Juanita Storch (1895-1987)

wife of Mirza Ahmad Sohrab

Juanita Storch of Oakland and Santa Rosa, married the Persian Baha'i missionary Mirza Ahmad Sohrab and had one child. They divorced, neither ever re-married.


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This article should be cited as:
"Juanita Storch (1895-1987", biography by Will Johnson, wjhonson@aol.com, Professional Genealogist at Knol, copyright 2008, all rights reserved.

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Early Life

Juanita Marie Storch was born in the San Francisco / Oakland Bay area of California on 23 May 1895 to the German-born Johanna M Thee, and her husband, Hugo William Storch (1873-1917), an architect, who was born in Mexico to Austrian parents.  Juanita's parents had begun attending meetings of the Baha'i as early as 1911.

Sometime around 1911, Abdul Baha, gave Mirza Ahmad Sohrab (1893-1958) three thousand dollars and instructions "...for any necessary work, prepatory [sic] to his arrival."  Sohrab returned to Washington, D.C. where he had lived previously, and where he now formed a group of writers to create booklets containing a resume of the Baha'i teachings and mailed them to institutions, colleges, and universities throughout the United States and Canada.  (For a very full biography of Ahmad Sohrab, see my article here.)

This resulted in many invitations for Abdul Baha to speak, 250 requests had been received and a schedule of appearances was created. (''My Baha'i Pilgrimage'', page 90) "In the Record Room at Caravan House are to be found thirty one volumes of press clippings that appeared in the newspapers and journals of the United States during this momentous trip.  The publicity was extraordinary." (''My Baha'i Pilgrimage'', page 95) Caravan House no longer exists, the whereabouts of these volumes are currently unclear.

Abdul Baha first came to New York City, arriving on 11 Apr 1912 on the S.S. Cedric, for his speaking tour which crisscrossed the United States from this time, until they left for England on 5 Dec 1912.  They then visited Scotland, France and Germany before returning to Port Said. Sohrab would continue as secretary and interpreter to Abdu'l-Baha until 1919, with instructions to also memorize all of Abdul Baha's tablets.  When World War I ended and letters could flow freely, the Bahai's in Palestine learned that the American Baha'is had been quarreling, ostracizing one another, had formed a "Committee of Investigation", and were persecuting the innocent in public. ( ''My Baha'i Pilgrimage'', page 111)  Abdul Baha instructed Sohrab to go to America and address these problems, so Sohrab left the compound on 22 Dec 1918.  He would never see Abdul Baha again. (''My Baha'i Pilgrimage'', page 113)  Sohrab came to the United States in time for the 11th annual Baha'i Convention, and he remarks on the stumbling blocks put in his path by certain Baha'is, whom he does not name, but he does name those who helped him. (''My Baha'i Pilgrimage'', page 114)

It was while accompanying Abdul Baha in 1912, that Ahmad briefly met and began wooing Juanita Marie Storch, when she was brought by her father to meetings with Abdul Baha in Oakland and San Francisco in 1912.  The Storch family, at that time was living in Oakland, Alameda County, California.


Sohrab returned to Palestine, but the wooing took place long-distance by means of "five hundred letters".  The coming of World War I, put a temporary halt to the letters as they were apparently being confiscated or at least not allowed through the lines, but at the end of the war, the lovers re-made their acquaintance (see The Oakland Tribune, 26 Dec 1919).

In the meantime, in 1915 the Storch family had moved to the Rincon Valley near Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, California. Juanita and Ahmad were married in New York on 28 Apr 1920 (The Oakland Tribune, 27 Jun 1920, The New York Times, 29 Apr 1920 see here).

The story of their long and long-distance courtship, intercepted mail, and his many love letters which never made it to her, captivated a number of newspapers who commented on it. For example the Sandusky Star Journal (Sandusky, Ohio) on 29 Apr 1920 said : "New York - East met west here today with the marriage of Ahmad Schrab, former secretary to the Persian legation and Juanita Storch, Santa Rosa, Cal.  Schrab could have a harem in his own town but preferred one American girl."  While the Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, NY), 20 Jun 1920 went over the top, devoting three-fourths of a page to a photo of guests, a large picture of Juanita, a smaller one of Sohrab, and a long article here.


Ahmad and Juanita had one child, a girl Laila J Sohrab, born in 1921.  Ahmad and Juanita were divorced either while Juanita was pregnant or within a year after Laila was born.  A site visitor tells me that Laila never met her father.  In his autobiography, written about 1929, Ahmad mentions neither Juanita nor their daughter Laila.

Ahmad however was appearing at various events.  The ''Portsmouth Herald'', reports on 23 Jul 1921 : "Green Acre Conferences, Lectures by Mirza Ahmad Sohrab of Persia and Mr W.H. Randall of Boston; 'The Evolving Consciousness of Humanity'".  And again the ''Portsmouth Herald'', reports on 21 Jul 1923 : "At Green Acre" "...'Confucianism', Mirza Ahmad Sohrab of Angeles [sic]".  While ''The Oxnard Daily Courier'', 29 Sep 1924 reports :"Mr and Mrs Charles Weaver and Miss Bernice Weyham, who is a personal friend of Mirzah Ahmad Sohrab, former secretary to the Persian legation at Washington D.C. will entertain Mr Sohrab Thursday of this week.  Mr Sohrab will appear on the Ventury county fair program Thursday.... He chants the hymns and prayers of Persian seers."  And again  ''The Oxnard Daily Courier'', 2 Oct 1924 reports : "Ahmad is at present doing research work for several of the large Hollywood movie studios and is advisor for costuming pictures such as 'Thief of Bagdad'."  Green Acre was a compound owned by a woman who was either a Baha'i or at least sympathetic to their cause.  It was used for Baha'i seminars for many years and perhaps still is as far as I know today.

In the 1930 U.S. Federal Census, Juanita Sohrab and her daughter Laila are living with her mother Johanna Storch in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, California.  Juanita and Laila lived for some years in Santa Rosa, with Laila showing up in passenger lists giving her address as Santa Rosa, as late as 1953.  Juanita Storch wrote an article for the Oakland Tribune on 5 Aug 1945 discussing her father Hugh W Storch's work on the "Diamond Adobe".

Juanita had been educated at the California school of Arts and Crafts and was a fine painter.  The Sonoma County Museum in Santa Rosa held an exhibition of her work, posthumously, in 1990.  She was also a poet, one of her poems was published in her obituary for the Baha'i World.

To Seattle

Juanita and Laila moved eventually to Seattle, where records show Juanita living with Laila, but Juanita either moved back to Sonoma County or at least died there in 1987.  Laila was still living in Seattle as late as 2002 under the name "Laila Storch".

A site visitor tells me that : "Laila Storch, the daughter of Mirza Ahmad Sohrab,  has lived in Seattle for many decades, and has been a lifetime member of the Baha'i Faith.  She is a retired music professor from the University of Washington (oboe).  You can find quite a few references to her career online. She never knew her biological father, M.A. Sohrab, because her mother separated and divorced Sohrab before she was born or while she was still an infant. I have met Laila a number of times through the years and she really knows nothing about her biological father other than what everyone else knows from books, and she really prefers not to discuss him. The marriage of Laila's mother, Ms. Juanita Storch to Sohrab was written about and photographed for either Baha'i News or Star of the West magazine, I forget which. The late Juanita Storch also wrote memoirs about her meeting with 'Abdu'l-Baha (World Order, 25.1 ; Fall 1993)."

A site visitor tells me that : "Laila Storch is married to violinist Martin G. Friedmann. Her daughter from that marriage is violinist Aloysia Cecile Friedmann who married pianist Jon Kimura Parker in 1998. (For a number of years, Laila went by the name Laila Friedmann so far as the Seattle Baha'i records show, but for about the past twenty years has gone by the name Laila Storch)."

A site visitor tells me that : "Just to mention that Laila Storch has just this summer published (through Indiana University Press) a biography on her eminent oboe teacher at the Curtis Institute, "Marcel Tabuteau: How Do You Expect to Play the Oboe If You Can't Peel a Mushroom?"  This book is the result of ten years of research and work, and I understand the first printing is close to selling out.  Laila and her husband, retired Seattle Symphony violinist Martin Friedmann, live part of the year in Seattle and part of the year on Orcas Island off the coast of Washington, where she serves on the board of directors of the award-winning and highly acclaimed Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival, which was founded by and is under the artistic direction of her daughter, Aloysia Friedmann.  The Festival has just completed a wildly successful eleventh season with eight sold-out concerts.  Aloysia is married to internationally renowned Canadian concert pianist Jon Kimura Parker, who solos with major orchestras and in recitals around the world and teaches at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston."

Juanita was buried at Santa Rosa Memorial Park cemetery (Sonoma County, California), near her father.

Works by Ahmad Sohrab
I only list here his works up to 1930, for later works, see his separate biography.

  • ''Heart Phantasies'', (sometime before 1929), date uncertain, but he mentions it on page 126 of his Autobiography as his "first published work", and it is also named on the fly-leaf of ''Abdul Baha in Egypt'' here
  • ''The New Humanity'', appeared daily for sometime in a Santiago newspaper, (sometime before 1929), date uncertain. He mentions it on page 126 of his Autobiography, as apparently his second published work, and it is also named on the fly-leaf of ''Abdul Baha in Egypt'' here.
  • ''`Abdu'l-Bahá in Egypt''. Published by J. H. Sears & Co (New York) for the New History Foundation, 1929. Approved by the Publishing Committee of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States and Canada. Digitally republished, East Lansing, Mi.: H-Bahai, 2005. (This is an evidently verbatim copy of the first part of the diary kept by Sohrab, covering the period 1 Jul 1913 to the end of September 1913)
  • ''Abdu'l-Bahá and Mírzá Ahmad Sohrab. Abdul Baha in Egypt. Mírzá Ahmad Sohrab, trans. (New York: J. H. SEARS & COMPANY Inc. for NEW HISTORY FOUNDATION, 1929). Mirza Ahmad Sohrab provided a detailed record of three months of Abdu'l-Bahá's time in Egypt in Abdul Baha in Egypt, in which he includes a historical presentation of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's activities while there as well as translations of his talks.
  • ''The Song of the Caravan''. Another ed. also 1930, New York, The Grayzel Press ed., xii, 410. New York: George Dobsevage for the New History Foundation, 1930.

Primary documents

  • 1910 Census of Oakland Ward 7, Alameda County, California " Hugo W Storch 36, married first time, 15 years ago, born Mexico/Germany/Austria, immigrated in 1879, Designer, Architectural, Owns Home; Jamea [sic] 35 [or 38], married first time, 15 years ago, mother of 3, 3 living, born Germany/Germany/Germany, immigrated 1880, no occupation; Juaneta 19 b CA; Alvin 13 b CA; Leland 11 b CA"
  • ''Daily Independent'' (Monessen, Pennsylvania), 26 May 1919: "Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, who once was secretary of the Persian legation in Washington and who accompanied Abdul Baha on his tour when he visited all the countries of the world to urge a universal peace, has come to this country with messages from Abdul Baha, whom the outside world has not heard from for six years."
  • ''Daily Independent'' (Monessen, Pennsylvania), 2 May 1921: "Feminists Arise in Persia : Insist That Veils Are No Longer Required and That Women Are Independent Thinkers" : "... Professor Fazel...spoke [to the California Club] in musical Persian, his sentences being interpreted as he went along by Mirza Ahmad Sohrab..." [Wire copy from the ''San Francisco Chronicle'']

  • ''Star of the West'', Vol. 11, p 73, "MARRIAGE OF JUANITA AND AHMAD SOHRAB" : On this afternoon, in the midst of a joyful company, the marriage of Miss Juanita Marie daughter of Mrs. Johanna of Oakland, Calif. and Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, of Isphahan, Persia, was solemnized. The surroundings were beautiful, the large assembly hall of the Engineering Societies' Building being used, the architectural attractions of which were increased by spring flowers and soulful music. Tablets were read by Mr. William H. Hoar and Mr. Howard MacNutt. The spiritual atmosphere was intensified by the harmonious blending of East and West. The past and present were linked in the two ceremonies.  That of the Episcopal Church was read by Dr. William N. Guthrie of New York. The Creative Words of nuptial union, with their brief but impressive majesty, were read by Rev. Howard C. Ives:
    • "Verily, we are content with the Will of God!"
    • "Verily, we are satisfied with the Desire of God!"
  • This attitude of heart and soul is the means of creating loving companionship throughout all the worlds. Miss Rouhieh Jones was maid of honor. The bride was given in marriage by Mr. William H. Hoar and Dr. Frederick W. 'Evelyn was best man.
  • ''The Helena Independent'' (Helena, Montana), 25 Feb 1928: "De Mille Charged with Play-Theft" : "New York, Feb 24 -- Suit charging plagiarism against Cecil DeMille and others interested in the production and showing of the motion picture, 'The King of Kings,' was filed in federal court today by Valeska Suratt, film actress, and Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, oriental scholar.  They said the ideas on which the cinema was based were stolen from a work written by them"
  • Petition for Natualization showing "Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, residing at 28 W 50th Street, New York, age 39, certificate issued 10 Mar 1930 by the US District Court of New York City."
  • ''Clearfield Progress'' (Clearfield, Pennsylvania), 19 Mar 1930 : "Curious Oriental Cult" : "...Mirza Ahmad Sohrab...Today he is the leader of U.S. Bahaism, which differs slightly from the Persian.  Some 6,000 U.S. cultists are spread throughout the country....Manhattan headquarters under the title of the New History Society are at the home of Mrs. Lewis Stuyvesant Chanler..."
  • 1930 Census of Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, California, 3 Apr 1930 showing : "Johanna Storch, head, FW, 58, Widow, born Hanover Germany, no occupation; Juanita Sohrab, daughter, FW, 34, divorced, born California, father born in Mexico, Artist, Art Store; Laila J Sohrab, grandchild, 9, born California, father born Isphan [sic] Persia"
  • New York Passenger Lists showing : "Laila Storch, 30, single of 770 Sonoma Highway, Santa Rosa, California, tourist departing Le Havre, France 18 Sep 1951, arriving New York 24 Sep 1951 on the 'Liberte'
  • Obituary of Ahmad Sohrab published in Chicago in 1958
  • Social Security Death Index showing : "Juanita Storch, born 23 May 1895, died Jan 1987, last resided in Seattle, King County, Washington.  SSN Issued by California in 1958"
  • California Death Index 1940-97 showing: "Juanita Storch, born 23 May 1895 California, died 26 Jan 1987 Sonoma County.  Mother's maiden name Thee"
  • An obituary of Juanita Marie Storch and a photo of her appear in  The Bahá’í World, an International Record.
  • Vol XX,  1986-1992. Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1998. Pgs. 863-867 Written by Waldo T. Boyd
  • US Public Records Index showing : "Juanita Storch and Laila S Storch, 4955 Stanford Ave NE, Seattle, King County, Washington Record number 647925425
  • US Phone and Address Directories, 1993-2002 showing : "Laila Storch, 4955 Stanford Ave NE, Seattle, King County, Washington, residence from at least 1998 to at least 2002"

Secondary sources

External links

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