239 Days in America

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

August 25, 1912
Malden, MA
Storify Feature

A Few Thoughts on the Potential of Youth

I RECENTLY READ a statement, attributed to Sigmund Freud, that the period of adolescence is a “temporary mental illness.” At best, our culture, and especially our media, considers adolescence as a time of fun and frivolity. We rarely see youth as capable of contributing meaningfully to society.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá thought otherwise. During his time in the United States and Canada, he spoke frequently about the need to look beyond outer appearances, advice we should surely apply to our perceptions of young people.

When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited New York in 1912, he encountered a unique thirteen year old named Dorothy King Beecher (later Dorothy Baker). Dorothy’s grandmother took her to hear ‘Abdu’l-Bahá speak. She was not looking forward to it. She spent the duration of the trip staring at the floor of the carriage. “What if he looks at me?” she later recalled thinking. “If he speaks to me I will die!” When she arrived, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá motioned for her to sit on a footstool beside him. Without looking up at him, she sat on the stool; her eyes fixed on her little black shoes.

It may have seemed as if Dorothy was disengaged, but this proved to be far from the truth. Dorothy later recalled that once ‘Abdu’l-Bahá began speaking, she felt an “intense, overpowering urge for the harmony of united love. . .” By the end of the talk, she found herself facing ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “elbows on her knees, chin in hands, unwilling and unable to remove her gaze from his face.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote often about the potential of children and youth. He commented that the period of youth “stands out as the choicest time of human life.” He told young people to be distinguished for their “loftiness of purpose,” “determination, noble mindedness,” and “tenacity.” He believed that from the youngest age, all of us are capable of developing our intellectual and spiritual capabilities, and effecting a positive change in our communities.

After meeting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Dorothy wrote him a letter expressing her wish to follow his path of service to humanity. He replied: “My hope is this: that you succeed in your desire.”

Years later, the shy girl who had seemingly just stared at her shoes, traveled throughout the continents of Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America, speaking to hundreds and thousands of people from all backgrounds about the Bahá’í teachings of unity and service. She was appointed to the Race Unity committee of America, a committee designed to support and assist in organizing race unity events across the country. She was later elected to the national governing body of the Bahá’ís of the United States, acting as its first female chairperson.

Dorothy Baker never forgot her meeting with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in New York in 1912. “In that hour,” she later wrote, “all fear was replaced by a passion for all people.”


  • Sharon Lund

    I love this story! I will forward it on to our orphanage in Nepal. All the children there will love to hear about Abdu’l-Bahá and Youth. Maybe they will be able to bask in His love by just hearing this story.

  • Loie Mead

    Sharon, I like your plan and will expand upon it by forwarding this story of young Dorothy Baker to the gathering of teachers for neighborhood children’s classes (Gresham, Portland,OR.) In last night’s consultation we were especially concerned about spiritualizing our neighborhoods. This story, is certain to move the hearts of children and their families and there will come a time when they will want to know how it would be to meet face-to-face with ‘Abdu’l-Baha.

  • Rosamond Brenner

    This is an absolutely beautiful story. All youth should read this and be conscious of what it imparts.

  • Anne Perry

    Hope that Dorothy Gilstrap sees this! I’ll send her the link. Lovely story. We use it in our film, too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Candace-Moore-Hill/736896802 Candace Moore Hill

    So of us in Illinois are so fortunate to be friends with members of the Baker family. Dorothy’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren continue to live lives of passion and service.

  • Maria Chouchtari

    Caitlin , your articles on children and youth are excellent!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pascal-Molineaux/1203381202 Pascal Molineaux

    ‘Abdu’l-Bahá teaches us by example to look unto others with no preconceived ideas, to see all as beings of enormous potential, of unlimited possibilities for good. Youth are often depicted, in western societies at least, as fickle, rebelious, self-centered. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá saw youth as capable of leading dedicated lives of service unto others, moved by the burning desire, ideal, to build a better world, one in which injustice and opressive violence would have less importance. Of course, the Bahá’í Writings allow for this burning desire to be further strengthened and to express itself in meaningful action. Junior Youth around the world are now living up to this hope, this conviction of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Thus will our communties be transformed and a better world become possible. We can all help if we are firm in our belief in the limitless potential of our Youth around the world and are willing to give them a hand.

  • Pingback: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey So Far: Month Five