History of the Bahá’í Faith in Chicago

Establishment of the Community

For more than 100 years, the Chicago Bahá’í community has played a unique and influential role in the development of the Bahá’í community in the United States. Now a global community with five million members, the Bahá’í Faith was first mentioned publicly in the Americas at the 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions, held during the Chicago World’s Fair.

Six years later, Chicago’s Bahá’ís took another historic step forward. There is no clergy in the Bahá’í Faith and Bahá’í communities are governed by nine-member elected councils called Spiritual Assemblies. In 1899 the Bahá’ís of Chicago elected the continent’s first Local Spiritual Assembly.

By 1907, the Bahá’ís of Chicago gained the distinction of being the first local Bahá’í community in the world to establish and gain legal recognition for its Local Spiritual Assembly. More than a thousand Local Spiritual Assemblies now function across the United States.

1893: First mention of the Bahá’í Faith in the Americas
1899: First Local Spiritual Assembly established in North America
1907: First legally recognized Local Spiritual Assembly in the world
1912: Visit to Chicago by `Abdu’l-Bahá, leader of the global Bahá’í community
1912: Cornerstone laid for the Bahá’í House of Worship
1952: Dedication of the Bahá’í House of Worship

World Fair in Chicago
The Ferris wheel at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

Visiting America

In 1912, `Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’u’lláh’s son and named by Bahá’u’lláh as the sole authorized interpreter of His teachings, visited Chicago and the surrounding localities. He gave talks throughout the city and met with prominent faith and community leaders, describing Chicago as the vibrant and influential heart of the North American continent.

“Chicago has great capacity,” He said. “I hope that the banner of the unity of mankind will be unfurled in this city and that the believers here will be united and be as the different flowers of one divine garden and become the adornment of the world of humanity so that the dormant pulse of this country will beat vigorously.”

During `Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit, He personally laid the cornerstone for the Bahá’í House of Worship located in Wilmette, just north of Chicago. From that day until 1952 the Bahá’í communities in the region worked tirelessly to complete the House of Worship, relying exclusively on donations from Bahá’ís around the world. This haven of peace and beauty is now open to people of all faiths and is the only Bahá’í temple on the North American continent.

From the laying of that cornerstone, 40 years of sacrificial work by the Bahá’í communities of the region, paid for exclusively through the contributions of Bahá’ís around the world, ultimately completed the House of Worship. Like all Bahá’í Houses of Worship, its nine-sided architecture and gardens symbolize unity and are offered as a place for all to commune with God. The quiet serenity of the House of Worship reflects the core spiritual truths of the Bahá’í Faith: there is only one God, all humanity is one family, and there is one divine Source for all religions.
`Abdu’l-Bahá prepares to lay the cornerstone. May 1, 1912
`Abdu’l-Bahá prepares to lay the cornerstone to the Temple, May 1, 1912
`Abdu’l-Bahá at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago
‘Abdu’l-Bahá Speaking at Plymouth Congregational Church in Chicago on 5 May 1912

The Bahá’í House of Worship, Wilmette, Illinois

Members of the Chicago community and local governing institutions