Leonora: A woman to follow
By Vânia Marcondes
We are living in the woman revolution period that started last century with Industrial Revolution. This social phenomenon allowed the flourish of several historic events and achievements done by uncountable women, therefore, it is difficult for me to choose a woman I admire. But, there is a woman among several other ones whom I would like to write about. Her name is Leonora Holsapple Stirling, an American educator.
Leonora Holsapple Stirling was born in the countryside, near the Catskill Mountains, with a view to the Hudson River, on June 23rd, 1895. She came from a small family. She had only a sister, called Alethe; and her mother died when Leonora was just 5 years old, so Miss Stirling was raised by her father. However, she and her sister often spent their summer vacation with her great mother’s friend, Aunt Fanny, in New York City. Leonora enjoyed taking care of poor children in a shantytown in New York. During the summer she used to cheer the poor children up through the Charity Organization Society.
The young woman also liked Natural History a lot and she used to visit the New York Museum. As a student, Miss Stirling was brilliant and she won a scholarship from the government. In the University, Leonora went into Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. She studied Letters (Studies in German, Spanish, Esperanto, and her mother tongue English. She also took classes about the Bible and she studied in a course called “Comparative Religion”. Leonora graduated in Literature, Astronomy, Botany, Physics and Chemistry.
Her carrier began when Leonora was a teenager and she heard about some Principles, which changed totally her life. These were: universal peace, a new world order, universal education, unity of mankind, and elimination of prejudice, the emancipation of woman and others. Immediately, Leonora studied about these new ideas that were spreading around the planet and came from a newborn Religion: The Bahá’í Faith.
In 1919, Leonora Stirling attended the Bahá’í Convention in New York. Soon after, she makes an important decision: to come to Latin America and to proclaim to Latin American people those principles which were reveled by Bahá’u’lláh (a term that means “Glory of God” in Arabic) She wants to bring new spiritual and social knowledge for our modern age.
Miss Stirling arrived in Brazil at the Rio de Janeiro Port in 1921. She was not able to speak Portuguese neither understood anything at all in our language. Her first job was in Santos (SP). Later, she began to teach English and at the same time she learned more and more about Portuguese language. She used to participate in National Congress to give a talk. But she was not only a good educator and public speaker, she was a very hard worker too and as a social worker Leonora she used to support an orphanage for abandoned children in Salvador (BA), the city where she chose to live. However, she often used to travel to spread the Bahá’u’lláh’s principles. She visited several other countries in Latin America, such as Venezuela, Trinidad, Curacion, Barbados, Haiti and others. In Brazil, she traveled to Fortaleza; in that occasion there was a cholera epidemic, so she helped the ill people by making a donation of medicines, food and clothes. She was known like the “poor’ nurse”. She said that it was necessary to show them through the actions the main purpose of Bahá’í Faith: the mankind unity.
Miss Stirling got married to Harold Armstrog, an English man, when she was 45. After their marriage, she continued to speak in great conferences, public schools, and prisons. Her favorite theme was the woman role in a modern society. Leonora, whose name means “light”, was the first Bahá’í to live in Brazil and she is regarded as a ‘Spiritual Mother of the Bahá’ís of Latin America’. Mrs. Armstrong was 85 when she died in 1980, in Salvador and some minutes before her death, she recorded this message: “Women woman have a supreme privilege. It is our duty stand up and to carry out our obligation. We are the first educator of the humanity.”
Marques, Gabriel. Leonora Armstrong: Memórias e Cartas. Ed. Bahá’í do Brasil, Mogi Mirim, SP, 2006.