Have been researching to find a more accurate date for this photo of Leonora Holsapple with her mother and sister. So far, believe this to have been taken about 1899, shortly before Grace Holsapple passed away from, what was later to be named, diabetes. Taken in Hudson, New York. Leonora is on the left, and Alethe on the right side of photo.
This book was a creative project done for our local library month on altered books. All artists in our area were invited to submit a piece using an old book as the basis of their art work. Tuolumne County Library – Sonora, California – June 2009.
Mine naturally evolved from the research I was already engaged upon of learning more about the life of my great aunt Leonora Holsapple Armstrong. She had graduated Phi Beta Kappa at the age of 19 from Cornell University – class of 1915. Then she had taught Latin in a prestigious girls school in Boston.
She was 25 when she left New York City harbor by ship to Rio de Janeiro. The year was 1921 and not many single young women would undertake such a brash journey all on their own. Most of her family were against the idea of her going unchaperoned to an unknown country where she didn’t even speak the language. They could not fathom what possessed her to undertake such a daunting adventure.
Leonora was to remain in Brazil for almost 60 years as a social worker, educator, translator – the first Bahá’í to settle on the continent of South America. She was fired by her desire to make a difference in the world, as she had been admonished in a letter received from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to become a spiritual physician and minister to the hearts of those in less fortunate circumstances than her own.
Many of her years there were full of difficulties as she strove to make a difference in the lives of the poorer children in Bahia where she began an orphanage and school in 1924.
During her lifetime she received about 36 letters from Shoghi Effendi – The Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith – who encouraged her in her social work, teaching and translation work …. She never returned to live in America; she passed away there 17 October 1980 and is buried in Bahia, Brazil.
The book was not intended to be chronological or complete, but rather an experiment using maps, letters, photographs, lacy papers and ribbon etc. that might evoke the image of an Edwardian era young woman going to the barrios of Brazil to work among the poor. The pinks and purples were used to replicate her favourite color – orchid. The maps are overlaid with sheer Thai unryu and Japanese rice papers, tissue, and other printed decorative papers, then painted with acrylic. The oval portrait was hand tinted with acrylic. Some photos of the original book showing streets of South American towns and poverty stricken farmers, smiling children, have been allowed to show through to contrast with the prim pale turn of the century dresses and upper middle class poses of Leonora and her family.
The first Bahá’í in our family was my great, great grandmother Leonora Georgiana Stirling. She was born and raised in London and went as a missionary to County Cork Ireland. From here she emigrated in 1868 to Canada and then the United States. This photograph was taken in Dublin sometime between 1850 and 1860. She did not find the Bahá’í Revelation for another approximately 40 years.
This second photo is of my Great Grandmother Stirling at about the time she found the Baha’i Revelation through a friend in Brooklyn, New York. It was 1906 and she deepened through correspondence with Isabella Brittingham. She met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá when he visited America in 1912, both in Boston and New York, in which during one visit He gave her a white rose.
In 1930 Leonora Stirling Holsapple (later to become Armstrong) boarded a ship in Rio de Janeiro for Spain. She stayed in Madrid studying Spanish in order to improve her ability to translate the Baha’i Writings into Spanish as requested by Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith. Much to her distress she fell seriously ill and was beside herself being unable to achieve her goals in the time set aside. Meanwhile, she wrote to the Guardian in Haifa expressing her disappointment in the precious opportunity lost due to her illness, and he responded with an invitation to her to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. So from Barcelona she took a ship to Haifa. Below is a photo that she took of The Greatest Holy Leaf – Bahíyyih Khánum – daughter of Bahá’u’lláh and great aunt of Shoghi Effendi.
A working bulletin board in researching the life of my great aunt, Leonora Holsapple Armstrong.
Tiny bit of history. This is a photo of my great, great grandmother – Leonora Georgiana Stirling. Born in England, she emigrated to America in 1869, living first in Buffalo, then Hudson, New York. She was the grandmother of Leonora Holsapple Armstrong, early pioneer to Brazil.
Hudson, N.Y. January 25th, 1921
“Yes, Leonora sailed away on 15th Inst. and kept up bravely to the last – smiling and waving goodbyes to her father and sister after they had left the ship.”
No one believed she could do it. No one thought she should. Everyone said she was crazy. Her friends said it was too far away – to go half way round the world – and unsafe. Her father said he wouldn’t allow it! But she went and bought the one way ticket for the ships travel to Brazil anyway! This was not a girls’ whim, or a dare for high adventure. This was a yearning of the soul – a yearning to follow the desires for her of the Master to become a spiritual physician, to minister to people’s hearts. She had been ministering to young minds, drilling them in Latin. But what she really yearned for was to fulfill ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s admonition in His Tablet to her to become a spiritual physician healing mankind with the Word of God.