Ella Goodall Cooper
Updated: Aug 4
'O thou jewel of the spirit!"
Thus did 'Abdu'l-Baha address this angelic being, one of the rare gems in the diadem of the Kingdom.
Aunt Ella, as she was fondly known to her many devoted friends around the world, was one of that rapidly diminishing treasure of precious souls who have entered the presence of 'Abdu'l-Baha, and who are possessed of that unique quality of spirit known only among those who were touched by the magic wand of that Divine Alchemist. Hers was an enchanting spirit of exquisite grace, whose gentleness, warmth and generosity were showered continuously on all peoples. She radiated all the days of her life the virtues of the true maid-servant of Baha.
She was one of that handful of early Baha’is in the United States who implanted the banner of Baha’u’llah in that land, and who nurtured it and protected it with the iron strength of their consecrated spirit.
In a Tablet to one of the friends 'Abdu'l- Baha wrote of the services of Mrs. Cooper and her mother, Mrs. Goodall:
"Thou hadst written concerning the services of Mrs. Goodall and Mrs. Cooper. These two dear maid-servants of God are truly two shining candles, and in character are unique and matchless. They sacrifice their lives in the pathway of God under conditions of hardship and trouble and are filled with spirituality and good cheer. It is certain that the divine confirmations will encircle them."
Shoghi Effendi's cablegram at the time of her passing has defined her life-long service to her beloved Faith:
"Deeply grieved sudden passing herald Covenant Ella Cooper, dearly loved handmaid 'Abdu'l-Baha, greatly trusted by Him. Her devoted services during concluding years Heroic Age and also Formative Age Faith unforgettable. Assure relatives, friends, deepest sympathy loss. Praying progress soul in Abha Kingdom."
Ella Frances Goodall was born in San Francisco, California, January 12, 1870, of an influential, well-known California family. She and her mother, Helen Goodall, were among the first Baha’is of California. They learned of the Faith from Miss Ann Apperson, a niece of Mrs. Phoebe Hearst. They studied with Mrs. Lua Getsinger, and also took a trip to New York to study with Anton Haddad, a Persian Baha’i teacher.
In March, 1899, Ella Goodall and a young Baha’i friend, Nellie Hillyer Brown, made the pilgrimage to 'Akka. They were among the earliest Westerners to visit 'Abdu'l-Baha. While there 'Abdu'l-Baha revealed for Ella Goodall the first of numerous Tablets which He sent her over the years:
"He is Abha! O my God! Thou seest Thy servant who is believing in Thee, and supplicating through the door of Thy Oneness. Render her all good through Thy Bounty and Generosity. Thou art the Bestower, the Giver."
This brief contact with the World of Reality experienced in 'Abdu'l-Baha's presence centered her life in the Faith. A singleness of purpose, the promulgation and protection of the Covenant, animated her whole life henceforth.
In 1904 Ella Goodall married Charles Miner Cooper, M.D. 'Abdu'l-Baha blessed this union, and theirs was a life-long devotion. The home which Mrs. Cooper made for the doctor, her mother and brother, Arthur, reflected her gracious dignified attributes. It was always a special treat for everyone to visit this home.
"O thou maid-servant of God, I ask God that thou mayest open meetings in San Francisco, and give eloquent expositions of the Kingdom of God . . .
"Although thou art unique and alone in that city, yet verily I am thy friend and companion. Be not sad and forget not God. Endeavor to guide some souls to the Kingdom and establish Unity among the people, to prepare meetings of teaching and to open the eyes of the blind . . .
"Under all conditions My Soul and My Life shall abide with you in this world as well as the world above."
As soon as 'Abdu'l-Baha’s wishes were expressed, Ella Cooper and her mother began the work of establishing the Faith in San Francisco, and some years later she moved to the city, where she lived the rest of her life. In a short time a Baha’i Community developed there, and for many decades Ella Cooper was its guiding light. Her strenuous labors throughout the western United States, and principally in northern California, laid the foundation of the Faith in these regions.
In 1908 Ella Cooper and her mother were permitted to make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. For two weeks they shared the prison life with 'Abdu'l-Baha and His family, but were "in the Home of God." When they returned from 'Akka Mrs. Goodall and Mrs. Cooper published Daily Lessons Received at Acca -January, 1908, in which they told of the deep spiritual experience that had been theirs and of the lessons by word and deed that they had received.
Shortly after Ella Cooper returned from 'Akka, she invited a group of young women to her home for a study class which continued over many years to 1922. She called this group the "Peach Tree" and the members of the group called her "Mother Peach." A number became Baha'is and are active today.
During these early years one of Mrs. Cooper's most important services was the protection of the Faith from the influence of the Covenant-breakers. 'Abdu'l-Baha had written:
"I supplicate God to make the hearts as solid mountains which could not be shaken, neither by the rumbling thunder of dispute nor by the winds of suspicions."
"You must be extremely careful in those Western regions lest a soul may disseminate the seeds of doubt and violation. Direct everyone at all times to the necessity of firmness in the Covenant that the tests may not shake them . . .
"Do thou make a trip to the cities of California, Oregon and Seattle . . . Investigate this and call everyone to firmness . . ."
Gently and wisely she and her mother taught the new Baha'is the importance of turning wholly to 'Abdu'l-Baha as the Center of the Covenant. Indeed she was a champion of the Covenant!
When 'Abdu'l-Baha visited California, while on His North American tour in 1912, He was a guest briefly at the Oakland home of Mrs. Cooper and Mrs. Goodall, and there, on October 16, He spoke to a large gathering of friends. For many years the anniversary of that meeting has been celebrated and the talk given by 'Abdu'l-Baha read. It was a period of great joy for all the Baha'is. 'Abdu'l-Baha spoke to many groups and gave two of His most significant talks while there, one at Stanford University on science and religion and the other at the Temple Emmanuel on progressive revelation. Mrs. Cooper was untiring in her efforts to assist in all these arrangements for 'Abdu'l-Baha's visit.
An outstanding event in the Baha'i history of the West was the convoking of the first "International Baha'i Congress" in conjunction with the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in the spring of 1915 in San Francisco. Mrs. Cooper, her mother and several other Baha'is who formed the executive committee of the Congress had approached 'Abdu'l-Baha with their desire to hold such a Congress during the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and 'Abdu'l-Baha had approved and selected the Baha'i speakers who were men of note in their professions and also Baha'is of long and eminent service. The Congress was held April 19 through 25 and attracted large audiences to hear the Baha'i teachings on peace.
Although initiated by the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of San Francisco the Congress was under the official auspices of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The Directorate of the Exposition set April 24 as "International Baha'i Congress Day," and held an official reception at Festival Hall, where a commemorative bronze medallion was presented to the Baha'is in recognition of the Baha'i program for universal peace.
Mrs. Cooper, Mrs. Goodall, Miss Georgia Ralston and Mrs. Kathryn Frankland visited 'Abdu'l-Baha for the last time in September, 1920. For thirty days they were in Haifa, at the "Home of the hearts" as Ella Cooper called it. 'Abdu'l-Baha answered their questions and lavished His love upon them.
Over the years until He passed away in 1921 'Abdu'l-Baha addressed many Tablets to Mrs. Cooper in response to questions she had asked Him in letters.
With 'Abdu'l-Baha's death Ella Cooper's devotion to the Covenant immediately embraced the first Guardian of the Cause of God, Shoghi Effendi, appointed by 'Abdu'l- Baha. She had seen Shoghi Effendi as a child at 'Akka and had often remarked about his unique qualities and his love for 'Abdu'l-Baha. Her unswerving fidelity to the Covenant now centered in the Guardian with full love and obedience.
Ella Cooper's services continued for many years both in teaching and in the development of the institutions of the Faith. She served on the San Francisco Spiritual Assembly for many years from 1921 to 1934, and was a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States and Canada for two years, 1922-23 and 1923-24. She took an active interest in the formation of the new Baha'i School at Geyserville, California, worked on the School committee, and taught there for some years.
Another significant public Baha'i event in which Mrs. Cooper played a leading role was the organization of the first "Conference for World Unity" at San Francisco, March 20-22, 1925. Prominent intellectual, cultural and humanitarian leaders were invited to participate. Mrs. Cooper spared neither time nor money to bring the conference into existence. Dr. David Starr Jordan, then president of Stanford University, who had invited 'Abdu'l-Baha to speak at Stanford, acted as honorary chairman, and important representatives of the various Pacific areas, races, religions and nations spoke. The meetings were climaxed by an address on the Baha'i Faith by Jinab-i-Fadil. This meeting inaugurated a series of world unity conferences in other parts of the country.
During the many years that Mrs. Cooper was active, and even after she could no longer be about much, she was the mainspring of the Baha'i spirit of hospitality and warmth in San Francisco. When Baha'i visitors were coming to San Francisco she would send a large bouquet of flowers and a note of welcome to be in their room when they arrived.
The last two major public activities in which Ella Cooper took a part in her long years of Baha'i service were in connection with the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939 and the United Nations Conference on International Organization in 1945, both of which were held in San Francisco. A "Committee of One Hundred" leaders of all Faiths was organized when the San Francisco world's fair was being planned, to erect the Temple of Religion at the fair and to direct all religious activities of the Exposition. Mrs. Cooper and Leroy Ioas were invited to be the Bahai representatives on this Committee, on which she served as one of the directors. Two days were designated officially on the Exposition program as Baha'i Day, July 16 and October 15. Mrs. Cooper was chairman of the "Religious Unity Service" presented by the Baha'is on July 16 and of the Vesper Services on October 15.
She was an active member of the "Committee on the Baha'i Peace Plan" appointed from among the Baha'is of the San Francisco Bay area by the National Spiritual Assembly in connection with the United Nations Conference convened in 1945. This committee held a dinner and public meeting at which a number of the delegates to the Conference were present, and it prepared "The Baha'i Peace Program” brochure which they distributed to every person attending that conference.
In the later years of her life Mrs. Cooper was unable to be as active as she formerly had been, but she followed the work of the Faith with avid interest through the teaching bulletins and newsletters, and through a voluminous correspondence which she carried on with Baha'i friends around the world. Most Baha'i visitors to the city would visit her to be refreshed by her gentle spirit, and to share with her news of the progress of the Faith far and near.
On her eightieth birthday Dr. Cooper wrote a tribute to his wife which exemplifies the beauty of her character to all who loved her:
A Birthday Tribute
Eighty roses for my still young wife,
one for each year of her fragrant life,
during which she has mothered the world and steadfastly kept its flag unfurled;
for God gave to her a magic cup from which the unworldly poor could sup;
and of solace a cruse at whose lip the lonely and the bereaved could sip;
a sustaining staff that she could lend in hour of need to a pilgrim friend;
the Power of Prayer-an inner light
not of land, sea or air that could bright
the dark corridors that run through life and amity bring in place of strife;
and a warmth that made her from her birth
as welcome as the rain to the earth.
Fortunate am I she cared for me,
otherwise I would not care to be.
In July, 1951, Dr. Cooper suddenly passed away. Mrs. Cooper spent the following day preparing the readings for his service, and that night fell into a coma, from which she did not recover, and passed within four days after his death, on July 12, 1951.
The local papers carried feature articles about her passing, the major part of which spoke of her life-long devotion to the Baha'i Faith, and of her work in promoting its ideals of the unity of all peoples and religions.
So closed the life of one of the "Heralds of the Covenant," one whose life was dedicated to Baha’u’llah in service and love and one who succeeded as few have in making her character a mirror of the celestial qualities.