Susan I. Moody
R. Jackson Armstrong-Ingram
Moody, Susan I. (1851-1934). Early Chicago Baha'i and pioneer in theReturn to Research Notes in Shaykhi, Babi, and Baha'i Studies
development of education and healthcare for women in Iran.
Susan I. Moody was born in Amsterdam, New York, United States of America,
on November 20, 1851. Accounts of her education suggest a somewhat eclectic
mix of studies in art, music, and some medicine. She also acted as
"spinster-mother" to her brother's children for many years.
When Moody was fifty, she decided to focus on medicine and she finished her
studies and established a practice in Chicago, Illinois. It was not unusual
in the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries for an American woman
in her middle years to train as a doctor especially as training at that
time usually took two years or less and most doctors worked out of their
homes making it both a practical and respectable option for middle-class
earning by women.
At the same time as she was establishing herself professionally, Moody
became involved with the Chicago Baha'i community. She studied the Baha'i
Faith with Isabella Brittingham and became a convinced Baha'i around 1903.
She was an active member of the Chicago Baha'i community from the start,
hosting meetings in her home and being involved with women's activities
generally. She was involved with beginning a Baha'i Sunday School for the
children of the community, and was also a delegate to the convention in
March 1909 at which the Bahai Temple Unity was formed.
It was partly as a result of her inclination to hospitality that Moody was
to begin preparing for her last and most significant career move. In 1905
she took in Ameen Ullah Fareed as a boarder. Fareed was 'Abdu'l-Baha's
nephew and had originally come to Chicago in 1901 to serve as interpreter
for his father, Mirza Assadullah, one of the early Baha'i teachers sent to
the United States by 'Abdu'l-Baha. Fareed also came to Chicago to study
medicine, so he had a vocational link with Moody. While Fareed was staying
in her home, Moody took advantage of the opportunity to gain a basic grasp
of Persian language and culture.
In 1909, an appeal reached the Baha'is of Chicago from a small group of
Iranian Baha'i doctors who were starting a hospital in Tehran, Persia, for
an American woman doctor to come and work with them so that the new
hospital's services would be available to women. The appeal was endorsed by
'Abdu'l-Baha and Moody agreed to go.
Moody travelled to Tehran in late 1909, breaking her journey at 'Akka,
Palestine, to spend several days visiting 'Abdu'l-Baha. She arrived in
Tehran November 25, 1909, and within a few weeks had a flourishing private
practice as well as her work with the group of doctors at the hospital.
Moody was particularly concerned with the health needs of women. She saw
many of the health problems she encountered among them as exacerbated by
lack of even the most basic knowledge of hygiene and nursing skills and she
began to instruct some Iranian women in practical nursing and midwifery.
Moody's interest in improving the situation of Iranian woman through
education was not limited to matters of health. In 1910, she helped build
on efforts that had been made by conducting small schools for girls in some
Tehran Baha'i homes to establish a formal school for girls under the
auspices of the Tehran Baha'i community. This school was not restricted to
Baha'is, however, and it became a highly regarded institution educating
numerous girls to the point where they could qualify as teachers themselves
and help develop schools for girls throughout the country.
Within the Baha'i community, Moody was also instrumental in the founding of
Baha'i religious study classes for girls in 1914. These classes provided a
comprehensive, graduated course of study in their religion for Baha'i girls
that was intended to give them a grounding in their faith comparable to
that already available to boys.
Moody was assisted in her efforts not only by local women who had laid the
groundwork on which she was able to help them build but by three other
American Baha'i women who came specifically to work with her.
Elizabeth Stewart, a niece of Isabella Brittingham, was a trained nurse who
came to work and live with Moody in 1910. Later in 1910, they were joined
by Dr Sarah Clock who took a house in another part of town. In 1911,
Lillian Kappes arrived to share Clock's house.
The first three women had come primarily because of their medical expertise
and had found themselves much involved with education. Kappes came
specifically to head the girls' school and put it on a solid academic
basis. She also taught at the boys' school which was also run by the Tehran
Both Clock and Kappes spent the rest of their lives in Iran. Kappes died in
1920. Moody renamed the building fund for new premises for the girls'
school that had been started the previous year in Kappes' honor and this
fund was a major support for the work of the school in subsequent years.
Clock died in 1922. Kappes and Clock were buried in the terrace surrounding
the shrine of the Baha'i martyrs Varqa and Ruh'u'llah.
Due to political unrest and anti-American feeling in Tehran in 1924, Moody
and Stewart left Iran in the latter part of that year and arrived back in
the United States in early 1925. Moody spent much of her time there
campaigning for support for the girls' school in Tehran. She also nursed
Stewart through recurring ill health until Stewart's death in October 1926.
After the death of Kappes, the girls' school had continued operating with
teachers who had themselves been taught there by Kappes. In 1922, Dr
Genvieve Coy, a specialist in educational psychology, arrived to take
charge for a time. By late 1926, however, Shoghi Effendi was writing to the
American Baha'i community of the need for one or two American Baha'is to
take up residence in Tehran and asking that Moody be consulted in this
In late 1928, Moody herself returned to Tehran accompanied by Adelaide
Sharp who was to take over the girls' school and assist with the boys' one.
Sharp took a house of her own and was shortly joined by her mother, Clara,
who kept house for her and assisted in her work with the schools.
After her return to Tehran, Moody moved in with a Persian family the father
of whom she had known since his childhood. Her age and health did not
permit her to be as active as before, but she did see a small number of
private patients and hold a free clinic. She also regularly visited the
Moody was much loved by the Tehran Baha'i community and had many visitors
during occasional bouts of illness that confined her to her room. She
became increasingly infirm in the early 1930s but remained mentally
vigorous. She died October 23, 1934, after a fairly brief illness. Her
funeral was a large affair and she was buried near the graves of Kappes and
Original sources in the National Baha'i Archives, Wilmette, Illinois, that
are of particular interest on Moody and her activities include the Orol
Platt Papers, and copies of Moody's correspondence of 1909-1910 in the
Thornton Chase Papers.
There were many mentions of her activities in The Star of the West and
Baha'i News over the years.
"A Baha'i Pioneer of East and West - Doctor Susan I. Moody (The Hand-Maid
of the Most High)" by Jessie E. Revell in The Baha'i World, Vol VI (483-
486) is useful but not always reliable.
Further discussion of the contribution made to the education of girls in
Tehran by Moody and her associates can be found in R. Jackson Armstrong-
Ingram. 1986. "American Baha'i Women and the Education of Girls in Tehran,
1909-1934." in Peter Smith (ed.) Studies in Babi and Baha'i History, Vol
III: In Iran. Los Angeles: Kalimat Press.
R. Jackson Amrstrong-Ingram
Indiana University-South Bend
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