Leonora Armstrong at Green Acre

Letter from Leonora Holsapple Armstrong to Dorothy Baker

Leonora Holsapple & Elizabeth Greenleaf - Green Acre School, Eliot, Maine - 1920

Leonora Holsapple & Elizabeth Greenleaf – Green Acre School, Eliot, Maine – 1920

14 April, 1951

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

“Dear Dorothy,

Especially as you are the granddaughter of dear Mather Beecher – whom my grandmother admired so profoundly and loved deeply – I have wished very much to know you, at least through correspondence, until we can meet, as I hope we may in the not too distant future……

As you asked me in your note for a picture of myself, I am enclosing a snapshot that Jeanie Bolles took of me when we were together in São Paulo, as it is clearer that any more recent one, and also two still older pictures because of their associations – one taken with dear Elizabeth Greenleaf the summer we spent together at the Fellowship House at Greenacre just before I came to Brazil….

Loving greetings to you ….



Leonora Holsapple on Board Ship – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Leonora Holsapple on Board Ship - Buenos Aires, Argentina

1940 – This photo was taken of Leonora during her trip from Rio to Buenos Aires to attend the funeral of May Bolles Maxwell. May had just spent 2 weeks in Rio visiting with Leonora and all the other friends in the area, before settling in her newly planned teaching post.

Sketch of Aunt Leonora’s Sitio near Juiz de Fora , Brazil

Found this sketch that I did while staying at my great aunt’s farm. I got to sleep in the original old farmhouse with the open spaces between the floor boards providing a view of the dirt hillside that sloped down towards the river and waterfall, through a grove of rose bushes.  Spent the days exploring the books, old magazines and other wonders in the newer farmhouse that my Aunt and Uncle used to visit regularly in the 1960’s and 70’s. One morning found a Saturday Evening Post magazine from 1929!

Aunt Leonora's Sitio

Pen & ink sketch done of Aunt Leonora’s sitio, Minas Gerais, Brazil, March 1978.

Altered Book – Life of Leonora Holsapple Armstrong

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.

Cover of Altered Book on Life of Leonora Armstrong

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.

First page - Leonora, her Grandmother Stirling, mother Grace and sister Alethe.

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.

Second set of pages showing her passport photo, on board ship, with montage of South American scenes in background

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.

Leonora in the 1940's, sections from the Guardian's letters to her in Brazil

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.

Fragments of letters from Shoghi Effendi, envelope of hers to my mother Karin

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.

Oval portrait of Leonora, her mother Grace Holsapple and sister Alethe, superimposed over map of 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.

Pilgrimage in 1930

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.

The Greatest Holy Leaf photographed by Leonora Holsapple Nov. 1930 - Haifa