Louise Dixon Boyle and Maria Montessori

By Khan, Janet A. | The Journal of Baha'i Studies, March-December 2006 | Go to article overview

Louise Dixon Boyle and Maria Montessori


Khan, Janet A., The Journal of Baha'i Studies


Louise Dixon Boyle (1875-1953), a member of the Bahá'í community of Washington, D.C., for fifty-six years, was an intelligent and active woman whose record of service to the promotion of the Bahá'í teachings and the betterment of society is rich and varied.1 Conscious of the forces of social change, the impact of progressive scientific ideas, and the issues confronting the Western world in the early years of the twentieth century, Louise Boyle sought to find ways to bring to the attention of leaders of thought the teachings of the Bahá'í religion that related to their fields of interest, and to encourage her co-religionists to familiarize themselves with current thought and to consider the means by which it might be used to introduce Bahá'í perspectives on the issues of the day.

While the biography of Louise Boyle has yet to be written, some of her contributions have already been described in brief, principally in the area of the advancement of race unity2 and her membership on the executive board of the Bahá'í Temple Unity (1920-1922), the elected institution that evolved into the National Spiritual Assembly, the national governing body of the Bahá'ís in the United States.3 The present research note aims to highlight another dimension of Boyle's activity. Piecing together fragmentary information, it focuses on Boyle's involvement in the field of education, examining, in particular, her interest in the work of the Italian physician and educator Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952).

THE CONTEXT

From its inception at the turn of the twentieth century, the Washington, D.C., Bahá'í community benefited from the diversity of its membership, the presence of a number of talented and well-educated individuals and people of means, whose efforts were reinforced by prominent Bahá'í teachers from Iran, such as Mirzá Abu'l-Fadl, who resided in the city from 1902 to 1904.4 The community grew rapidly as a result of personal contacts, public meetings, and the organizational skills of its members. Increasing personal links between Bahá'ís from the East and the West led to the formation in 1910 of the Washington-based Persian-American Educational Society, a Bahá'í-inspired association open to all and designed to serve all Iranians. Initially, the provision of assistance to the Tarbiyat School was the priority task of this new society.5

In the course of His travels in North America 'Abdu'l-Bahá visited Washington, D.C., in 1912. Receptions were held in His honor "at which outstanding figures in the social life of the capital were presented to Him" (Shoghi Effendi 289). Abdu'l-Bahá addressed a number of large gatherings, including one at Howard University. In these meetings He expounded, "with brilliant simplicity, with persuasiveness and force" the "basic and distinguishing principles of His Father's Faith," teachings which He characterized as "the 'spirit of the age'" (Shoghi Effendi 281-82).

Louise Boyle was clearly inspired by Abdu'l-Bahá's visit to the United States and by the breadth and social relevance of the subjects He discussed, and by the way He introduced the Bahá'í Faith to the diverse audiences He addressed. She also had the opportunity to meet with Abdu'l-Bahá on several occasions. No record has been found concerning the content of the meetings that took place in Washington, D.C., and in Dublin, New Hampshire.6 However, in a letter dated April 1914 addressed to Mrs. Agnes Parsons, a prominent member of the Washington Bahá'í community, with whom she collaborated on a number of Bahá'í activities, Boyle confides in Mrs. Parson that, during a third meeting, in Philadelphia, 'Abdu'l-Bahá had given her many instructions about teaching.7

ENCOURAGEMENT TO ACTION

From the time Louise Boyle accepted the Bahá'í Faith, 'Abdu'l-Bahá encouraged her in her efforts to serve the religion she had embraced. Writing to her in an undated Tablet revealed after her pilgrimage, which took place in the spring of 1900 (Stockman, Bahá'í Faith 2:158-59), 'Abdu'l-Bahá states: "Wert thou informed of that which God hath ordained unto His maid-servants in this blessed, holy and primal life, in this Wonderful Age, thine heart would fly with joy and gladness. …

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