller was publicly ridiculed. His neighbor wrote to him: “I should be ashamed to have my head seen in Publick had I sayed as much as you have and have it all prove false…,” that Miller had been the cause of “…more suicide and more insanity in the last 5 or 6 years than has been known for 50 or 60 years before…”

That same month the Bab was bound for Mecca, the spiritual center of Islam, where he would proclaim that he was the fulfillment of Islamic prophecy.

Click videos below for the Adventist recreation of some of the above events.


In 1844, Tahirih was one of the Shaykhis who actively sought the Promised One and did not want to spend her time in theological speculation. The day of God was an imminent reality for her. It was for her brother-in-law as well. She gave him a letter written by her addressed to the Promised One. If he succeeded in finding Him he should give Him the letter.

One night in the summer of 1844, Tahirih had a dream: She saw a young Siyyid—a male descendant of the Prophet Muhammad— dressed in black with a green turban, and his hands raised up in prayer. The words he spoke stayed with her.

Around the same time, her brother-in-law met the Bab and became a believer and gave him Tahirih’s letter. The Bab immediately declared her to be one of his apostles. He gave her the title of “Letters of the Living.”

The Bab was the Primal Point from which all came into being, and His apostles were the Letters that originated from that Point. The Bab and the eighteen ‘Letters’ made nineteen, a ‘vahid’, or unity, signifying the unity of God; it is also the numerical value of the opening invocation of the Qur’an.

Though Tahirih never actually met the Bab in person, what confirmed her faith was reading a copy of a text revealed by Him. Tahirih recognized immediately that this commentary contained the very same words she had heard in her dream. She was now certain she had found the object of her spiritual search—the Promised One of the age as foretold by her Shaykhi spiritual teachers.

Click below for a superb documentary on the world of the Apostles of Jesus and read on for a further explanation of the theological Babi terms above.

“The term "Letters of the Living" is both a title and a theological statement. The expression comprises two Arabic words: hurúf (singular: harf), meaning "letters," and hayy, meaning "the living." The combination hurúf-i-hayy is new; it does not occur in the Islamic scriptures. In His early writings, the Báb also referred to His first disciples by the word sábiqún or sábiqín (the forerunners), which stems from Islamic Traditions and texts.
The term "letter" is symbolic, as is the Báb’s use of the term Nuqtih (Point) to refer to the Manifestation or Messenger of God, who is the embodiment of the Primal Will (a concept similar to the Logos or "Word" in Christianity). According to the Báb, God created the Primal Will through the causation of the Primal Will itself and then created all things through the causation of the Primal Will; in other words, the Creator of the cosmos and spiritual civilization is the Manifestation of God.”  (Source: Baha’i Encyclopedia Project)

The Return

William Miller as profoundly disappointed at not seeing the returned Christ in March, 1844. Halfway around the world in Persia, Mullah Husayn, a young Muslim cleric, was also on a spiritual quest. A follower of the Shaykhis, an Islamic movement that believed that the time of the fulfillment of Islam was at hand, Mullah Husayn had been taught by his teacher that a holy figure had appeared in the world who would fulfill Islam.

After his teacher’s passing, Mulla Husayn secluded himself in the Great Mosque at Kufa, south of Baghdad. He wanted to prepare himself for his quest by praying and fasting for forty days and forty nights.

Mulla Husayn’s prayers led him to Shiraz, the ancient Persian city of poets and gardens. To enter Shiraz in those days, one had to pass through a large ornate gate where people met up with one another.

Mulla Husayn arrived at the gate having sent his companions ahead to find a place to stay when a young man walked up to him and greeted him warmly. He wore a green turban, the sign that he was a ‘siyyid,’ a descendant of the prophet Muhammad. His name was Siyyid Ali Muhammad. Mulla Husayn thought he was a fellow Shaykhi who had come out to greet him. Siyyid Ali Muhammad invited him to his home for dinner.

After walking through the narrow old streets of Shiraz:

“We soon found ourselves standing at the gate of a house of modest appearance. He knocked at the door, which was soon opened by an Ethiopian servant. “Enter therein in peace, secure” were His words as He crossed the threshold and motioned me to follow Him.”

The two stepped into the courtyard and climbed up the stairs to the upper room where they prayed and began their discussion. Mulla Husayn told the young Siyyid the signs of the Promised One, who said: “Behold, all these signs are manifest in Me.”

Shocked by this answer, Mulla Husayn presented one of his theological essays as a test to this young man who briefly looked over the intricate points and revealed the deeper meanings which Mulla Husayn had not understood. Then he offered to write a commentary on the Qur’anic chapter about Joseph. Mulla Husayn was stunned by this because his teacher had told him that only the Promised One would be capable of doing this.

Mulla Husayn knew that he had found the object of his quest:

“O thou who art the first to believe in Me! Verily I say, I am the Báb, the Gate of God, and thou art the Bábu’l-Báb, the gate of that Gate. Eighteen souls must, in the beginning, spontaneously and of their own accord, accept Me, and recognize the truth of My Revelation.….”

Mulla Husayn remembered that:

“…the knowledge of His Revelation had galvanized my being….The universe seemed but a handful of dust in my grasp. I seemed to be the voice of Gabriel personified, calling unto all mankind: `Awake, for, lo! the morning Light has broken. Arise, for His Cause is made manifest. The portal of His grace is open wide; enter therein, O peoples of the world! For He Who is your Promised One is come!'"”

At dawn, May 23rd, 1844, two months after William Miller’s ‘Great Disappointment’, Mulla Husayn stepped back out into the street, a man transfigured by “a sense of gladness and strength.”

Click below to see locations in this post:




The End of the World

William Miller realized on March 21st, the Spring Equinox, that the Son of God had not returned. This was the last day of the year 1843-44, the time he had predicted the return. He wrote:

“I am now seated at my old desk in my east room.…I am still looking for the Dear            Savior…”

Miller, though a simple farmer, had made an exhaustive personal study of the Bible and had written a detailed chart of biblical prophecy for use in his preaching indicating the end times. 1843 had begun with great anticipation for the Adventists for the fulfillment of Miller’s prophecy. The Adventist newsletter had changed its subscription schedule to every three months to accommodate the possibility of a sudden Return. Miller’s sermons drew thousands of people in Washington DC and Philadelphia. The Adventist movement spread rapidly West in the Spring and reached Britain and Norway by the summer

The growth of the movement brought a backlash. William Lloyd Garrison, the great abolitionist, concluded that the “delusion has not long to run…let us rejoice.” The Tribune of New York, the most influential paper in the country, devoted a whole issue to refuting the claims of Miller. The great evangelist Charles Finney, and Joseph Smith, the prophet of Mormonism, spoke out against it. Millerites were described as weak like “weathercocks” in a “popular tempest.” A leading Biblical scholar suggested that April 1st was a day better suited to Miller’s predictions.

Miller was mocked in print. One cartoon showed Miller so busy preaching that he had forgotten to prepare himself for the end, and he is saying, “I had no idea it would be so hot.”

With every passing day of 1843, the Adventist message became more strident in its challenge to Christians. Established churches called Ministers who didn’t renounce Adventism, “the few recalcitrant offenders…[who]…went on from bad to worse, till, like wandering stars, they disappeared in darkness.”

The mockery, the attacks and criticisms, and, most of all, the condemnation from churches hurt Miller deeply. He had always seen himself as a Bible-centered Christian who wanted Christian fellowship for all and did not see his teaching as a new movement or the cause of separation and disunity. He grew increasingly ill. He was sixty-one, his body shook with palsy and swelled with fluid, while rashes and boils burst out on his skin.

Looking up at the empty sky on March 21st, 1844, William Miller still held on to his faith:

“I now am looking every day and hour for Christ to come, my time is full, the end of days are come, and at the end the vision shall speak and will not lie.”

To learn more about the Millerites, click the video link below for an excellent documentary on this powerful movement

The authoritative film documentary about a famous crisis in American religious history. For some amazing days in the fall of 1844, America was on the raw edge of its nerves. In the large cities of the Northeast, angry mobs chased worshipers out of their churches.

A new age?

“What hath God wrought?” is the question Samuel F.B. Morse typed out on the simple hobbled together telegraph machine in the chambers of the Supreme Court in Washington D.C., on May 24th, 1844. He chose the phrase because the woman he was in loved had suggested it. A few seconds later, a message was received in return all the way from Baltimore. The communication age was underway.

The 1800’s were years of rapid industrial development in the United States. Finished by 1869, the Transcontinental Railroad joined the two coasts, and the continent could be crossed in a matter of little more than a week whereas it had taken months.

American society changed from one centered in semi-rural small communities with predictable cycles to one of growing cities undergoing change that was so rapid that even the founder of the modern car industry, Henry Ford, conceived of his new Model-T car as a rural vehicle and advertised it as such: “stronger than a horse and easier to take care of.”

In the 1800s−only Philadelphia and New York City had populations of more than 25,000 people—became an industrial superpower during the 1800s. Its territory increased four-hundred percent from roughly 1,000,000 square miles to almost four million, and its population grew ten-fold from seven million people in 1810, to seventy million by 1890.

The nation’s frenetic pace of growth accelerated social change which caused great anxiety. Many Christians saw God’s Hand at work and sought certainty in a more powerful sense of faith.

Joseph Smith founded a new form of Christianity that would develop into a huge international Christian Church, the Church of Jesus-Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, which sought a purer, ‘restored’ form of Christianity. A New York farmer, William Miller, came to believe that by 1844, the Second Coming was at hand and his numerous followers became the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

Click below for more information about the Mormons, the Millerites, and the Transcontinental Railroad.


Early in her marriage, Tahirih moved with her husband to the holy city of Karbila in the hot Mesopotamian plain of Iraq so he could pursue his religious studies. Iraq was a province of the Ottoman Empire in those days but several of its cities were sacred to the Shi'a, the dominant religious group in Persia, so there was a lot of travel between Persia and Iraq for religious purposes.

This city was of great spiritual importance for Muslims because it was associated with the Third Imam, Husayn, who was buried there. Over the centuries, the city grew wealthy and was built up around his golden domed Shrine as generations of pilgrims arrived and elderly people sought to be buried near his remains.

In the Battle of Karbila, In 680 AD, Husayn and seventy of his companions were massacred by troops sent by the caliph whose authority he publicly rejected. He came to be seen in Islam as a figure of great spiritual purity in a corrupt world who had the courage to stand to tyranny and oppression. His martyrdom colored the Shi'a religfious experience with a particular intense fervor. The drama of Husayn's death at Karbila is the centerpiece of Shi'a religious imagination.

His martyrdom is commemorated every year by the Shi’a on the Day of Ashura with public displays of passionate religious feeling. The day is one of mourning for Shi'a and seen by Sunnis as a day of victory to celebrate God's victory over the powers of the world. 

Tahirih and her husband lived for thirteen years in Karbila where she gave birth to her two sons there. When these sons were mentioned in future Shi’a biographies, they were designated by one of her titles ‘al-Qurat ul-Ayn’ not that of her husband—evidence of the great respect in which her learning had been held.

Click below for a documentary on pilgrimage to Karbila today (some scenes of violence)


Click below for an appreciation of Imam Husayn from people of different Faiths:


Tahirih: Married young

Tahirih was married to her cousin when she was a teenager which was the socially expected course for a young woman. Marriages were typically arranged by the parents and a bride price paid to the bride though, in practice, it was often taken by her family. The new couple would have spent little time together prior to the nuptials. In many cases the groom only saw his wife’s face at the ceremony. There was no such as modern Western notions of dating as men and women were separate in the public sphere. This was less true of women who lived in nomadic tribes that lived in rural areas where men and women were much more interdependent.

The marriage ceremony itself involved a complex exchange of gifts based on social status and wealth. Men and women separated in separate areas after which the young couple spent their first nights together and produced evidence of the bride’s virginity.

The new wife became subsumed into her husband’s family and took her place in the hierarchy of ladies. The purpose of the union was to join the families socially and economically and produce sons. The wife was expected to conform entirely to her husband’s ideas and not take a public role.

Tahirih would do just the opposite.

View photos of the lives of women in Qajar period HERE.

Video montage of photos of 19th c. Iran by Russian photographer Antoin Sevrugin by clicking HERE.

Educating girls

Tahirih of Qazvin was fortunate to have been born to a father, Mullah Salih, who valued the education of his numerous daughter and a mother, Amina, who herself along with several female relatives were highly educated . The men in her family were all educated clerics, several of whom had risen to the rank of 'mujtahid.' They were active participants in the theological disputes and business concerns of their bustling city of Qazvin in northwestern Iran.

Education was a rarity in 19th century Persia where over 90% of the population was kept illiterate.--much less the education of women whose lives were spent in the private sphere. Only men led public lives. Fortunately for Tahirih, her father had founded a school which drew hundreds of students from as far away as India and that included a section for girls.

Armed with a superb mind shaped by an excellent education and propelled by a strong and independent spirit, her destiny would be  a life played out in public.. 

She studied religious jurisprudence and its principles, Islamic traditions, and Qur’anic commentary with her uncles--she memorized the Qur'an---learned Trukish along with Arabic,, and  Persian literature and poetry with her mother. Persia's rich literary tradition remains popular in the West. Click here for a fresh modern translation of Attar's the Conference of the Birds in which--Baha'is may be interested to note, the birds travel through seven valleys. Click here that to see photos of women in 19th century Iran. 



The novel and the War

Sojourner Truth loved to listen to the great preachers of her time and became a powerful one herself despite the fact that she had never been taught to read and write. Among the greatest was Lyman Beecher who railed against slavery from his Brooklyn pulpit. So passionately did he feel about abolishing slavery that he had rifles shipped to the anti-slavery forces in crates marked 'books'. These rifles came to be known as 'Beecher's Bibles.'

In her meeting with the great preacher Lyman Beecher, she expressed her authentic conviction:

““Sojourner, this is Dr. Beecher. He is a very celebrated preacher.”

Is he?” she said, offering her hand in a condescending manner and looking down on his white head, “Ye dear lamb, I’m glad to see ye!  De Lord bless ye! I loves preachers. I’m kind o’ preacher myself.”

“You are?” said Dr. Beecher. “Do you preach from the Bible?”

“No, honey, can’t preach from de Bible—can’t read a letter.”

“Why, Sojourner what do you preach from, then?”

Her answer was given with a solemn power of voice, peculiar to herself, that hushed everyone in the room.

“When I preaches, I has jest one text to preach from, an’ I always preaches from this one. My text is, ‘WHEN I FOUND JESUS!”

“Well, you couldn’t have a better one,” said one of the ministers…"

One of Rev. Beecher's talented daughters, Harriett Beecher Stowe, wrote a novel about slavery, 'Uncle Tom's Cabin', soon after the death to cholera of her own young son. Though the book is not a realistic depiction of slavery--Stowe had never seen it first hand--it was the first time slaves had been humanized in a fictional work by a white author. In addition, 'Christian love'--an idea that resonated with many white churchgoing Americans--was embodied in the person of Uncle Tom. The book became the biggest selling American novel of the 19th century and helped to sway white public opinion against slavery in the Civil War years.

Click the first video for a short review of her life and importance and below that for a montage of the original illustrations in her novel's first edition:


The life and importance of Harriett Beecher Stowe

Photo montage of illustrations for the first edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin

Rescuing a son from slavery

When Sojourner Truth was still a girl, her owners died, and she was sent to a nearby farm, separated from her parents. Her mother died and her elderly father was released into the care of another freed couple only to die alone in a shack in the woods. 

New York State officially abolished slavery in 1827. It had passed a law for 'gradual abolition' by which the children of mothers who were salves would be freed after a long period of service to the master as an indentured servant. 

Once freed, Sojourner Truth was not able to bring her children with her as she had no means by which to support them. To her horror, she found out that her young boy, Peter, had been sold into slavery in Alabama despite promises that he was to be apprenticed in New York City. 

Alabama was experiencing a cotton boom and eager to have more slaves working its plantations. The farm work exacted from slave labor was especially harsh, with its quotas supervised by armed men, its difficult physical conditions, and complete restrictions on any personal freedom.When Alabama became a state in 1819, 30% of its population was enslaved. This population doubled in the '20s and again in the '30s. By the time of the Civil War, 45% of its population, or 435,000 people, were slaves. .

Sojourner Truth was desperate to rescue her son and found help among the Quakers. The Society of Friends, believing that all human beings had a divine inner light, were the earliest religious group in the United States to take up the cause of the civil rights of blacks, native peoples, and women. By the mid-18th century most Quakers had freed their slaves and gotten behind the abolitionist cause. Their influence pushed Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to get the Continental Congress to put the ending of the importation of slaves into the Constitution. Pennsylvania, founded by Quakers, was the strongest anti-slavery state.

With the support of Quakers, Sojourner Truth successfully brought a court case that resulted in the freeing of her son and his return to New York. This was the earliest successful case brought by a back person against a white person.

Click the videos to learn more about Quakers and slavery and an interview with the modern biographer of Sojourner Truth.
For materials documenting legal cases argued in courts in the United States and Great Britain on the issue of slavery go to:



Sojourner Truth and shape-note singing

Sojourner Truth was born into bondage as "Isabella Baumfree" in a Dutch-speaking area of Ulster County, New York. During her childhood, she slept with her parents on the floor of the cellar of their owner's home. She watched her mother weeping as siblings were sold away to other landowners until she herself was sold away to a neighboring farm. Separated from her parents, she could do nothing to help them; her mother soon died, and her father was freed only to die a short time later out in the woods.

Though entirely deprived of any formal education, she possessed an excellent memory and ear for music. It was with these talents that she was able to learn all that she knew about Jesus Christ and the Bible. She had never set foot in a church but one night, while she was passing by a private house, she heard a 'circuit rider' preaching. She listened to him through an open window and heard the hymn that began, "There is a holy city..", which she committed to memory.

So began her life of faith. She became one of the foremost preaching women of the Untied States. In her powerful talks, she combined strong statements of faith with the singing of hymns in a loud, sonorous voice which deeply affected her listeners.

The hymns she heard were taught through a uniquely American form of musical notation called 'shape-notes' ('Sacred Harp') which allowed church goers to learn to sight read without learning formal music and created distinctive harmonies which have recently seen a revival of interest for their communal style of singing.

Click below for a short documentary on this style:

Read more about Sojourner Truth in 'The Calling' available now