Page 1: Biography
Stevenson, Margaret Beveridge
This biography, written by Bronwyn Elsmore, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Margaret Beveridge Stevenson was born in Onehunga, Auckland, on 30 November 1865, the daughter of Margaret Turnbull and her husband, William Stevenson, a storekeeper who was later a photographer. Nothing is known of her early life. She never married, and was never in paid employment. By 1900 she was living with her parents and two sisters in Devonport.
Margaret was probably brought up as a Presbyterian, but in 1913 she accepted the teachings of the Baha’i faith and became the first New Zealand member. She had learnt of this new religion from her sister Amy, who had heard ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of the Persian-born prophet Bahá'u'lláh, preach in London. Amy also sent Margaret a copy of the Christian Commonwealth, which carried an article on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. A friend of Amy’s, Dorothea Spinney, an Englishwoman who had met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, visited New Zealand in 1912 to give recitals of Greek plays. She stayed with Margaret and Amy and their sister Lilias, and told them more about the Baha’i faith.
Margaret followed up her interest in the prophet and his teachings and subscribed to a Baha’i magazine published in the United States. According to the Baha’i faith, God reveals himself through prophets who appear at various stages in history, and the most recent of these was Bahá'u’lláh. Followers stress the oneness of people and the abolition of prejudice. Margaret became a believer, and devoted the rest of her life to the service of the Baha’i faith.
Although there were others interested, she was the sole member in Auckland for 10 years. However, when a Baha’i couple, John and Clara Hyde-Dunn, visited from Australia in 1922, more people joined. For the next 10 years Margaret held study meetings in the house she and her sister Lilias had moved to in Parnell. The first Baha’i Nineteen Day Feast (worship service) in New Zealand was held there in January 1923.
A small Baha’i group was formed in March 1924 and Margaret was elected president and acknowledged as 'the "Mother’’ of the Cause’ in New Zealand. Her sisters Amy and Lilias also became members. This group was further formalised in April 1926 to become the first Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Auckland. Margaret was elected the assembly’s secretary, a position she held till her death 15 years later.
With two other Auckland women, Sarah Blundell and her daughter Ethel, Margaret travelled in January 1925 to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage to the centre of the Baha’i faith in Haifa. They stayed three weeks, visiting the shrines of the two Baha’i prophets, and meeting the guardian of the faith, members of the founder’s family and other prominent believers. They then visited England where Margaret met many British Baha’is. The group returned to New Zealand in December 1925.
In 1934 Margaret was a delegate to the first Baha’i convention of Australia and New Zealand, held in Sydney. There she was elected to the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Australia and New Zealand. She was a delegate for several years thereafter, attending a further convention in Sydney in 1937 and serving as a member of the combined assembly up to and including 1939.
Margaret Stevenson was described by a contemporary as having a 'sweet lovable nature’. She died on 11 February 1941 at Auckland, and is buried in the Hillsborough cemetery. On her tombstone is engraved a line that shows the recognition and honour bestowed on her by Shoghi Effendi, the guardian of the Baha’i faith: 'The work which this exemplary pioneer achieved is imperishable’.