Martha Louise Root (August 10, 1872 – September 28, 1939) was an American traveling teacher of the Baháʼí Faith in the early 20th century. From the declaration of her belief in 1909 until her death thirty years later, she went around the world four times. Shoghi Effendi, then head of the Baháʼí Faith, called her "the foremost travel teacher in the first Baháʼí Century", and named her a Hand of the Cause posthumously. Known by her numerous visits with Heads of State and other public figures, of special importance was her efforts with Queen Marie of Romania, considered the first royal to accept Baháʼu'lláh.
Martha Root was born on August 10, 1872 to Timothy and Nancy Root in Richwood, Ohio, who raised her in the Baptist church. She had two older brothers, Clarence and Claude. Shortly after her birth, the family moved to Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania, where her father ran a dairy farm. Martha, known as Mattie, was not a typical girl, since her interest lay in books rather than the usual domestic pursuits, and when she was 14 she earned enough money from writing to pay for a trip to Niagara Falls. She distinguished herself in high school and college, attending Oberlin College, where she designed her own program; she then continued to the University of Chicago and earned her degree in literature in 1895.
While she started teaching after her degree, she soon gave that up to start writing for different newspapers. In the summer of 1900 she worked at the Pittsburgh Chronicle Telegraph as the society editor, and then in the fall she worked for the Pittsburgh Dispatch. She then started writing about automobiles, which took her to France and then back to Pittsburgh.
Introduction to the Baháʼí Faith
In 1908 she overheard Roy C. Wilhelm in a Pittsburgh restaurant talking about his visit to ʻAbdu'l-Bahá and Bahaʼis in ʻAkka in the Holy Land, and that he had met members of other religions who actively promoted the brotherhood of humanity. This comment appealed to Martha and she questioned Roy, who gave her some Baha'i literature. While researching the religion she met several members of the Baháʼí community, including Thornton Chase and Arthur Agnew in Chicago, and in 1909, declared her faith in Baháʼu'lláh's teachings. During this time, she continued writing newspaper articles and also in 1909 she wrote a detailed article for the Pittsburgh Post about the history and teachings of the Baháʼí Faith. She also participated in the first annual Baháʼí convention, which took place in Chicago in 1911.
Visit of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá to the United States
During 1911 and 1912, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, the son of the founder of the Baháʼí Faith, visited the United States and Canada. Martha attended many of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's talks, and arranged his talk in Pittsburgh. During this time Martha developed breast cancer, but with advice from ʻAbdu'l-Baha it went into remission for many years.
World travel and teaching
After meeting with ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, Martha was profoundly affected by His explanations of His Father's Cause and teachings, and began her journeys where she would spread the teachings of the Baháʼí Faith. She did not let her small stature, lack of money or poor health stop her. She left the United States on January 30, 1915, and after visiting some countries in Europe, she desired to visit Palestine and the Baháʼí holy places, but she could not go due to First World War. Instead, she travelled to Egypt and stayed there six months. During that time she wrote newspaper articles. She then travelled to Bombay, Rangoon, Japan, and Hawaii. She arrived back in the continental United States when she reached San Francisco on August 29, 1915.
After staying in the United States for five years, she then travelled to Canada in 1920, visiting Saint John, Montreal, London and Saint Thomas where she arranged teaching programs. She then travelled to Mexico and then Guatemala where she was going to meet with the president, but due to a political revolution, the meeting never happened. By 1921, her breast cancer had spread and she was in frequent pain; her father's health was also failing, and thus her travels become more limited.
After her father's death on November 3, 1922, Martha started her travels once again at the age of 50. She travelled to many parts of the United States, Canada, Japan and China to spread the teachings of Baháʼu'lláh, and the Baháʼí Faith. She then travelled to Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, and Hong Kong, and helped Baháʼí pioneers to teach about the Baháʼí Faith. She then travelled to South Africa, and went on several radio broadcasts. She also studied Esperanto, and met Lidia Zamenhof, the daughter of Ludwig Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, who would later become a Baháʼí.
Meeting with Queen Marie of Romania
In 1923 she arrived in Bucharest and sent the Queen a copy of the book Baháʼu'lláh and the New Era. Two days after the Queen received the book she granted Martha Root an audience in the palace. The first of eight successive audiences with Queen Marie of Romania took place in January 1926 in Controceni Palace in Bucharest. The second, in 1927 in Pelisor Palace in Sinaia, was followed by a visit in January 1928 at the royal palace in Belgrade. A fourth visit took place in October 1929, at the Queen's summer palace "Tehna Yuva," at Balcic, on the Black Sea. In August 1932 and February 1933, Martha Root was received at the home of Princess Ileana (then Arch-Duchess Anton of Austria) at Mödling, near Vienna. In February 1934 and February 1936, audiences were granted at Controceni Palace.
Baháʼí sources state that Marie was the first member of a royal family to become a Baháʼí, The biographer Hannah Pakula noted Marie had an intense connection with the religion in her personal life but "…continued to attend the Protestant Church" though she "…prayed 'better at home with my Baháʼu'lláh books and teachings…'." In 1976, William McElwee Miller published a book about the Baháʼí Faith that included a letter written in 1970 by Marie's daughter Ileana who denied any such conversion had taken place.
Visit to the Holy Land
In 1925 Martha Root travelled to the Baháʼí holy land, and met Bahíyyih Khánum and Shoghi Effendi. She then travelled to the United Kingdom, Germany, Greece, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, once again teaching the Baháʼí Faith. She then travelled to Iran, even though Shoghi Effendi recommended not doing so. She hoped to meet with the Sháh, Reza Khan Pahlavi, but did not do so.
In 1930 she wanted to meet with Emperor Hirohito of Japan, but US officials blocked her access. Instead she sent the Emperor some Baháʼí books and some other gifts. She continued to teach, even while she was in ill-health travelling in 1937 to Hawaii, China and India. She returned to Hawaii in 1938 where she died on September 28, 1939.
- Root, Martha (1981). Táhirih the Pure. Los Angeles, USA: Kalimát Press. ISBN 1-890688-04-5.
- Jiling Yang (Jan 12, 2007). In Search of Martha Root: An American Baha'i Feminist and Peace Advocate in the Early Twentieth Century (Thesis). Institute for Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Georgia State University.
- "Martha Louise Root – Bahai Chronicles". bahaichronicles.org. Retrieved 2020-09-17.
- Hassel, Graham; Fazel, Seena (1998). "100 Years of the Baháʼí Faith in Europe". Baháʼí Studies Review. 8: 35–44.
- Hannah Pakula (1996). The Last Romantic: A Biography of Queen Marie of Roumania. Phoenix Giant. p. 337. ISBN 978-1-85799-816-0.
- Miller, William McElwee (1974). The Baha'i Faith: Its History and Teachings. Pasadena, Ca.: William Carey Library. pp. 304–05. ISBN 0-87808-137-2.
- Ruhe-Schoen, Janet (1998). A Love Which Does Not Wait. Riviera Beach, Florida, USA: Palabra Publications. ISBN 1-890101-17-6.
- Effendi, Shoghi (1944). God Passes By. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Baháʼí Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-020-9.
- Garis, M.R. (1983). Martha Root: Lioness at the Threshold. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Baháʼí Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-185-X.
- Kay Zinky (Compiler), ed. (1983). Martha Root: Herald of the Kingdom: A Compilation. New Delhi, India: Baháʼí Publishing Trust. ASIN B0007B5H28.
- Harper, Barron (1997). Lights of Fortitude (Paperback ed.). Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-413-1.