239 Days in America

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

October 16, 1912
Pleasanton, CA
Storify Feature

The Grand Benefactress of California

ON OCTOBER 16, 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá woke up in one of Phoebe Hearst’s forty rooms in her mansion in Pleasanton, California. Most of the other rooms were empty; only a few close friends and family had joined Mrs. Hearst for the duration of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s stay. Since George Hearst’s death twenty-one years earlier, Mrs. Hearst had been busy managing an immense mining fortune, including the Homestake gold mine in South Dakota, and the Anaconda copper mine in Butte, Montana.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá did not give lengthy talks while in Pleasanton; instead, he casually answered the questions of those around him. “How is it that the desires of some people are achieved while others are not?” someone asked. “[G]ood intentions and sound thoughts attract confirmations,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá answered. “The desires of human beings are endless. . . He can never find peace but through effort and resignation, so that, notwithstanding all efforts in worldly affairs, the human heart remains free and happy.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá concluded: “He neither becomes proud on attaining wealth and position nor becomes dejected on losing them.”

The morning of October 15, 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá toured Mrs. Hearst’s home and gardens. He chose a few plant specimens to take home with him and cultivate next to the resting place of his father, Bahá’u’lláh. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá enjoyed the company of Mrs. Hearst’s grandchildren that evening, saying, “In reality, children are the ornaments at the table, especially these children, who are very sweet! The hearts of children are extremely pure and simple. A person’s heart must be like a child’s, pure and free from all contamination.”

Among Phoebe Hearst’s foremost concerns was uplifting women and children. In 1886 her husband, George Hearst, was appointed to a vacant seat in the United States Senate, and two years later won it by election. The couple built a mansion in Washington, DC, at 1400 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, about ten blocks from the White House, and moved there. But Phoebe wanted nothing to do with politics — her passion was education.


Mrs. Hearst first donated to the University of California, Berkeley, to provide scholarships for women. She was the first woman to ever serve as Regent of the university, a controversial appointment at the time. She established the first free kindergarten for America’s poor, open to not only white children, but African Americans as well. She also cofounded the National Congress of Mothers, which is known today as the Parent-Teacher Association.

Through the University of California in Berkeley, Mrs. Hearst underwrote archeological expeditions to Peru, Guatemala, rural California, and the American Midwest and Southwest. She donated artifacts from the South Pacific, Alaska, the Etruscan region of Italy, and the Philippines.

She also quietly provided financial assistance to women’s suffrage organizations, the Young Women’s Christian Association, established free libraries in mining towns, and was a leading promoter in building the Washington Monument. She even funded Green Acre, the conference center started by Sarah Farmer in Eliot, Maine. She was one of the few sources of funding that Sarah Farmer trusted would come with no strings attached.

Before leaving her estate on October 16, 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá called together the servants and attendants of Hearst home. They stood in a line as he pressed two guineas in each of their hands before he left, encouraging them to be “honest and devoted to their work.”


  • http://twitter.com/LoieMead Loie Mead

    This entry is most timely during events of today. ‘Abdu’l-Baha is very near us in Portland, Oregon. Only last night the gathering learned about the lovely chair in the Assembly’s Meeting Room; it was bequeathed to this community years ago. It is reserved for it once seated ‘Abdu’l-Baha in His visit to California.

  • Negar

    I love how Abdu’l-Baha selected the subject of humility among the wealthy. So fascinating! it reminds me of Baha’u’llah’s Hidden Words that says ‘with fire we test the gold and with gold We test our servants’

  • Dean Hedges

    to know is to love,
    to love is to serve,

  • soulfulady

    During this Centennial year of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s visit to the America, while one of today’s major national and international discussions is financial and economic oppression, I pray for a return of the spirit of humility and generosity among the wealthy rich in the world. May it happen “swifter than the twinkling of an eye”,in a heartbeat stimulated by the love of God and the Divine trust that has been extended to us to act appropriately with each other!

  • Sonja Brook

    I love this 239 Days series and hesitate to suggest this small correction since the heart of the article is not dependent on it, but the references in the first paragraph got reversed. They should read Homestake gold mine in South Dakota and the Anaconda copper mine in Butte, Montana. My mom was born in Butte, so the error popped out at me. Please accept my sincere thanks to the writers of this series for such interesting and thoughtful stories of this amazing time in history.

    • http://www.facebook.com/caitlin.s.jones Caitlin Shayda Jones

      Yes, you’re right! Thank you very much Sonja, we took care of this change.