Nellie Stevison French, Knight of Bahá’u’lláh for Monaco
Born: October 19, 1868
Death: January 3, 1954
Place of Birth: Peoria, Illinois
Location of Death: Monaco-Ville, Monaco
Burial Location: Rosehill Cemetery and Mausoleum, Chicago, Illinois
Bahá’u’lláh proclaimed: “O Son of Being! Thy Eden is My Love and reunion with Me thy home. Enter and tarry not. This is what hath been destined for thee in Our Kingdom above and Our exalted paradise.” The reaffirmation of the Covenant of God and the reassurance of Divine Guidance became the motivating power in the life of Nellie Stevison French, upon whom ‘‘Abdu’l-Bahá bestowed the appellation, “My daughter.”
Nellie’s father, Josiah Hill Stevison (1840-1902) was an Episcopalian, and her mother, Sarah Swain Stevison (1841-1924), member of a Quaker family, provided their daughter and son, Dudley (1884-1938)who was 14 years younger with the usual Sunday school associations. Evincing a marked talent for singing, Nellie left in 1888 for Naples, Italy, to develop that interest. The four-year residence abroad gave her the opportunity to learn both French and Italian to acquire an appreciation of the Latin fine arts, and to master a strenuous course in training for the operatic stage. She suffered a case of typhoid fever in 1892 and returned to the United States to recuperate; but her recovery was followed by scarlet fever which impaired her vocal chords irreparably. Her aspirations for a musical career were ended.
In December, 1894, Nellie Stevison was married to Stuart Whitney French (1867-1946), a childhood companion. About 1896, accompanied by her mother, she attended a few meetings at the home of Dr. Khayru’llah, a Syrian, on West Adams Street in Chicago. He informed those assembled that there had come into the world a new revelation and a new prophet, Bahá’u’lláh. Although Dr. Khayru’llah’s knowledge of the Teachings of the Cause of God was limited, the spiritual seeds were sown. Moving to Arizona in 1900, Nellie French lived in Bisbee until 1904 and in Douglas until 1917 where she participated in the social and civic activities of the pioneer mining communities. These interests were high-lighted by being elected Arizona State President of the Federation of Women’s Clubs; she served from 1912 to 1914. Her visits to Chicago and New York furnished a few Bahá’í contacts with meager information; the Bahá’í messages copied and exchanged were sporadic, rudimentary, and fragmentary. Mrs. Isabella Brittingham’s coming to Arizona in 1917 to teach the spiritual significance of the Bahá’í Faith offered her a rare privilege. That experience confirmed Nellie who became the first resident Bahá’í teacher in Arizona.
In 1918, Mr. and Mrs. French decided to make Pasadena, California, their permanent home. Nellie French assisted the friends with the study meetings held in the old Odd Fellows Hall. During Ridvan, in April 1921, Mr. and Mrs. French visited Haifa and ‘Akka; that pilgrimage became the fulfillment of all her hopes. In a loving atmosphere she communed with the members of the Holy Family; she prayed at the Shrine in the ineffable presence of the Center of the Covenant, the “Cord stretched betwixt the earth and the Abha Kingdom”; and she trod the paths that had felt the imprint of the footsteps of the Promised One of the Ages. The dedication of her life to service in the Cause of God was consummated; and she had received the bounty of seeing ‘‘Abdu’l-Bahá before His Ministry was ended. Her Bahá’í activities were many and varied. She contributed to the literature of the Faith by her work from 1930 to 1946 as Chairman of the Bahá’í World Editorial Committee, during which time she assembled material for volumes IV-X. She translated into French and Italian the “Blue Book” and the brochure “Number 9,” and for several years she wrote “Loom of Reality,” a column published in the Pasadena Star-News. In 1931 she made permanent Braille plates for Bahá’u’lláhand the New Era and for the Kita’b-i-Iqan.
As an administrator, she served as Chairman of the Pasadena Spiritual Assembly from 1928 to 1938. For four years, ending in 1944 she was Chairman of the Inter-America Committee, and in this capacity she presided at a session of the Centenary Celebration in 1944. Later she was a member of the European Teaching Committee.
She helped support the work of the International Bureau at Geneva and the All-Indian project at Macy, Nebraska, undertaken by her sister-in-law, Mary Farley Stevison. All this time she was very active as a teacher, holding many firesides, participatingin the study meetings of the friends, and proclaiming the Faith during her travels.
For many years, Mr. and Mrs. French spent every summerin Europe and called on the friends at the various centers. Prior to Mr. French’s passing in 1946, as they cruised over the seas, Nellie took every opportunity available to promulgate the Message from Spitzbergen, north of Norway, to Magallanes in South America and from Reykjavik, Iceland, to Melbourne, Australia.
After an absence of thirty-one years to the day, in April, 1952, Nellie French returned to the Bahá’í Center on Mt. Carmel to meet the beloved Guardian in person. The harvest of her invaluable experiences, her familiarity with the Bahá’í Writings, and her devotion to the Administrative Order of the Faith, seemed to merge into a supreme at oneness at the fountain head of the living waters whose source is God.
During the Holy Year which was also the first year of the World Spiritual Crusade, Nellie French settled in the principality of Monaco on September 12, 1953, to hoist valiantly the banner of the Bahá’í Faith. As the first decade of the second Bahá’í century was coming to its close, on January 3, 1954, Nellie Stevison French was summoned from her pioneer post to the Abha Kingdom.
On January 4, 1954, the Guardian cabled:
“Deeply regret passing valiant pioneer.Long record (of her) services, highly meritorious. Praying (for) progress (of) soul (in) Kingdom.”
The Bahá’í World. Kidlington, Oxford: George Ronald Publisher. Volume XII pp 699-701; –Permission given by George Ronald, Publishers Story written by Christine Lofstedt
Baha’i World Centre Archives
Courtesy of Candace Moore Hill