Born: June 12, 1887
Death: August 11, 1946
Place of Birth: Tracy, Minnesota
Location of Death: Los Angeles, California
Burial Location: Inglewood Park Cemetery
Orcella Rexford formerly known as Louise Cutts-Powell. She attended the University of California at Berkeley where she studied four languages and majored in Education and Domestic Science. Her graduate work was in Philosophy and Psychology. Her interests were changing and she became a writer and lecturer.
The name “Orcella Rexford” is a cryptogram chosen for her by an old acquaintance in New York City. To Orcella this name symbolized her wish to link her personality to cosmic forces for good, which would give her the greatest impetus for development.
Orcella first heard of the Baha’i Faith from Mrs. Myrta Sandoz of Cleveland, Ohio, and was later confirmed by Dr. Edward Getsinger in Boston, Mass. She became a believer in 1918-1919.
Since belief and action were inseparable to her, while studying the Faith with Dr. Getsinger she brought along two students from her own classes who also became Baha’is. Soon she began to organize classes for Dr. Getsinger. In order to serve the Faith with maximum efficiency, Orcella now took stock of her educational equipment and capacities; she even investigated her genealogy, to appraise possible inherited tendencies and ‘thus fully to obey the commandment, “Know thyself”.
As a child she had often been told of her second great-grandfather, William Jarvis, appointed by Jefferson as consul and charge d’affaires at Lisbon, who gave his services without cost to the then young and impecunious American Government for nine years (1802-1811). Orcella felt that her tendency to pioneer, and to contribute her services to a righteous Cause, might have come down to her from this ancestor.
‘Abdu’l-Baha’s newly-revealed Tablets of the Divine Plan called for pioneers to spread the Faith. In response, Orcella set out for Alaska in 1922. Some of her forbears had joined the gold rush to the Yukon: she was determined to find the gold of souls receptive to her Message. The first Alaskan to accept the Faith through Orcella was Gayne V. Gregory, who soon became the husband of his teacher and within two years gave up his extensive dental practice at Anchorage to serve as the business manager of her lecture tours.
Orcella continued to be a lecturer by profession; while conducting classes on various subjects (among other topics, such as diet, she did much to popularize the use of color in clothing and in household furnishings and utensils, at that time traditionally drab) she would refer her students to a lecture that would follow the paid series of talks, and would bring them a knowledge that was beyond price. This final talk was on the advent of Baha’u’llah. Invariably, she left a Baha’i study class, which was then conducted by other Baha’i teachers. That her method was successful is proved by the large number of Baha’is who first learned of the Faith through Orcella.
In Denver, for example, eighteen hundred people attended the Denham Theater on each of two nights to hear Orcella spoke on the Cause, and a study class of four hundred and thirty-five people resulted. When, toward the close of her life, a serious accident ended her professional lecture career, giving her the freedom she had longed for, she found that she had been deprived of her best teaching medium.
In 1925 the Gregorys left Alaska for Honolulu, and after tea
ching there, returned to the mainland where they traveled from west to east and north to south; then crossing the Atlantic and taking their car with them, they motored through Europe. In1926, while in Europe they received permission to visit Shoghi Effendi in Haifa. Returning spiritually reinvigorated to the United States, Orcella continued her constant travels: at one time or another she taught in Oakland, Milwaukee, Denver, New York, Omaha, Seattle, Spokane, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Flint, Detroit, Butte, Phoenix, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, beyond the frontier in Mexico, the list seems endless.
While visiting Phoenix, Orcella was injured in a fall, which ended her professional career as a lecturer. In Hollywood to regain her health, she was active in teaching and administrative work. Then she left California on what was to be the last of so many journeys for the Faith; alone, she attended the thirty-eighth Annual Baha’i Convention at Wilmette, teaching in various cities and at the Geyersville Baha’i School on her way home. On Sunday morning, August 11, 1946 she died suddenly in her bath.
Orcella Rexford was laid to rest August 14 at Inglewood Park Cemetery, near the grave of Thornton Chase. Friends filled the chapel; Paul Schoney, who learned of the Faith through Orcella, traveled from Phoenix, Arizona to sing at the memorial service, and Mrs. India Haggarty, Mrs. Florence Holsinger, and Mrs. Emily Schiemann spoke. Winston Evans read the prayer at the grave. The Guardian’s cable to Dr. Gregory was read: “Deplore less indefatigable, gifted promoter Faith. Heartfelt sympathy. Fervent prayers. Shoghi.”
A letter from the Guardian, through Ruhiyyih Khanum, to the local Assembly of Los Angeles says in part:
“She was one of the most devoted teachers of the Cause in the States, and responsible for bringing it to the attention of a great many people, as well as for the confirmation of many souls. Her radiant devotion will not be forgotten and her example should certainly be an inspiration to her fellow believers. It is a great pity the Cause should lose her services just as the new Seven Year Plan is getting under way. He asks you to particularly convey to dear Mr Gregory his profound sympathy for the loss of such a wonderful woman and to assure him he will pray for her happiness in the next world, a world in which she will find many of her old fellow teachers awaiting her…”
Her husband Gayne V Gregory died in 1964.
The Baha’i World. Kidlington, Oxford: George Ronald Publisher. Volume 11 pp. 495 – 498
Baha’i World Centre Archives
(c) Baha’i Chronicles