Arthur Pillsbury Dodge, the first president of the New York Bahá'i community (1898), Disciple of 'Abdú'l-Bahá.
© Copyright 1993, 1998 by N. Richard Francis
Arthur Pillsbury Dodge was born May 28, 1849 in Enfield, New Hampshire. He was an eighth-generation New Englander with ancestors having immigrated to America in 1629.
Although Arthur Dodge had little formal education, he received noted success in several disciplines, becoming a self-made man. As a young man, he was a reporter for the Manchester Union Leader. He later studied law on his own and in 1879, was admitted to the New Hampshire bar. He then started his own law practice in Manchester representing business concerns. In 1880, he published a biographical profile of the honorable Phinehas Adams, a prominent Manchester businessman.
Arthur Dodge moved his law practice to Boston and in 1886, founded and published the New England Magazine, naming Edward Everett Hale (author of The Man Without a Country) as its first editor. After successfully establishing this as well as two other magazines, Arthur moved to Chicago in an attempt to raise the capital to start a national magazine with the objective to "educate the public unawares." He contacted George Pullman, the railroad car manufacturer and changed directions, becoming an inventor. Most of his occupational pursuits from this time on, were devoted to financing his own railroad inventions. However, this proved far less successful than his earlier magazine business.
Arthur was intensely interested in religion. As a young man he often was a Sunday-school teacher and an active church member. He attended many different Protestant denominations and eventually became dissatisfied with all of them. He became an ardent Bible student and voracious reader. His search led him to investigate other religious movements in nineteenth century America. Eventually, after following up on nearly every cult and -ism he could find, he came upon the Bahá'i Faith.
In 1897, Arthur met Dr. Sarah F. K. Burgess, who had recently accepted the Faith. Because he planned to move to New York City, Arthur received Ibrahim Kheiralla's 'Truth Seeker' lessons on the Bahá'i Faith in condensed format. He declared on October 27th.Once Arthur was settled in Manhattan, he invited Kheiralla and family to visit and give meetings. Thus the first Bahá'i meetings (not called firesides at this stage) were held in the Big Apple. Regular meetings were held in his home and in a few short years, the Yew York City Bahá'i community came a reality
The Assembly of New York City was, according to Arthur's personal records, first elected in 1898. The incorporation seal is dated 1898. Records (official minutes,) show that a "Board of Counsel" was elected on December 7, 1900 at the old home of Mr. Arthur P. Dodge, room 601, Carnegie Building. He was elected president of the Assembly and apparently held the position for several years.Ibrahim Kheiralla' refused to hold an allegiance to 'Abdú'l-Bahá and around 1900, caused a splintering of the Bahá'i Faith after the Master refused to sanction some of his beliefs, or to give him authority over the Bahá'i community in the West. Most of the American Bahá'i community remained loyal to 'Abd'l-Bahá though the leadership of several prominent Bahá'is, notably Thornton Chase. Arthur eventually was able to lead the New York Bahá'is into maintaining an allegiance with 'Abdu'l-Bahá.
Kheiralla lost contact with the Bahá'ís, as well as Bahá'u'lláh's Covenant, dying in 1929 along with most of his movement.
In 1900, Arthur produced The American, a magazine of a nonpartisan political movement called the "Universal Brotherhood Party," not a Bahá'í publication but clearly reflecting the Bahá'i viewpoint: unity working for God's Peace on Earth. In 1903-1904, Arthur Dodge published articles on the Bahá'i Faith, writing that the Bahá'is held "to the Positive Reality of actual Christianity, striving to live the life in the knowledge that love and service toward God were not possible without love and service to one's fellow men." This was part of a social reconstruction stemming largely from 'Abdu'l-Bahá's annunciation of universal principles that were being taken up by the Bahá'ís during this period.
During 1911-1912, Arthur Dodge and his wife was host to 'Abdu'l-Bahá on several occasions on the Master's historic visit to the United States. On April 16, 1912, 'Abdu'l-Bahá gave a talk on the significance of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar in his home at 261 West 139th Street. 'Abdu'l-Bahá designated Yew York City as the 'City of the Covenant.' during a Bahá'i meeting on June 19, 1912. He spoke of Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i-'Ahdi and the Tablet of the Branch, the later having been originally revealed in Adrianople for Mirza Ali Riza, and declared His own station to be the 'Center of the Covenant.'
Arthur was also a delegate to the national convention on at least three occasions between the years 1909-1917.
Arthur Dodge was later named as one of the nineteen western Disciples of 'Abdu'l-Bahá by Shoghi Effendi. This same group was also entitled Heralds of the Covenant. Additional accounts of his life and the date of his passing are presently being researched.