Portland Baha’i History


Nathan Ward Fitz-Gerald

Early Roots

The first Baha’i to arrive in the Northwest was Nathan Ward Fitz-Gerald, who moved to Tacoma, WA in 1905. Formerly a Millerite minister, Fitz-Gerald asked to address the Tacoma Minister’s Alliance in April of that year to deliver the news of this new Revelation from God. Undeterred by the chilly reception he received, he continued to spread this Message throughout the Northwest. During the month of March in 1906, he organized public talks at a downtown auditorium at 3rd and Taylor in Portland and met with individuals.

Soon there were about 20 Baha’is in Portland. Baha’is from San Francisco and Chicago, who had studied Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings thoroughly, came to the Northwest to help this small community deepen their understanding and organize their activities. In November 1906, the Baha’is in Portland elected the Local Spiritual Assembly to govern the affairs of the new community. Baha’is in Seattle, Spokane and Walla Walla also elected Assemblies around the same time.

A Thriving Community

In the last 100 years, this tiny community has achieved a great deal. For the first 50 years, Portland was the only city in Oregon with an elected Assembly. Word of Baha’u’llah’s message spread, however, as Baha’is from Portland traveled throughout the state to share His teachings. Today over 2000 Baha’is live in Oregon, and have organized activities and groups in every city and county from Portland to Malheur County.

Portland Baha'i Local Spiritual Assembly

Portland Baha’i Local Spiritual Assembly

In the 1980’s, among the many refugees who came to the United States following the Vietnam War, were 200 Hmong Baha’is from Laos who settled in Portland. Reaching across cultures and languages, the Hmong and American Baha’is learned from each other and valued each others’ contributions. Together they established the ROSES project to provide after school tutoring and mentoring for the Hmong children. ROSES is currently undergoing a transition to provide these services to an even wider range of multicultural groups in the Portland area.

Another group that arrived in the 1980’s were Iranian Baha’i refugees fleeing persecution in Iran. Many of these families had been Baha’is for generations and had much to share with the Portland Baha’is.

During this time also, Baha’i youth from Portland and Seattle (and areas in between) began collaborating with the Nez Perce Baha’is in Lapwai, ID. They established an ongoing series service projects on the Nez Perce Reservation. These projects not only benefited the tribal community, but had a profoundly transforming effect on the youth and created deep ties of friendship. These and other service projects continue today.

In 1991, the Portland Baha’is purchased the historic post office in the St. John’s neighborhood for a Baha’i Center. After some renovation and restoration, the Center now serves as the hub of activity for Portland proper. Today in the metropolitan area there are also Baha’i Centers in Beaverton, Lake Oswego, and Vancouver, WA.

Throughout its history, the Baha’i community has been working on both the individual level and the collective level to achieve the vision set forth by Baha’u’llah. Currently the community is developing study classes, devotional gatherings, children’s classes, and junior youth groups geared toward individual growth and understanding. On the community level, inspired by Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, the Baha’is have presented Peace Awards to leaders in the community; developed the Models of Unity project to recognize individuals contributing to unity between the races; established AHAD, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to social and economic development; and created the Portland chapter of Health for Humanity.

With hearts full of hope and focused firmly on Baha’u’llah’s vision of a unified and thriving world, we unreservedly rededicate our efforts for the next 100 years.

For more information about the Bahá’í Faith, call 1-800-22-UNITE (1-800-228-6483) or send us an email.