During World War I, from March 1916 to March 1917, Abdu’l-Baha wrote the stirring Tablets of the Divine Plan and sent them to the Baha’is of United States and Canada, outlining with astonishing specificity how the Faith of Baha’u’llah would be spread across the Northern and Southern hemispheres. In those days, and, also, at this stage in the development of the Faith of Baha’u’llah, and in the foreseeable future, most Baha’is are born adherents of the religions of their ancestors, or the religion common in the region where they were born.
Hand of the Cause of God
The resilient Martha Root recognized that Baha’is are brave souls who step out of the mold provisioned by their ancestors. Because of their own volition they independently investigate, and thereafter adopt, espouse, and champion a new religion. She knew that first they had to learn about a new religion before they could investigate, so she set out to tell as many people as she could about the Baha’i Faith. The Baha’is she saw all around her were like the early Christians who, though born Greek, Roman, or Jew, first had to learn about Christ, and doing so, they would accept His teachings. Thereafter they would reorganize their lives along the principles, under the shadow, and beneath the sheltering wing of the new religion that they and their families had come to love and cherish.
Martha Root, who was born in 1872, in Richwood, Ohio. This American woman will be recognized throughout history as the preeminent example of what it meant to dedicate one’s life to the Cause of Baha’u’llah in what is known as the Heroic Age of the expansion and consolidation of the Baha’i Faith. She was a giant and stands in a place all her own because of her resolute self-effacement and service.
Shoghi Effendi wrote that the Heroic Age of the Baha’i Faith ran from the inception of the Faith of the Bab and ended with the passing of Abdu’l-Baha in 1921. The Baha’i Faith is now in the fourth epoch of its Formative Age, a time wherein the Administrative Order of Baha’u’llah has emerged and has been firmly established across the earth. The fourth epoch marking the growth of the Faith began in 1986, and its end will be distinguished by National Spiritual Assemblies taking full responsibility for every aspect of their individual development.
Martha Root was a talented woman who worked as a journalist. She was unusual for a woman of her time because she was unafraid to travel across the earth alone to upraise the call of Baha’u’llah. Everywhere she went she sought to meet dignitaries to whom she could proclaim the coming of the new Manifestation of God! But, most of all, Martha Root told ordinary people everywhere about Baha’u’llah. While visiting Anna Reinke, the first Baha’i in Texas, she went to Bee Caves, Texas, a small town near Austin, and stood on the back of a rough-and-ready horse drawn ranch wagon. There she was, the magnificent Martha Root, standing behind the traces, buckboard, and the waggoner’s seat, up on the load-carrying bed, addressing a group of cowboys! They were captivated by what she said to them. They asked her to come to a nearby square dance that night so that she might speak to people who came from miles around to dance. That night, right there – deep in the heart of Texas – all those country folks, salt of the earth, heard Martha Root tell them about a new Prophet and His teachings for a new age.
Martha Root is said to have been entirely unassuming. There was nothing physically special about her. She was plain looking, and had a high-pitched voice. She was normal and common in every way except one, that she was determined to travel the earth and proclaim at every opportunity the call of Baha’u’llah. Her eagerness to do this, and her constant prayer, opened doors mysteriously. Everywhere she went, people appeared who were not Baha’is, but who nonetheless were eager to help her meet other people who would listen attentively as she spoke about a new religion.
Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, loved Martha Root for her humility and her determination to serve the Cause of God by traveling across the earth to proclaim a New Day everywhere she went. He said there were many martyrs in the Cause but few saints; however, he said that Martha Root was both a martyr and a saint.
Shoghi Effendi recognized the life of sacrifice that was the illustrious Martha Root – a hard working, plain-born American with a nature to serve the Will of God and to upraise the standard of a new religion. She learned about the Faith in 1909 and became a Baha’i the same year, after researching to learn more. In that very year, working as a journalist, she wrote a long article about the Baha’i Faith that was published in the Pittsburgh Post. When Abdu’l-Baha visited America, Martha Root attended many of His talks. Martha Root will be remembered for having met with many public figures and heads of states, not the least of which was Queen Marie of Romania, who is considered the first monarch to become a Baha’i. Although Shoghi Effendi sent a letter in April 1925 to Martha Root wherein he says she is “a mighty hand of the Cause of Baha’u’llah,” he did not officially designate her a Hand of the Cause until 1939 in a telegram lamenting her passing and stating: “…. posterity will establish her as foremost Hand which Abdu’l-Baha’s Will has raised up first Baha’i century.” Elsewhere he declared that she was “the foremost travel teacher in the first Baha’i Century.” He praised her years of continuous service to the Cause, at a time during which she forced away, with prayer, a cancer that was eating her. Martha Root was pure-hearted and practical. She never married. During years of illness, she used her indomitable will and the power of prayer to live in order to serve Baha’u’llah and upraise the banner of His Faith throughout the earth. She passed away in Hawaii in September of 1939. She was 57 years old.