239 Days in America

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

August 8, 1912
Dublin, NH
Storify Feature

The Rights Not Only of Women, But of Men

AGNES PARSONS AND HER husband, Jeffrey, walk down the hill from Tiny May to Day-Spring to meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. They are on their way to the Cabots’ for lunch. The grass is dry and Agnes’s shoes become dusty from the walk. As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá approaches, Agnes asks Jeffrey to clean them off for her. Jeffrey bends down to clean the shoes, and looks up at ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with a humorous expression which, Agnes will recall, “He enjoyed very much.”


In November in Chicago, in front of a group of women, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá will recall the incident with the shoes differently: “I said, ‘Madam! Do you also clean your husband’s shoes?’ She replied that she cleaned his clothes. I said, ‘No, that is not equality. You, too, must clean his shoes.’”

The suffragists are busy in 1912. The women of California won the right to vote on March 28. The suffragists paraded up Fifth Avenue in New York City on May 5. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has argued vigorously for women’s rights from the first day he landed in America. But his memory of the incident with Agnes Parsons’s shoes in Dublin prompts him to argue for the equal rights of men, too.

“How many men in Europe and America work from morning until evening,” he tells the women in Chicago, “and whatever they save is spent on adornments and jewelry and colorful clothes and the latest fashions for their wives who spend their time in pleasure and enjoyment? In reality, these poor men are servants of their wives.”

“Now then, it would be better if you occasionally stand up for the rights of men,” he says. “A condition must be realized in which the man and woman sacrifice their rights for each other, serve each other with heart and soul and not through force and violence.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá continues: “Hearts must be attracted to the divine fragrances, so that each one prefers the other to himself.”

Later this month ‘Abdu’l-Bahá will speak to a group in Boston concerning women’s rights. “The realities of things have been revealed in this radiant century,” he will say, “and that which is true must come to the surface. Among these realities is the principle of the equality of man and woman — equal rights and prerogatives in all things appertaining to humanity.”

“But while this principle of equality is true,” he will qualify, “it is likewise true that woman must prove her capacity and aptitude, must show forth the evidences of equality. She must become proficient in the arts and sciences and prove by her accomplishments that her abilities and powers have merely been latent. Demonstrations of force, such as are now taking place in England, are neither becoming nor effective in the cause of womanhood and equality.”

A few days ago, while lunching at the Parsons’ home, Agnes told ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that many women objected to having to say “obey” in the wedding service. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá agreed that the word should be removed, as God intended the man and the woman to be one, and the use of the word “obey” assumes two. “He was profound, joyous, amusing,” Agnes said.


  • Wolf

    We’ve just stepped over the halfway point in the journey….

  • stephanie

    We need to think of each other as people, as servants of God and divine beings first and foremost.  When we think of each other this way, then whether someone is male or female is secondary.  All the servants of God are equal in His sight, and we need to educate young people to think in this way so they can use their spiritual perception and the eyes of God when they interact with each other.

    • Craig_shere

      Stephanie’s comments are very appropriate and true. But while the soul has no gender, our physical lives do – and we need to somehow joyously reconcile these points to have an optimal existence in this world.

      Acknowledging that there is a “bell curve” around general tendencies between women & men that allows for innumberable individual variations (which must be respected), I’ve found in my own life great utility in studying relationships and general gender qualities. While we educate our children about innate human oneness and equality, we also need to remember to teach them useful facts about human traits/tendencies that will increase the odds they can develop healthy relationships and families. This is a very major factor in not only happiness, but wealth creation.

  • Michael

    It seems to me that the best way would be to change the way that the adults behave. I see changes coming about in the way that women are treated now; legally, culturally, even in most religions. But trying to teach the youth equality of men and women when they grow up in a culture where the women expect more of the men than they do of themselves is going to continue the same thing that we have now.

  • lisa

    Where can these quotes by ‘Abdu’l-Baha be found?

  • Barbara

    Parents educate children in the first instance. The children must see the equality between the parents. Boys, especially, need to be taught about equality and be chastised if and when they make disparaging remarks about women, i.e, he cried like a girl. The world is so anti-women that we must all be vigilant with our language and our attitudes.