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Laura Clifford Barney

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Laura Clifford Barney was a leading American Bahá’í teacher and philanthropist. She was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on November 30, 1879 and died in Paris in August 18, 1974 at the age of 95.

In her publication about Laura, Mona Khademi described how Laura, and other women like her, “had a significant impact on Abdu’l-Bahá’s to the United States” from 1911 to 1913 “because of their social position… They introduced him to prominent artists, writers, poets – and through these meetings and gatherings and the main tenets of the Faith were expounded.”

Alice Pike Barney - Self-Portrait in Repose

Alice Pike Barney

Her parents were Albert Clifford Barney and Alice Pike Barney, a “prominent family of industrialists and artists“. Her British paternal grandfather was a manufacturer of railway cars. Alice Pike Barney, Laura’s mother’s ancestors were from French, Dutch, and German ancestry. Laura and her sister, Natalie Clifford Barney, had private tutors when they were growing up. In Washington, DC, Laura’s mother was known for her artwork.

Laura met the prominent Canadian Baha’i, May Bolles, who would later become May Maxwell, when Laura was a student in Paris. Laura had attended the French boarding school called Les Ruches, founded by Marie Souvestre, a feminist. Laura was 21 when she declared as Bahá’í in 1900. Shortly after, Laura’s mother Alice also declared.

During her first year after she became a Baha’i Laura provided the funding so that foremost Persian Bahá’í scholar of the time, Mírzá Abu’l-Faḍl (1844–1914), could travel to the United States to teach the Faith from 1901 through 1904. Mírzá Abu’l-Faḍl had also helped spread the Bahá’í Faith in Egypt and Turkmenistan. He was an Apostle of Bahá’u’lláh.

Laura also funded the translations of Mírzá Abu’l-Faḍl writings into English The Bahá’í Proofs which was published in New York in 1902.

For two uears, from 1904 to 1906, when she was in her mid-twenties, she resided in ʿAkkāʾ, Palestine where she learned some Persian and became a member of `Abdu’l-Bahá’s household. Her ability to speak Persian was exceptional at that time, particularly for a woman. Over the two years she interviewed `Abdu’l-Bahá’s and asked questions on philosophy and Christian theology. The interviews were recorded by `Abdu’l-Bahá’s secretaries.

Then Laura and Hippolyte Dreyfus, collaborated to work on translating these interviews. It was first published in English in 1908 as Some Answered Questions and is considered to be one of her major contributions to the Baha’i literature. It was translated into French the next year.

Laura and Drefus visited Persia, the Caucasus, and Russia in 1905 to 1906.

When she was 32 years old she married Hippolyte Dreyfus April 1911. They both changed their surname to Dreyfus-Barney. They traveled extensively together.

As a married couple they facilitated `Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit to the West and they hosted him on his first visit to Paris in September 1911 and accompanied him to London. They were his close “confidantes” as well as his interpreters. Laura was also with `Abdu’l-Bahá’s in New York in 1912 and in New Jersey and Washington, DC and both Laura and Hippolyte were present in London when he returned there. In 1921, they were able to visit him again together in Akka for one last time for he died that year.

From 1914 to 1915, during World War I, Laura served in the American Ambulance Corps.

From 1916 to 1918 she served with the American Red Cross in France.

In 1918 she helped to establish the first children’s hospital in Avignon, France.

In 1925 she was named Chevalier of the French Légion d’Honneur for her lifetime of service.

In 1937 she was named Officer of the French Légion d’Honneur for her lifetime of service.

From the 1920s to the 1960s she was active in the International Council of Women

She represented the International Council of Women to the League of Nations.

After World War II, she was involved in connecting the United Nation’s Children’s Fund with various NGOs.

There is a copy of her unpublished memoirs in the Bahá’í national archives in France.

Laura was ninety-five years old when she died in Paris, France on August 18, 1974.

The above is based on the Wikipedia article accessed on December 2, 2019 which as that time had the following references.


Bahá’í International Community, United Nations Office, Report to the United Nations and Public Information Policy Committee, New York, 21 July 1988 (on celebration of the centennial of the International Council of Women in honor of the memory of Laura Dreyfus-Barney).

A. Fāżel Māzandarānī, Ẓohūr al-ḥaqq VIII/2, Tehran, 132 B.E./1975. U. R. Giachery, “Laura Clifford Dreyfus-Barney, 1879-1974” in The Bahá’í World 16, 1978, pp. 535–38.

R. Meḥrāb-Ḵānī, Zendagī-e Mīrzā Abu’l-Fażl Golpāyagānī, Langenhain, Germany, 1988, p. 277. Who Was Who in America, 1897-1942 I, Chicago, 1968, p. 59.[5]

Dreyfus-Barney, Laura C.; Thomas Linard. “Bio of Hippolyte Dreyfus-Barney”. Essays / short articles. Bahá’í Academic Library. Retrieved 2010-07-14.
“Literary News of Philadelphia”. New York Times. October 17, 1908. p. 27. Retrieved 2011-12-29.

Khademi, Mona. “Laura Dreyfus Barney and `Abdu’l-Baha’s Visits to the West”. Archived from the original on 2010-12-08.

Sandra Hutchinson; Richard Hollinger (2006). “Women in the North American Baha’i Community”. In Keller, Rosemary Skinner; Ruether, Rosemary Radford; Cantlon, Marie (eds.). Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America: Native American creation stories. Indiana University Press. pp. 776–786. ISBN 0-253-34687-8.

Rassek, Shapoor. “Dreyfus-Barney”.

Mona Khademi (Sep 20, 2017). Life of Laura Clifford Dreyfus-Barney (video). Washington, DC: African and Middle East Division, Library of Congress.

Khademi, Mona (2009). “A Glimpse into the Life of Laura Dreyfus-Barney“. Lights of `Irfán: Papers Presented at the `Irfán Colloquia and Seminars. United States: ‘Irfán Colloquia Bahá’í National Center. X: 71–106.

“Laura Clifford Barney-Dreyfus: a remembrance”. Bahá’í News. No. 568. July 1978. pp. 4–6.

Laura Clifford Dreyfus Barney at Find a Grave

External links

Works by or about Laura Clifford Barney at Internet Archive

Works by Laura Clifford Barney at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)

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