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Olivia Kelsey—Shakespearean actor, author and devoted Baha’i—wrote a moving play about the earliest days of the Baha’i Faith called Two Shall Appear.

That intriguing title refers to the two divine messengers—the Bab and Baha’u’llah—who founded the Babi and Baha’i Faiths:

Verily God would at one time render His Cause victorious through the aid of His enemies and at another by virtue of the assistance of His chosen ones. Concerning those pure and blessed souls, Our Pen of Glory hath revealed that which excelleth the whole world, its treasures and whatsoever existeth therein. …

Ere long the fruits of these two shall appear from the tree of His irrevocable Decree. – Baha’u’llah, Fire and Light, pp. 13-14.

The advent of God’s two new messengers Bab and Baha’u’llah, and the new Baha’i teachings they brought, Olivia Kelsey wrote, inspired her to create Two Shall Appear, which she called:

… a first attempt to depict in a brief form its background and some of the heroic events that adorn its history. No pen, however inspired, could encompass the stupendous effort and sacrifice that paved the way for its rise and expansion. – Olivia Kelsey, from her foreword to Two Shall Appear.

Olivia Kelsey

Olivia Kelsey

Olivia Kelsey (1889-1981) was born in Delaware County, Ohio. She was orphaned as an eleven-year-old girl when her mother died on their family farm, and she moved to Cleveland to live with a maternal uncle and his wife. When she finished school, Olivia moved to New York City to pursue a career in theatre. In New York, Olivia became a well-known Shakespearean actor:

Through an extraordinary chain of events she met Madama Ada Dow Currier, the great Shakespearean teacher, and began to prepare for a career as a Shakespearean actress. Olivia performed various roles under the heading “Heroines of Shakespeare” in New York, all produced under the direction of Madame Currier. Her studies in drama and music continued for 12 years. – from Olivia Kelsey’s obituary, written by Florence Ullrich Kelley of Kaneohe, Hawaii, and Lois Bierly Walker of Alpha, Ohio.

Olivia didn’t take the surname Kelsey until 1929, when she married Francis Arthur Kelsey (d. 1937). Olivia became a Baha’i three years after marrying Francis in 1932. Their home became a hub of Baha’i activity in New York, and Olivia became a very devoted and active Baha’i. She went on pilgrimage to the Baha’i World Centre and the Baha’i Shrines in Haifa, Israel, in 1954, where she met Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, as well as Baha’is Laura Davis (from Canada) and John and Valera Allen (from California).  Shoghi Effendi named Olivia a “Knight of Baha’u’llah,” a title he gave to Baha’is who opened new territories for the Faith.

During the time Olivia lived in New York she authored poems and articles on various subjects, some of which were published in World Order magazine: “The American Indian,” “Glimpses of Sweden,” “In the Mirror of Creation,” and “Poverty or Wealth?” She also wrote and published a pageant entitled “Had They Believed,” a scenario called “A Universal Language,” and a satire, “Gulliver’s Return.”

While she lived in New York, Mrs. Kelsey also began compiling the material for her book Baha’i Answers—a collection of 95 questions about the Baha’i Faith, with answers from the Bab, Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha.  

During this creatively fruitful time, Olivia authored a “religious-historical drama depicting the early history of the Faith,” called Two Shall Appear. The play was published in 1943, and intended by the author as a vehicle for educating others about the Baha’i Faith. In the Foreword, Olivia acknowledged the many Baha’i books and sources for her play, and dedicated it to Bahiyyih Khanum, the loyal and saintly sister of Abdu’l-Baha and the lasting inspiration to generations of Baha’i women.  

Like the inspired plays by Isabella Grinevskaya and Laura Clifford-Barney, Two Shall Appear focuses on the events, personalities and dramatic occurrences of the Bab’s Revelation. It is composed of five acts and an epilogue, features three characters in the Prologue, and no less than 50 characters in the entire play.

There is no substitute for reading the play itself, and it can provide ready-made materials for aspiring amateur and professional actors. You can read it here.

Olivia Kelsey went on to become an active Baha’i pioneer in Kentucky and Kansas, in Monaco and France, traveling to South Carolina and West Virginia to spread the news about the Baha’i Faith at age 85, and spending her last years back in her native Ohio. One of the remarkable women who became Baha’i playwrights in the 20th century, she and her husband had no children, so she was able to devote herself entirely to the service of her beloved Faith through her acting, her writing, and her world travels.

4 Comments

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  • Carol Rutstein
    Jun 21, 2018
    Thanks for this article about Olivia Kelsey. Francis Arthur Kelsey was the older brother of my father, Curtis DeMude Kelsey. I was not aware of all the details in this article so I appreciate learning more about her. I do have her book Baha'i Answers.
  • Elly Jaresko Jarvis
    Jun 20, 2018
    Thanks! and thanks for the link, too
  • Lyn Kelsey
    Jun 14, 2018
    What a lovely tribute. Arthur Kelsey was my grand father’s brother. It’s wonderful to read about her. Thank You.