It was during the summer of 1898 that Mrs. Helen Goodall and her daughter Ella learned of the Bahá’í Faith from a friend who was attending Lua Getsinger’s classes on the Faith at the home of Mrs. Phoebe Hearst. Before Mrs. Goodall and her daughter were able to partake of these classes, Mrs. Hearst and Lua had already departed for ‘Akká on what was to become the first pilgrimage of Western Bahá’ís. Convinced of the truth of this religion and thirsty for more knowledge and instruction in the Faith, Helen and Ella travelled across the country to New York City where they studied with Mr. Antún Haddád, a Syrian-born Bahá’í.
While in New York, Mrs. Hearst invited Ella to join the pilgrimage party. Mrs. Goodall’s health at the time did not permit her to undertake so arduous a journey, and she returned home to California. Ella joined the group of pilgrims, arriving in the Holy Land March of 1899.
On this sojourn, Ella was deeply affected by her encounters with the Holy Family and her opportunities to learn first-hand about the true teachings of the Faith from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Upon her return to Oakland, California, she joined her mother in galvanizing the small Bahá’í community that had begun to form in the Bay Area. Through the efforts of the Goodalls, the community was nurtured and developed, and the importance of strict adherence to the Holy Writings was introduced.
In 1908, Mrs. Goodall and Ella had the opportunity to visit ‘Abdu’l-Bahá together in ‘Akká. Out of this priceless pilgrimage came one of the first published accounts of life with the Master. The Goodalls asked many questions and scrupulously recorded the answers He gave. They also compiled anecdotes He shared, descriptions of life in His Household, their impressions, and personal experiences. Although treated as the personal notes of two pilgrims, their publication (Daily Lessons Received at Acca) provided much clarity and needed guidance to the Baha’is of the West.
Mrs. Goodall and Ella returned to California and lost no time in continuing their teaching work. Mrs. Goodall’s home became a focal point for community gatherings, celebrations of Holy Days, and classes on the Faith. She and Ella hosted a women’s tea group whose members came to call themselves “the peaches”. Their dedicated efforts to teach the Faith helped bring about the establishment of a local spiritual assembly in their home community of San Francisco in the spring of 1910.
When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited America in 1912, the Goodalls traveled to meet Him in Washington and Chicago. During His stay in California, He visited and spoke at the Goodalls’ home many times. On one occasion He commented, “Mrs. Goodall’s value is not known now; it will be known in the future. She has no other thought than to serve the Cause. God has certain treasuries hidden in the world which He reveals when the time comes. She is like one of these treasures”. The Goodalls also hosted the Master during the Feast of Knowledge where almost a hundred and twenty-five friends gathered.
Mrs. Goodall passed away in 1922. Ella continued to devote her services to assisting the Guardian with the work of the Faith, until her passing in 1951. Both women remained dedicated servants, firm in the Covenant until their last breaths.
Some Early Bahá’ís of the West, O.Z. Whitehead, p. 21-34
Daily Lessons Received at Acca, foreword by Howard Garey
A Bahá’í Perspective: Radio Show and Podcast, Interview with Barbara West dated 17 August 2009
Photos from www.centenary.bahai.us (upper photo is Ella Goodall; lower photo is Helen Goodall)