by Iain Palin
The basis for these notes on Dr D’Evelyn can be found on Iain Palin’s UK Bahá’í Heritage website, along with the subjects of some of the other essays collected here.
Frederick W. D’Evelyn appears to have been the first person of Irish birth to accept the Bahá’í Faith. He was born in Belfast in or about 1855. Information about his early life is scanty but it is known that he qualified in medicine at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and subsequently served in a medical capacity with the British army in the South African campaigns, being wounded in 1887.
He emigrated to the United States and settled in San Francisco, where his career blossomed. He held a faculty position at the University of California and was president of the California Academy of Sciences. He was also active in civic matters and served as president of the Geographical Society of California and of the Audubon Society of the Pacific Coast.
In 1901 D’Evelyn became a Bahá’í, and he served the Faith for the rest of his life. He was in the party (along with Helen Goodall, Ella Cooper and Mr. and Mrs. W. C. Ralston) that officially welcomed ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on His arrival in San Francisco in October 1912, and his name appears first on the list of recipients of a tablet from the Master published in Star of the West on January 19th, 1915. Dr. D’Evelyn’s account of the historic meeting is reproduced in Marion Carpenter Yazdi’s Youth in the Vanguard, which describes his involvement in Bahá’í activities a number of times. His service is mentioned in other books, such as Mahmúd’s Diary and Leroy Ioas — Hand of the Cause of God by Anita Ioas Chapman, and he appears a number of times in Star of the West, sometimes referred to as “Frederick W. Evelyn”. In addition to his local position, he was a member of the Temple Unity Board, the forerunner of the National Spiritual Assembly.
In August 1932 he died after a brief illness and was interred at Cypress Lawn cemetery. The Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of San Francisco expressed its “grief and sense of serious loss” and paid tribute to “the untiring services and inspiring leadership of their first Chairman, Dr. Frederick W. D’Evelyn”.
On researching for the above, Iain writes; Like everyone else I just assumed that Lady Blomfield was the first person of Irish birth to become a Bahá’í (1907).
While reading Leroy Ioas — Hand of the Cause of God by Anita Ioas Chapman, I found references to Dr. Frederick D’Evelyn of San Francisco, who is a well-known early believer and appears in a number of Bahá’í histories and community accounts from the time, as well as Star of the West.
What sent my eyebrows up was the sentence “In 1901, an outstanding Irish-born physician, Dr. Frederick D’Evelyn, professor at the University of California and a man of multiple civic interests and activities became a staunch adherent of the Faith.”1
As well as learning about Dr. D’Evelyn from the other Bahá’í books dealing with this period—which told me about his life in America and his distinguished Bahá’í services but nothing about his early life—I contacted the Spiritual Assembly of San Francisco, who shared with me some other documents about him, including his newspaper obituary, and I learned about his early life from these. Lack of time and opportunity stopped me from pursuing further research with sources on this side of the Atlantic. I also contacted the Bahá’í World Centre about photographs of Dr. D’Evelyn, and they were kind enough to send me copies of the two that now appear on the Irish Bahá’ís page of my UK Bahá’í Heritage website.2