239 Days in America

A Social Media Documentary following 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912

Day
93
 | 
July 12, 1912
New York, NY
Storify Feature

The Short and Fearless Life of Lua Getsinger

ABOUT MIDNIGHT on December 8, 1898, dozens of pairs of eyes peered at Louisa Moore Getsinger through the darkness of a poorly-lighted coffee house near the beach where the ship had dropped them off. Lua was a long way from home: this was Haifa, an outpost of the Ottoman Empire on the shores of the Holy Land. A group of men sat cross-legged on the floor, sipping tea, and speaking Persian and Arabic. One of them nodded; the rest stared in amazement.

Earlier that year Lua had set out for California to teach one of the most powerful women in America about Bahá’u’lláh. Strong-willed, fearless, passionate, restless: that’s how her friends would eventually come to describe Lua.

The woman she met was Phoebe Apperson Hearst, wife of the Senator from California, George Hearst, who had died in 1891. Mrs. Hearst still actively managed America’s largest private mining company, which she had inherited from her husband. She was a feminist, a suffragist, and one of the nation’s most generous philanthropists. Her son, publisher William Randolph Hearst, was busy building an empire of his own.

That’s how Lua’s trip here, to the Bay of Haifa, began. Mrs. Hearst had originally planned a winter cruise down the River Nile, but now the trip had become a pilgrimage to the prison city of ‘Akká to meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

Everything was wrapped in secrecy so as not to arouse the suspicion of the authorities, because ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was still a prisoner under house arrest. The group of fifteen pilgrims had been instructed to arrive in the Holy Land in groups of two. Lua and her husband, Edward, were the first to arrive.

They waited almost two days before receiving permission to proceed to ‘Akká, a five-mile journey on horseback along the sandy edge of Haifa Bay. Lua later wrote of the “violent beating of my heart.” When she first laid eyes on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá she ran to him, threw herself at his feet, and cried like a child.

“Arise and be of good cheer!” she remembers ‘Abdu’l-Bahá saying. He wasn’t one for outbursts of devotion, not to mention people prostrating themselves at his feet. Lua would stay in the Holy Land for four months, learn to speak Persian, and listen as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá instilled in her the need for women to arise and do “great things.”

Lua traveled to ‘Akká again in the summer of 1900. Then in 1902 she stayed a full year to teach English to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s family. Upon returning to America she toured the country teaching her new religion. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would later send her to Europe, travel across America with her in 1912, and then dispatch her to India in 1913. For over a decade she was continually homesick, chronically short of funds, and plagued by frequent illness. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told her repeatedly that giving birth to a divine religion is achieved through sacrifice.

Lua was with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Palestine when the Great War broke out. She was there when the bombs begin to drop on ‘Akká. In August, 1915, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sent her to safety in Cairo. She was seriously ill for most of the winter, but continued to teach.

Lua Getsinger died unexpectedly of heart failure on May 2, 1916. She was just forty three.

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  • Robertahodgin

    One of my favorite heroines.

    • Roopduds

      Lua is the herald of the Covenant!

  • Marywilson19

    Extraordinary woman! Only 43 when she died? Even more inspiring. Thanks ever so much for shining a light on her!

  • Nickie

    Wow, what an inspiring story of sacrifice!

  • Winnie

    Lua has always been one of my favorite early Baha’is.  She had a very strong faith, but also had a pixy-like impish side that endeared me to her.   Through stories-of course. I may be old, but not that old! I never met her but wish I could have.

  • Bartonhill404
  • William Maxwell

    Ruhiyyih Khanum stressed one’s spiritual genealogy.  Lua is my spiritual great grandmother.  She taught Orcella Rexford who taught Fred and Beth Laws who taught me.  I wonder how many spiritual cousins I have in the world?  Fred and Beth Laws pioneered to southern Africa. Orcella died at her post in Alaska.
    William Maxwell
    in Albania

  • Abreneman

    Given the interesting beginning of her life in upstate NY to a Mother who was so curious about the issues she insightfully noticed in her church, that the minister came to their home and told her husband that he was not to allow her to come to the church again. She was pregnant with her  daughter to be (“Lua”) at that time, and responded to the small-minded minister’s fears  in a very interesting way. Putting her hand on her unborn child, she prayed that this child would grow up and not be afraid to seek the truth to the questions which would come to her mind about religion.
    And sure enough, years later young Lua was studying in Chicago when she noticed in the Chicago newspaper that there was for the 1st time ever a Parliament of World Religions being held in the city. A Presbyterian minister was said to have stood up and mentioned  that the Parliament could not be completed without honoring Baha’u'llah, who had just passed away as a prisoner of concience, and who spoke of themes such as “The earth is but one country and all its citizens” and that all the religions are one. Lua was intrigued and could think of nothing else , when her landlady knocked on her door and invited her to come and meet an unusual young man. Fearing she was being “matched”, so far from her state of mind, she tried to get out of the situation, but to no avail. Not wanting to hurt her landlady’s feelings she gave in.
    But the “young man” turned out to be a Baha’i teacher from Lebanon who was giving a lecture about the teachings of Baha’u'llah.  The rest is history, but Lua had become as curious as her
    mother prayed she would, one of the first western pilgrims to visit the “Prisoners of Akka”, and eventually became, along with her sister, a Baha’i. Abdu’l Baha called her the “Mother- teacher of the West”.   ~Anne Breneman

    • Evansc

      Thanks Anne for that fascinating background information

    • Eugenio

      I’m actually researching about Lua’s younger sister, Ruby (Hebe) Struven. I wonder if anybody knows any info about her. The Master visited her house in Baltimore in 1912.

  • James (Jim) Holmlund

    Only the future will reveal the true contribution of this incomparable lady in the building of a new world civilization. Loving thanks for this timely posting.