Martha Root – Teaching the World

Martha Root was different from other girls even as a little child. She enjoyed reading and had little interest in cooking, knitting, or sewing. She briefly worked in education before pursuing her life’s work as a journalist. Martha’s first post was in Union City, Pennsylvania while she was teacher and high school principal. She also published stories and at one point became the summer replacement for the society editor of the Pittsburgh Chronicle Telegraph.

Thorton Chase and Arthur Agnew were among the early believers Martha encountered after meeting Roy C. Wilhelm, who gave her some Bahá’i literature. After a number of months of concentrated study, Martha became a Bahá’í in Pittsburgh in 1909., but it wasn’t until she met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in 1912 on his visit to the US that her life began to change significantly.

She attended as many meeting as possible. Abdu’l-Bahá gave a speech in Pittsburgh thanks to Martha, who also had two private interviews with him. The Unity Feast held by Roy Wilhelm in West Englewood, New Jersey in June of 1912, was one of Martha’s favorite Bahá’i events. She frequently wrote the Wilhelms to express her appreciation for having invited her to the picnic with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

On January 30, 1915, Martha set sail from New York for the first time as part of her plan for an around-the-world teaching journey. During her six-month stay in Egypt, Martha worked as a newspaper reporter and wrote articles about the four to six thousand Jews who had been driven from Palestine by the Ottoman Empire of Turkey and had later been saved by the U.S.S. Tennessee and transported to Alexandria. According to the Jewish refugees she interviewed, they were subjected to unbearable conditions before they fled, as well as political persecution.

By the summer of 1915, Martha traveled to Bombay, Rangoon and later to Japan. Martha made her way to San Francisco after a brief detour in Hawaii to wrap off the first of many worldwide teaching journey. Martha continued teaching by traveling to Saint John, Montreal, London, and Saint Thomas, Canada, to arrange programs.

While caring for her ill father, Martha continued her teaching work by writing a book about the Baha’i Faith. All this in tremendous pain. Nine years earlier she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and a special prescription from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá most likely helped it go into remission. But this time, it had a different agenda. Even so she kept working at a slower pace despite her discomfort.

Although she had already visited many parts of the world, after the passing of her father in 1922, she traveled continuously. Divesting herself of all that anchored her. At the age of fifty, Martha left her home town of Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania, and took up residency in the rest of the world.

Throughout the course of her life, she met with world leaders in distant nations (including Queen Marie of Romania, the first monarch to accept the Bahá’ Faith) and acquainted them with its tenets, frequently becoming the first Bahá’ to step foot in each of those nations.

while traveling to every continent, she spoke at universities, women’s groups, peace congresses, and on radio programs spreading the Bahá’ Faith. She also wrote newspaper articles, met with political figures, and gave speeches. All of this at a middle-aged when she was already unwell from a protracted struggle with breast cancer. Bahá’i communities all across the world have histories that start with “Martha Root first visited in…

You can learn more about Martha and her travels from her biography.

(Sources: Bahá’í Library, second article from Bahá’í Library)