Blomfield, Sara Louisa , Lady (1859–1939), Bahá'í pioneer and humanitarian, was born in Knockanevin, Borrisoleigh, near Thurles, Co. Tipperary, the daughter of Matthew (Matthias) John Ryan and his wife Emily (née Crowe). Religious tension between her catholic father and anglo-protestant mother (who resisted Matthew's aim of educating Sara in a convent) led to marital breakdown. Emily (d. 1919) left Ireland with Sara, pregnant with her second child Cecilia, and never returned. Nothing else is known of Sara's early life until she married the widowed ecclesiastical architect Arthur William Blomfield (1829–99), thirty years her senior, son of Charles Blomfield, bishop of London, at St Mary Abbots, Kensington, London, on 21 April 1887. They had two daughters and a son, Mary Esther (1888–1950), Frank (1889–1960) and Rose Elinor Cecilia (1890–1954). Arthur Blomfield was knighted (4 June 1889) and the couple moved in privileged, courtly circles. At Sir Arthur's death (30 October 1899), Lady Blomfield and her daughters moved from 23 Montague Square, London, to their country house, Springfield House, Broadway, Worcestershire, retiring from court and public society for a time. There they enjoyed the bohemian circle residing at the foothills of the Cotswolds, and Blomfield imbued her children with an open-minded, non-denominational Christianity.
When the family returned in 1904 to live at 10 Welbeck Mansions, 97 Cadogan Square, London, Blomfield mixed in theosophical and nonconformist circles. She was greatly influenced by Basil Wilberforce (1841–1916), archdeacon of Westminster Abbey and rector of St John's church, Westminster, as well as the congregational minister Reginald Campbell, who preached at the City Temple, Holborn. Visiting Paris with her daughters at Easter 1907, Blomfield was introduced to the Bahá'í message by Bertha Herbert, who also introduced her to Ethel Jenner Rosenberg and Hippolyte Dreyfus; in London, Rosenberg introduced the Blomfields to other British Bahá'ís.
Blomfield attended Bahá'í meetings and embraced the faith's spiritual message. Her own bitter experience of sectarian discord left her highly sensitive to religious intolerance, and she embraced open-minded streams of Christianity, theosophy and spiritual movements, often in tandem. She was especially drawn to the universalist message propounded by the Bahá'í faith, and never formally renounced one theistic religion for another.
She invited 'Abdu'l-Bahá (1844–1921), eldest son of Baha'u'lláh (1817–92) (the spiritual founder of the Bahá'í faith), to London in September 1911, organising a sequence of events to introduce his teachings to Britain, during which he gave talks to Wilberforce's and Campbell's congregations. She and her daughters accompanied 'Abdu'l-Bahá to Paris in October 1911, and attended many of his talks and conversations over the next two months. They retired to Geneva to assist in writing up translations of his talks, which were published as Talks by 'Abdu'l-Bahá given in Paris (1912) (many later editions are often titled simply, Paris talks). Forming an integral part of the early Bahá'í canon, outlining the fundamental tenets of the Bahá'í faith and recounting the words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the work chronicles the faith's early western encounters. 'Abdu'l-Bahá resided again with the Blomfields in London (December 1912 to January 1913) after his travels in Egypt and North America, before returning to Haifa, Palestine.
Urged in correspondence (12 February 1912) by 'Abdu'l-Bahá to establish a Bahá'í base in Geneva, Switzerland, Blomfield spent part of each year there from March 1912. The Blomfields moved from there to Paris upon the outbreak of the first world war, working for the Red Cross in the Haden Guest unit at the military hospital in the Hotel Majestic. Returning with her daughters to London in April 1915, Blomfield volunteered in hospitals and hosted recuperating Anzac soldiers in her home. Hearing of the isolation of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in Haifa in spring 1918 and of the threat of persecution by the Ottoman regime, Blomfield and other influential and connected British Bahá'ís urged Lord Lamington, former governor of Bombay (1903–7) and a Bahá'í sympathiser, to lobby the colonial secretary, Arthur Balfour (qv), on the issue. Balfour instructed General Edmund Allenby, British commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in the region, to protect 'Abdu'l-Bahá and his followers when taking Haifa (September 1918), and Allenby duly fulfilled his orders.
Giving talks on the Bahá'í message at the Hotel d'Angleterre in Geneva from January 1920, Blomfield established a Bahá'í community there, promoting the faith to the international political and humanitarian community clustering around the League of Nations. Meeting Eglantyne Jebb (1876–1928), founder in 1919 of the Save the Children Fund, Blomfield established the Blomfield Fund to undertake multi-faith fund-raising efforts to finance the provision of education and skills to vulnerable children. Blomfield lobbied to have Jebb's children's charter, protecting the rights of refugee children, adopted by the League of Nations (1924) as the 'Declaration of Geneva'.
Blomfield saw Bahá'í support for and involvement in the Save the Children Fund as a means to spread their benevolent and universalist teachings, espousing peace, justice and humanitarian unity. In The first obligation (1921), she urged her fellow Bahá'ís to support the fund's work. Blomfield remained active in the fund for the rest of her life, serving as vice-president and a council member of the British Save the Children Fund until soon before her death.
Blomfield chaperoned Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, 'Abdu'l-Bahá's eldest grandson, on his sixteen-month trip to England (September 1920 to December 1921); he resided with her in London before studying English at Balliol College, Oxford, for a time. Upon 'Abdu'l-Bahá's death (28 November 1921), she accompanied her charge to Haifa; remaining there for six months, she assisted him in assuming the 'guardianship of the faith', a central role in the Bahá'í world.
Dividing her time between London and the environs of Geneva, she gave talks in the latter about the Bahá'í faith to (often overlapping) theosophist, Christian socialist and Esperantist audiences in the internationalist heyday of the interwar period. She visited Palestine again in 1930, and on her return resided with her daughter Mary and her husband Basil Hall in Hampstead, London. She served on the London and National spiritual assemblies of the Bahá'í, corresponded with Bahá'ís all over the world, hosted numerous meetings, and gave talks to a range of spiritual and educational forums, including the opening addresses to the first three British Bahá'í summer schools (1936–9).
The chosen highway (1940), completed months before her death and published posthumously the following year, records her experiences with the Bahá'í faith over three formative decades. Blomfield chronicles aspects of the lives of the faith's founder Baha'u'lláh, the Báb (a precursor prophet), and its leading promoter 'Abdu'l-Bahá, having met the latter's wife, daughter and sister on her trips to Palestine. The chosen highway is a seminal text in and about the early Bahá'í movement; essentially an oral history recounting testimonies and experiences concerning the faith's principal figures, some of whom she met, it forms a powerful personal spiritual memoir.
Blomfield's account of the teachings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, which she imbibed first hand, propound his commitment to the protection of the rights of children and the elevation of the status of women. Blomfield herself sympathised greatly with the women's suffrage moment in the UK. Although initially admiring their drive and organisation, she recoiled at their more extreme later tactics and the harsh response they elicited, especially the barbarity of forced feeding of those on hunger strike. The promotion of inter-faith understanding in the pursuit of peace and the defence of the rights of prisoners, children, and animals were the cornerstones of her beliefs.
After spending her last weeks in a nursing home and refusing food in her final days, Blomfield died 31 December 1939 at 40 Belsize Grove, Hampstead, London. After a Church of England service followed by Bahá'í prayers she was buried in Hampstead municipal cemetery, London. Blomfield is a central figure in the early history of the Bahá'í faith in Britain and the anglophone world. Meeting many important spiritual figures, bestowing hospitality and support upon them, and lobbying on their behalf, she was at the nexus of the faith's expansion over the first third of the twentieth century. In 2003, the Camden Bahá'í community located and restored her grave.
A comprehensive scholarly bibliography of English-language Bahá'í works (Collins) lists her as co-author with Shoghi Effendi of two works: The passing of 'Abdu'l-Bahá (1922) and The ascension of 'Abdu'l-Bahá (n.d. [1985?]), compiled and prepared in January 1922.