The first public mention of the Bahá’í Faith in North America was at the Parliament of the World's Religions held in conjunction with the Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893. In December of 1908, a passing reference in the The Dallas Morning News referred to the work of Countess Aurelia Bethlen Laudon of Hungary, who was then establishing a group working on issues of social justice in Zurich, Switzerland, noting that she was “an ardent devotee of the teachings of Bahai and in pursuance of these beliefs has given up her all claim to her wealth and titled position in order that she may better minister to the needs of the poor.” This is the first known mention of the Bahá’í Faith in Dallas. Then, on April 30, 1912, while one of the Central Figures of the Faith, `Abdu’l-Bahá, was making is historic 295-day journey throughout America and Canada, an extended article appeared in The Dallas Morning News titled, “Bahaism: Birth [of a] New Religion” introducing the Faith and its teachings in a fairly detailed way. `Abdu’l-Bahá was Himself profiled later that year in the paper, on Sept. 1st.
Today, the Bahá’í community in the United States numbers about 150,000, of whom more than 10,000 are Iranian Bahá’í refugees who fled Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Bahá’ís reside in about 7,000 localities throughout the United States, including more than 100 Indian reservations.
We see in the history of the establishment and subsequent rise of the Bahá’í Faith in Dallas a reflection of the history of the national community. Following a familiar pattern, the Bahá’í Faith was established here in Dallas by traveling teachers and a few so-called home front pioneers who relocated for the express purpose of planting a community. In the early years, public meetings were held in rented hotel rooms, auditoriums, YMCA’s and on several occasions on the campus of SMU and at First Unitarian Church.
Some Notable Events
As early as 1941 and again in 1942, following the annual National Bahá’í Convention in May, a traveling teacher arrived here from San Antonio to present talks at the home of Mrs. A. H. Bailey, whose home is not far from the SMU campus, which was an early center of Bahá’í activity.
In 1948 the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Dallas was formed.
In 1948, Le Roy Ioas, a Hand of the Cause of God, spoke at the mansion at Lee Park.
By 1951, there were approximately 20 believers residing in Dallas.
In 1953, a letter to the Morning News, written near the peak of McCarthyism, suggested that Mr. Don SoRelle, a Bahá’í be deported to Russia for having written a letter to the editor mentioning support for the United Nations and for the concept of world citizenship. SoRelle and other local believers were active in working to promote the unity of the races and other socially progressive ideas.
In 1956, Mrs. Meherangez Munsiff came to speak in Dallas from her home in India.
In 1957, Mrs. Allene Squires, who was traveling throughout Mississippi, Lousiana and Texas presented an introductory talk on the Bahá’í Faith First Unitarian Church.
In 1958, a Bahá’í Summer School was held at Camp Kiwanis on Bachman Lake. According to an article dated August 23rd of that year, it was the first time such an event had been conducted in the Southwestern United States. The program featured a panel discussion in which participated well-known Bahá’í’s Velma Sherrill, Florence Mayberry (who would go on to serve as a Counselor-member of the International Teaching Centre in Haifa, Israel), and Dr. Neill MacFarland, professor of Comparative Religion at Southern Methodist University. The event was repeated the following year and included participation by well-known Bahá’í author, Ruth Moffett, and Ellsworth Blackwood of Chicago.
On May 6, 1960, the most distinguished figure at that time in the Bahá’í world, Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum, widow of the late Head of the Faith, Shoghi Effendi, visited Dallas as part of a national tour that brought her to nine U.S. cities. She spoke in the auditorium of the Hillcrest State Bank then at 6517 Hillcrest. In her own right, she was named a Hand of the Cause of God and was also the daughter of the distinguished Canadian architect, Sutherland Maxwell.
Dwight Allen, a well-known author, educator and member of the Spiritual Assembly of the United States and then a professor at Stanford University, lectured here in 1961.
In March of 1962, the late Hand of the Cause of God Mr. William Sears visited Dallas together with Mr. Paul Quigley, speaking at the Elmer Hotel and then at Elmer Scott Place Community Hall in West Dallas.
In 1966 Bahá’í youth in Dallas organized a youth conference attended by 100 youth from around the region. Speakers at the event included Louise Mathias and the late Paul Petit.
In 1967, the eminent Winston Evans came to Dallas from Nashville, also to speak on the topic of the Bahá’í Faith at a location on La Vista. In June of 1967, Seals and Crofts, who were at the peak of their fame, performed at Memorial Auditorium in downtown Dallas. They returned in Sept. of 1972, performing at McFarlin Auditorium.
In March 1968, the Dallas Museum of Fine Art presented an exhibition featuring 135 canvasses by Mark Tobey, an abstract expressionist painter who was a Bahá’í whose style is similar to that of his better-known contemporary, Jackson Pollock. Lectures explored the connection between Tobey’s art and his Bahá’í beliefs as did several newspaper articles.
In 1972 Mrs. Javidukht Khadem, wife of the Hand of the Cause, spoke in the auditorium of Lakewood Bank at Gaston and La Vista.
In 1975, 12 DFW Bahá’í communities jointly organized a conference exploring the equality of women and men.
In 1977, Professor Glen Eyford who was at that time serving as a member of the National Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada, lectured in Dallas.
Beginning in the late 1970s, the Dallas community became very involved in interfaith activities, notably participating on the board of Thanksgiving Square. There is also a longstanding association with groups such as DFW International and the Dallas chapter of the United Nations Association of the United States, the Society of Religious Communicators and others. We have also joined hands with others working on issues related to human rights, although avoiding partisan political entanglements, social justice, the status of women around the world and racial equality.
In 2013, area Bahá’ís Tim and Anne Perry screened their epic documentary film, “Luminous Journey: `Abdu’l-Bahá 1912”, to a full house of community members and supporters at the Angelika Theatre in Dallas.
The Iranian Revolution in 1979 marks a transformation in the modern history of the Bahá’í Faith, in the world and in Dallas. At that time, a wave of believers, fleeing intense suppression and mass executions of the community’s leadership, sought asylum here in the United States, which dramatically increased the number of Persian believers in our midst. A few years later, the Dallas community produced a video called, “For a Drop of the Lover’s Blood”, which attempted to explain and illuminate the interaction between two cultures—Persian and American. This video was widely distributed among communities in North America.
With the sudden increase in numbers, it became impossible to fit the entire community into a living room, and so, in 1976 property was purchased at 4235 W. Northwest Highway, followed, a few years later, by the expansion of the residence which served as the Dallas Center until late 2006.
Today a former Presbyterian church serves as the Bahá’í Center of Dallas. Its ample size lends itself to a variety of uses: everything from weddings, to prayer meetings, to larger regional events. The center's most distinguished feature is the stained glass windows designed by the renowned French artist, Gabriel Loire, who also designed the "Glory Window" in the chapel at Thanksgiving Square in Downtown Dallas. While the Faith has its own calendar, a small public devotional gathering is held every Sunday morning from 11-noon, followed by a complimentary lunch in the Fellowship Hall.