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Bahai Faith in Topeka

Hilty familyNews of the Bahá’í (Bahai) Faith first reached Topeka through international news in the early 1890s. In 1897 the teacher, who had come to Enterprise, Kansas that summer to teach the religion there, stopped in Topeka on his return to his home in Chicago. In 1906 two members of that class, Rose Hilty and Maud Kirkpatrick, moved to Topeka.  The Bahá’í community of Topeka has been continuous from that date.  Other cities in Kansas with Bahá’ís in those years were Kansas City (1898) and Wichita (1902), but it was later before those Bahá’í communities developed. 

The Topeka Bahá’í community grew slowly the first teacher had not taught about that.  In 1916 Bahá’í activities began to develop.  In 1919 the Bahá’í class in Topeka received a reply to their correspondence from the Head of the faith in Haifa (now in Israel), bringing a further connection.  The next year a teacher from Persia, in a lecture tour through the States, came to Topeka generating considerable interest.

Though the first officer’s election was held in Topeka in 1921, it wasn’t until 1934 that an attempt was made to elect a local Bahá’í administrative council, called a Spiritual Assembly.  The election was not successful until the next year. This nine-member council performs the role of clergy in the Bahá’í community. There is no clergy.  Elections are democratically conducted by secret ballot with no nominations or electioneering.

After the Spiritual Assembly was established in Topeka, local Bahá’ís began traveling to other cities in Kansas, and elsewhere, to begin or assist other Bahá’í communities in those places.  Gradually the Kansas Bahá’í community grew.

In the 1940s, before federal legal action, inter-racial events were sponsored by Topeka Bahá’ís to promote better understanding.

To further the development of the Bahá’í community, in the 1960s efforts were made by Bahá’ís  in Topeka to amend Kansas law to accommodate Bahá’í marriage practice and to give legal standing to Spiritual Assemblies so they could own property and perform other services.

The 1970s saw the widest expansion of efforts of Topeka Bahá’ís to other Bahá’ís communities and the 1990s saw the beginning of the third great transition of the entire Bahá’í world community.  The first occurred in 1912 when the Head of the faith toured Europe and North America emphasizing that the religion was not limited in appeal to the Middle East.  The second occurred in the 1920s when the administrative structure was erected world-wide.  That process was essentially completed in 1963 with the election of the international administrative council, the Universal House of Justice.

Now an increasing emphasis is given to sharing Bahá’í devotional practice (without liturgy, rituals or clergy) which is all-inclusive of other religious scripture as well as Bahá’í, promoting the moral education of children, empowering youth to consider and adopt paths of continued service to their communities and empowering those who have historically been oppressed.  These practices are putting Bahá’í beliefs into practice on a scale never attempted before.  This is changing the face of Bahá’í communities, including Topeka, and improving society at the same time.

For over a century now the Topeka Bahá’í community has a secure place in the religious life of the wider community.

Entry: Bahai Faith in Topeka

Author: Duane L. Herrmann

Author information: Herrmann has degrees in education and history from Fort Hays State University. He has published widely on the history of the Bahai faith with publications now in a dozen countries in four languages. His history book By Thy Strengthening Grace received the Ferguson, Kansas, History Book Award in 2007. He has actively studied the Bahai faith since 1969.

Date Created: September 2015

Date Modified: February 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.