Portraits of Bahá’í Women – Corinne Knight True
Corinne Knight True was born in Kentucky [1-4] during the Civil War, the oldest child of Martha Thomas (Duerson) Knight (1839-1901) and Moses Greene Knight (1819-1903) [1-vi]. Skillful real estate investments in Chicago downtown property made Moses Knight prosperous, but when the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 swept the city, followed by the 1873 depression, Knight had to sell all his Kentucky property and move his family to Chicago to preserve his investments [1-7]. Financial success enabled Knight to send his daughter to Miss Mary Baldwin’s finishing school in Virginia. A few months after graduation, on November 24, 1882, Corinne Knight eloped, marrying Moses Adams True (1857-1909), the son of a next-door neighbor [1-10 to 13]. Moses Knight opposed his daughter’s marriage and the resulting bitter divide between father and daughter, who formerly had been close, lasted ten years.
The Trues had eight children in rapid succession: Harriet Merrill (1883-92) [1-14,18]; Lawrence Knight (1885-1906) [1-vii]; Charles Gilbert Davis (1886-1912) [1-vii]; Edna Miriam (1888-1988); Arna Corinne (1890-1975) [1-viii]; twins Katherine (1893-1963) [1-viii] and Kenneth (1893-1901) [1-27]; and Nathanael (1896-1899) [1-21,22]. The family was close and prosperous; they hired a cook and sent the children to private school. The loss of four of the children before adulthood produced a series of successive blows that severely tested Corinne True and turned her thinking toward religion. After Harriet fell down the stone basement stairs and died at age nine, Corinne and Moses True turned away from mainline Protestantism to some newly developed approaches to religion: the Unity School of Christianity, then Christian Science, then Divine Science [1-18]. When the baby of the family, Nathanael, died from complications following diphtheria in 1899 Corinne deepened her religious search. Through a friend she encountered the Bahá’í Faith late in 1899 and accepted it within a few months, at age thirty-eight [1-24]. In contrast, her husband was very sympathetic to Bahá’í beliefs but never formally joined.
When True became a Bahá’í the American Bahá’í community numbered 1500 to 2000 and was five years old. The Bahá’í religion began in 1863 when an Iranian noble named Mírzá Husayn-`Alí (1817-92), known as Bahá’u’lláh, founded a new religion based on such principles as the oneness of God, the spiritual unity of the world’s religions, the oneness of humanity, independent individual search for truth, and the equality of the sexes. A practical religion, it quickly spread beyond Iran and attracted Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Buddhists as well as Muslims. When Bahá’u’lláh died his son `Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921) became head of the Faith.
It is not known what attracted True to the Bahá’í Faith, though its universal nature and inclusiveness were probably factors. She immediately became one of Chicago’s most active Bahá’ís. When, in May 1901, the Chicago Bahá’ís elected an all-male governing body to run the community and a women’s Auxiliary Board to assist, True became corresponding secretary of the latter [4-49-50]. In March 1902 True delivered a talk at the Chicago Bahá’í Sunday program titled “Fundamental Points of Behaism [sic]” and its contents indicate True’s understanding of the Bahá’í Faith was as good as any of the other Chicago Bahá’ís’ at the time [paper in Chase Papers, National Bahá’í Archives].
True wrote `Abdu’l-Bahá about the exclusion of women from the Chicago Bahá’í governing body on 25 February 1902, noting that “many” felt it should be a “mixed board” because “women in America stand so conspicuously for all that is highest & best in every department.” [3-23] In his response `Abdu’l-Bahá stated that while “in the sight of God, the conduct of women is the same as that of men” and there was “no difference” between the sexes, nevertheless the “House of Justice” had to consist only of men and that the “reason will presently appear, even as the sun at midday.” [3-25]
True accepted `Abdu’l-Bahá’s ruling–which also affirmed the equality of the sexes–and poured her energy into the Chicago Bahá’í women’s organization, which `Abdu’l-Bahá highly praised [3-21]. For the next eight years Chicago had two parallel Bahá’í organizations, one confined to men, the other to women. True served as president or secretary of the women’s body at different times. By 1903 she had been instrumental in establishing the first Bahá’í communities in Michigan–in Muskegon and Fruitport–near her family’s summer residence. She also traveled to Wisconsin to speak about the Bahá’í Faith. [4-140]
In 1903 the Chicago Bahá’ís heard about the construction of the world’s first Bahá’í House of Worship, in what is today Turkmenistan. They wrote `Abdu’l-Bahá asking for permission to build a temple of their own [4-118-19]. `Abdu’l-Bahá not only sent them two encouraging letters in response, but wrote True and encouraged her to get involved in the effort [1-41] [4-119]. She was surprised, as previously she had not been interested. read more here