Who was `Abdu'l-Bahá, and why did He come to the West?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

May 20, 1912 Championing women's rights

New York: Inspiring narrow-minded ministers and suffragists

Mahmud writes: "Among those visiting the Master at the Kinney's home were some narrow-minded Christian ministers. He spoke to them about the misunderstandings among Christians about Islam. After the Master spoke emphatically with reasoning and proofs to establish the reality of Islam, the ministers left humbly and joyfully, impressed by His explanations.
In the evening an enthusiastic gathering of women suffragists gathered to hear the Master's address. While riding in Mr Mills's automobile, the Master said: `You will learn of the value of this automobile later because it will be said that the servants of the Blessed Beauty sat in it.'  
When He entered the gathering, the entire audience stood with great joy and excitement. The chairman of the meeting [Mrs Penfield] first gave an introductory account of the persecutions and imprisonment of the Master and explained the meaning of the name `Abdu'l-Bahá. The Master then spoke at length about the education and rights of women. There was great excitement in the audience, and, as in other gatherings, the people were deeply moved and both men and women shook His hand, supplicating for assistance."

Perhaps we can't understand now what it meant for the Master to speak out on rights for women.  It wasn't until 1920 with the 19th amendment that women could vote--see below. So it would have been a "hot topic" of 1912--with pro and con positions argued, no doubt.
  • 15th Amendment (1870): "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."
  • 19th Amendment (1920): "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."
I have long been intrigued by Margaret Fuller (1810–1850), who declared that until there was full equality, woman would not be woman but only an overgrown child. She would have been thrilled to hear the remarks of the Master! 
Looking into the years 1911-12, I find: 

In 1911 The National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS) is organized. Led by Mrs. Arthur Dodge, its members included wealthy, influential women and some Catholic clergymen--including Cardinal Gibbons who, in 1916, sent an address to NAOWS's convention in Washington, D.C. In addition to the distillers and brewers, who worked largely behind the scenes, the "antis" also drew support from urban political machines, Southern congressmen, and corporate capitalists--like railroad magnates and meatpackers--who supported the "antis" by contributing to their "war chests."

1912  Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive (Bull Moose/Republican) Party becomes the first national political party to adopt a woman suffrage plank

So again, the issue was a lively one--with `Abdu'l-Bahá identifying with the liberal side of it. No doubt many felt that the women who spoke out were much too strident and had no business speaking out. But the Master was their champion! 

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