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Early Days  |   1940s   |   1950s   |   1960s

Early Days

There are some 300 members of the Bahá'í Faith in Austin at the time of this writing (September 2003) including nearly 50 students who are members of the University of Texas Bahá'í Association. The members of the Faith live throughout the city of Austin and meet at their administrative Center at 2215 E. M. Franklin Avenue, where adult study and children's classes are held on Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon. These classes are open to the public but those who are not familiar with the Bahá'í Faith might wish to attend the devotional programs held at 10:30 a.m. Sunday to which the public is most cordially invited. Often the program will consist of readings of a devotional character not only from the Bahá'í Writings but from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Qur'an (Koran).

There are Bahá'ís who live in all of the communities around Austin many of whom bring their children to the Austin Center for Sunday classes.

Other regularly scheduled programs for the public are held on Thursday nights at 7:30 p.m. when various topics are discussed and questions answered, and on the first Saturday of each month, 8:00 p.m., Expressions: A Night of Rhythm and Rhyme, a program for poets and those who appreciate poetry. Over thirty study circles are ongoing within the greater Austin area and information about them or other activities can be obtained by calling the Baha’i Center.

Anna Reinke and the Early Years of the Bahá'í Faith in Austin

[Note: most of the following material up to the 1960’s is based on the recollection of Catherine Gent from her "notes" written in 1992.]

It was probably Anna Reinke who brought the Bahá'í Faith to Austin in 1912 or 1914. Anna, a young lady at the time, visited her sister in Washington, D.C., about that time. There she heard the Message of Bahá'u'lláh. the founder of the Bahá'í Faith. She accepted it forthwith, becoming, to the best of our knowledge, the first Bahá'í in Texas. She devoted the rest of her life to teaching the wonderful Message.

Anna was born to a German immigrant father, Paul Reinke, and a native Texan mother, Emaline Lohmann, on August 15, 1882, in Bee Cave, Texas. Her father was a merchant and Anna was one of six children. Anna was a seamstress in Austin for many years and lived on Avenue D in Austin. She bought a city streetcar, probably in the 1940's, and moved it to her property on a hillside off Highway 71 South, the site of which was then known as Lohmann's Crossing and now occupied by an Appletree store and shopping center at the South entrance of Lakeway.

It was a beautiful pastoral setting, in a grove of live oak trees overlooking the valley to the west. She called it Flintrock. She was a remarkably resourceful woman who lived alone, had her own ingenious water system installed, made all her clothes and her shoes (!), grew her own food, added a fine, comfortable patio and covered verandah to her "house" and still found time to correspond with Bahá'ís all over the world. Her teaching charts and loving letters and laboriously handwritten pages of long quotations and prayers from the Writings have been preserved, testimony to her dedication and undying love for Bahá'u'lláh and His Message.

Anna was eager to share her home with the Bahá'ís for any Bahá'í activity. Many conferences and picnics and Holy Day observances were held there in the twenty or more years she lived at Flint Rock. It was her fond wish to give her land to the Faith but having grown old and feeble, not marrying, she exchanged the land for care in a nursing home. While there for her last few years she never ceased to teach the Faith and one of her attendants accepted it. She died in the Monte Siesta Nursing home on Dudmar, near Oak Hill, three months before her 89th birthday, on May 24, 1971, following a massive stroke.

Catherine (better known as Neenah) Smith came to Austin in the 1940’s from San Antonio, a widow with grown children and grandchildren. She was the only member of her family to accept the Faith and is described as petite, proper, always well-dressed, and absolutely indefatigable when came to promotion of the Faith. Much of the success of the spread of the name of Bahá'í in Austin belongs to Neenah. She never stopped, taking the bus to East Austin and making friends with prominent school officials and church officials there. Neither she nor Anna had a car and neither had much money, but they persevered, putting stories in the newspaper, holding "firesides" (home meetings) and arranging public meetings and speakers. Anna moved to the country not many years after Neenah came.

Neenah would travel to College Station to visit family where Catherine Gent and her family were at the time, becoming fast friends.

Catherine Gent and family lived in Austin from 1953 until 1955, Other Bahá'ís who lived in Austin at that time were Henrietta and Herbert Buder and their four children and Henrietta's father, George Clark, from Colorado (Denver area), an early Bahá'í pioneer (volunteer teacher) to other countries.

During this period meetings were held in homes and using the hotels (the Stephen F. Austin and the Driskill) and the old Austin Public Library on Ninth Street, the meeting room in the basement -- as well as the Howson Branch Library on Bowman in Tarrytown. Holy Day observances and community meetings were held in homes. Catherine Gent and George Clark held a weekly series on "Progressive Revelation" in the Stephen F. Austin Hotel serving coffee and cookies to from ten to twenty-five guests each week.

The first Bahá'í Association was formed on the University of Texas in Austin by three or four students and staff in 1966 or '67. A student from San Antonio, Elizabeth Rodriguez (now Jenkerson), was one of the organizers. She graduated in Library work and traveled to several European countries teaching the Bahá'í Faith and currently serves at the Bahá'í World Center in Haifa, Israel. The Baha’i Association has been active on the campus for over 35 years and has been recognized by the University for its outstanding service and range of activities. For more information visit the Baha’i information table on the West Mall most weekdays during the school year.

As the number of Bahá’ís in Austin increased to the point they could no longer hold regular meetings in homes, a building was rented on Duval which served as the local Bahá’í Center. In 1985 the Bahá’ís purchased a building at 4317 Airport Blvd. which had been used by the Second Church of Christ Scientists.

Additional Bahá’í communities were established in the Austin Metropolitan area, some of them by members of the Austin community who moved to help establish those communities. Today there are Bahá’í communities in Cedar Park, Round Rock, Pflugerville, Bastrop, San Marcos, Georgetown, Travis County, and Williamson County.

In 1998 the Bahá’ís of Austin purchased an office building at 2215 E. M. Franklin Avenue which they converted for use as their Center for community and public meetings and administrative activities. This building is about one-half block off Manor Rd. opposite the entrance to the former Robert Mueller Airport.

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