Bahá’í (Bahai) leader, entrepreneur. Born: 1848, Switzerland. Died: November 18, 1924, Enterprise, Kansas.
Barbara Ehrsam of Enterprise, Dickinson County, Kansas, was born in Switzerland in 1848. She came to America as a child and settled near Valley Falls. She had two young children when her husband was killed in an accident. Her sister urged her to join her at Loudens Falls where her husband had just built a mill on the Smokey Hill River. She and her brother opened a store there which the town of Enterprise was platted around.
In 1870 she married Jacob Ehrsam, the Swiss mechanic who had made the equipment for the mill. He went on to open a factory which manufactured milling and farm equipment for the next century. She had a total of eight children. After they were grown she began searching for spiritual fulfillment outside the community church. In this search she was assisted by her eldest daughter who had gone to Chicago for more training. She wrote to her mother of the teacher of a new message who was then invited to Enterprise.
He came in the summer of 1897 and gave the first classes in Kansas on the Bahá’í Faith. The newness of this religion and the attendance of a former State Senator and a current member of the K-State Board of Regents caused an uproar in newspapers all across Kansas. This was the first news coverage of Bahá’í activities in America. When the summer was over there was a small community of Bahá’ís in Enterprise, the second west of Egypt.
Correspondence survives written from time to time after the class wherein she makes reference to the Bahá’í Faith or some Bahá’í event, including financial contribution to help construct the North American Bahá’í House of Worship near Chicago. Her interest continued the remainder of her life. She died on November 18, 1924, in Enterprise.
Today the Kansas Bahá’í community stretches all across the state in a hundred different localities. Kansas Bahá’ís have played significant roles in various areas and levels of the world-wide Bahá’í community, in literature, the arts and administration, serving on national and international councils. All resulting from that one invitation in 1897.
Entry: Ehrsam, Barbara
Author: Duane L. Herrmann
Author information: Herrmann has degrees in education and history from Fort Hays State University. He has published widely on the history of the Bahai faith with publications now in a dozen countries in four languages. His history book By Thy Strengthening Grace received the Ferguson, Kansas, History Book Award in 2007. He has actively studied the Bahai faith since 1969.
Date Created: April 2015
Date Modified: February 2017
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.