Before there was a formalized community here in Houston, there were stirrings in the air, very typical in process to the pre-founding of all Bahá’í communities the world over. Annie Romer, then Kathryn Franklin, circuit-taught through Texas stopping briefly in the towns and cities of this state. They left no followers in Houston.
Then, during the Guardian's first Seven- Year-Plan, in 1939, in Los Angeles, California, a Dollie Beal signed the pioneer roll-call, left, married, and became Mary Beal Edson of Houston, Texas. Texas, among many other states, was termed a "virgin state". In Bahá’í administrative language, this meant there were as yet no Local Spiritual Assemblies (or governing bodies) in all of Texas. This "pioneer" had committed herself, in signing the Guardian's roll-call, to residing in Houston, teaching in Houston, and devoting herself to the realization of a body of nine "believers" (followers of Bahá’u’lláh's teachings) with the help of any other Bahá’ís available in the future, before the Seven-Year Plan expired. When these nine believers were in evidence, then the organization of the first Local Spiritual Assembly in the state of Texas, would indeed be realized.
First, teaching of the Faith was given at small luncheons every Wednesday and teas and finally study series, all of these only for those who wished to inquire into the teachings of the new era. These were held at "Briar Hollow”, a house that disappeared after the southwest Post Oak area became townhouses and business building in 1971.
Two schoolday friends of the pioneer came through Houston: Marcia Atwater, enroute to Santiago, Chile, to pioneer for the Bahá’í Faith; the other Eleanor Adler who would teach in La Paz, Bolivia. To meet these travelers, the pioneer held open house at "Briar Hollow. Over a hundred people attended, to mingle, to listen. Another time, shortly after, she rented the Alabama Theatre. Three people came, sitting up front. The speaker lectured as though to a full house. One of the three became one of the first Bahá’í in Houston.
“O people! Consort with the followers
of all religions in a spirit of friendliness
and fellowship.” - Bahá’u’lláh
In 1941, an Amarillo, Texas, girl named Charlotte Sterritt, later Charlotte Pinto, singed the pioneer roll in Los Angeles and moved to Houston, Texas. What enthusiasm! Two of us now worked together sending to all architects brochures of our nearly completed House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois (on Lake Michigan). Every labor union received the pamphlet of Abdu’l-Baha, son of our founder, on Industrial Justice, which address was given the first part of this century and which advocated profit-sharing. A model of our House of Worship appeared in store windows and at Rice Institute in the Architectural Department.
Then came World War Two affecting the whole of the Western world. Two Bahá’ís, Mr. and Mrs. (Inez) Max Greeven, were living in Holland at the time. He was head of European distribution for Anderson-Clayton Cotton firm which headquartered in Houston. When the Nazis invaded Holland, the Greevens caught the last cargo ship out of Italy. The cargo was cheese. When a bomb exploded in the hull, the texture and character of the cheese absorbed the concussion. With more or less minor repair, the ship resailed the following morning. They came, where his business headquarters were, to Houston, Texas.
There were now four in number Three or over Bahá’ís in any legal municipality register at the National Offices as an official "group". It then holds religious observances together, contributes voluntarily to the group-fund, pledges part of that fund to the national fund, and consults and acts on policies, methods, and teaching plans within that legal municipality. This registration was done soon after German armies invaded the Netherland in 1940.
During this period public meetings were held in the lounge of the Warwick Hotel and at the downtown YMCA on Louisiana Street. The religious observances and study groups were still held at "Briar Hollow". David and Virginia Spieldock, a Houston couple and neighbors of the pioneer came into the Faith. A Mrs. Mary Buelow of historical Everett-Beulow store on Main street attended. Mrs. Tellepson, whose husband built the old court-house and many civic buildings, also two Federated Club presidents studied the Faith, and a Mrs. Inez Lois Butterfield, ex-president of Federated Clubs.
The situation was crystallizing: Don and Doris Corbin transferred themselves from Freeport to Houston; then Mrs. Butterfield, aforementioned, declared herself a "believer" and started meetings with them at her address at 3409 Mt. Vernon Street. As April was approaching in the year I942, two of the club presidents and the poet-laureate of Texas, Lily Lawrence Bow, declared themselves Bahá’ís and with others mentioned here, there were more than enough (plus Mr. and Mrs. Clark Pollard) to form a Local Spiritual Assembly.
The Houston Bahá’í First Local Spiritual Assembly
In fact, it was proscribed that in all countries far flung, yes all islands, when there are nine members or more within a given legal jurisdiction, they were obliged to fill and sent the proper forms to the National Spiritual Assembly. This was done in Houston on the fixed yearly date April 21, in the year 1942. Thus, in the city of Houston the first Local Spiritual Assembly of Bahá’ís was formed in the State of Texas. The duty of this body was foremost to promote the Teachings of the Bahá’í Faith through public meetings and public relations, to set up committees for this purpose. They were responsible for the reputation of the Faith, the forming of policies, of civic amity throughout the city, and the expenditure of the community fund. They, when requested, were to consult and advise and assist on any personal or group difficulties of the "believers", all duties being directly related to unity within the Faith and the accomplishment of the Faith’s promulgation.
National Bahá’í speakers came through Houston thereafter. The first public meeting after the formation of the Local Spiritual Assembly occurred when Mrs. Dorothy Baker, who toured the world as a speaker, arrived. It was at 3409 Mt. Vernon. Forty-five members of Unity, Theosophy and many other churches attended. Sometime later, after one of her visits to the Bahá’í Holy Shrines in the Holy Land, when she had become a "Hand of the Faith", Dorothy and all other passengers disappeared forever as their plane exploded over Sardinia. Another Hand of the Faith, Mrs. Amelia Collins also spoke and taught here. Mr. Leroy loas, still another Hand (deputies under our Guardian who travel, inspire, encourage, and keep unified, the "believers" the world over, and Louis Gregory of the Negro race was routed through. After meetings during his stay, three men became the first Negro Bahá’ís: William Powell and Edward Gray, U.S. Government employees, and the late Dean Reynolds. This latter was a Ph.D., the ex-Dean of Prairie View College, and writer of a daily news-column headed Good Will. He was also a prominent physicist. Gaining these members was another triumph for the Faith here as the Oneness of Humankind is one of the primary building blocks of the Bahá’í Teachings in a structure of a planetary society of the future.
As the order of the day in those years was a Deep South Culture in this part of the country, distressed neighbors called police about the study classes at Mt. Vernon Street and an FBI man came once to "Briar Hollow". When the questions were quietly answered with solid information, the FBI was fully satisfied. He was furnished with an added bonus that, should they care to, the Library of Congress records in Washington, D.C., would validate all the statements. It should be added that now Houston surpasses many of the Northern large cities in their practice of equity-for-all and time will bring improvement throughout the country. Despite this past harassment, Mt. Vernon Street and "Briar Hollow" continued meetings.
The years passed. The Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith in the Holy Land (then Palestine) where Baha'i historical shrines are, asked members-in urban districts-to disperse to well designated countries of the world to teach, to "pioneer", to keep city memberships to the number fifteen active Bahá’ís able and with capacity to serve in one way or another. Thus seven of the Bahá’í community pioneered to Switzerland: Dorothea Lacey and family plus Bonnie Sue Sparks and family.
In the mid-fifties to the mid-sixties pioneers, at the call from National continued to move outward to well defined countries and Islands, self-supporting except in countries that forbade non-citizens to work. In yeast-like manner, these grew into new Local Spiritual Assemblies over the globe.
From the mid-sixties until the present time, due to two calls from the Universal House of Justice in the Holy Land, to proclaim the teachings to the masses, Bahá’í members grew to hundred in Houston, Texas.
Perhaps the most important local historical date for them is August 24, 1951 when the Bahá’í Local Spiritual Assembly of Houston, Texas, was granted a *corporate charter* as a religion usually empowered legally by the State of Texas to perform burials, marriages, do business as an entity and to hold real estate.
There is a Baha’i Center at the present time at 2121 Oakdale.
*Charter member 1-512-475-3551
Charter Amendment number 1-512-475-4636
Note: This History is the recorded account of Mary Beal Edson, the first Bahá’í in Houston, Texas. It can be found in the Texas Room, a special historical collection in the main branch of the Houston Public Library on smith Street in downtown Houston, Reference number R0170992235