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Leonie Gilmour's Geni Profile

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Leonie Gilmour

Birthdate: (60)
Death: 1933 (60)
Immediate Family:

Wife of FNU
Ex-wife of Yone Noguchi
Mother of Ailes Gilmour and Isamu Noguchi

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Leonie Gilmour

Léonie Gilmour (17 June 1873-31 December 1933) was an American educator, editor, and journalist. She was the lover and editor of the writer Yone Noguchi and the mother of sculptor Isamu Noguchi and dancer Ailes Gilmour. She is the subject of a feature film, Leonie.


Gilmour was born in New York City on June 17, 1873 to working class parents and grew up in the East Village, Manhattan. She attended the Workingman's School (later Ethical Culture School) and graduated from the Bryn Mawr School of Baltimore in 1891, where she won a full scholarship to Bryn Mawr College. She also spent a year at the Sorbonne. However, according to the Bryn Mawr College archives, she did not receive a degree although she completed seven semesters at the college.

After leaving Bryn Mawr College in 1896, she taught at Academy of St. Aloysius in New Jersey and at various editing jobs. In 1901, she answered a classified advertisement placed by Yone Noguchi, a 25-year-old Japanese writer who had recently arrived in New York. Noguchi had spent seven years in California and had published two books of English poetry, but his mastery of English was insecure. Gilmour agreed to become his editor. The relationship proved successful, and with Gilmour's assistance, Noguchi resumed work on a fictional diary of a Japanese girl published in 1902 as The American Diary of a Japanese Girl.

Following Noguchi's return from England in 1903, the relationship took an amorous turn, and on November 18, Noguchi wrote out a declaration of questionable legality stating that "Leonie Gilmour is my Lawful wife." The marriage remained secret and the two continued to maintain separate residences. When the arrangement proved less than successful, it appeared that the experiment would simply be brought to an end in the early months of 1904 with no one being the wiser. Noguchi resumed his relationship with Washington, D.C. journalist Ethel Armes and with the onset of the Russo-Japanese War, began making plans to return to Japan in the fall.

Trouble developed, however, when Gilmour discovered she had become pregnant during the waning days of the relationship. Rather than pressing Noguchi for a reconciliation, she chose to join her mother in Los Angeles, and gave birth to Isamu Noguchi on November 18, 1904.

The birth was publicized when a Los Angeles Herald reporter visited Leonie in the hospital. After Ethel Armes confirmed the truth of the story and canceled her engagement to Noguchi, Noguchi began attempting to persuade Gilmour to come to Japan. Leonie resisted for some months before finally agreeing. By the time she arrived in March 1907 Noguchi had become involved with a Japanese woman, Takeda Matsuko.

In Tokyo, Gilmour worked primarily as a teacher and resumed her helpful role as Noguchi's editorial assistant. Unable to use her alma mater connection with Tsuda Umeko to secure a position at Tsuda College as she hoped, Leonie worked at a Yokohama school and privately tutored the children of the late Lafcadio Hearn, among others.

Domestic arrangements proved strained even before Leonie belatedly learned of the existence of Takeda Matsuko, around the time of Takeda's second pregnancy by Noguchi. Leonie separated from Noguchi in 1909, taking Isamu, and living in a series of residences in Ōmori, Yokohama and Chigasaki. In 1912 as a result of a relationship with a man whose identity remains mysterious (Isamu Noguchi biographer Masayo Duus speculates that he was one of Leonie's students) she gave birth to a daughter, Ailes Gilmour.

Gilmour sent Isamu back to the United States to attend an experimental school in 1918. She and Ailes continued to reside in Japan until 1920 when they returned to the United States, settling in San Francisco, and later moving to New York, where she successfully dissuaded Isamu from his plan to attend medical school and redirected him to the artist's vocation she had chosen for him when he was still an infant. Ailes was sent to a progressive school in Connecticut.

Gilmour herself made ends meet through a small import/export business and various other jobs. In December 1933 she was admitted to New York's Bellevue Hospital with pneumonia and died on New Year's Eve of coronary thrombosis with arteriosclerosis as a contributory factor.

Literary works

Although Gilmour harbored literary aspirations, her achievements as a writer were limited. Much of her literary energy was channeled into her editorial projects, particularly those of her partner, Yone Noguchi. It has been speculated that she may have co-authored or authored some works attributed to him, and there is little doubt that much of Noguchi's best writing was accomplished with her editorial assistance.

As an author in her own right, Gilmour's most successful pieces were short autobiographical essays for newspapers and magazines chronicling unfortunate events with a wry ironic humor in a somewhat picaresque manner. Although her matter-of-fact style often appears flat and even heavy-handed, she was able to deploy it to good effect by applying it to unusual situations in which she found herself as a result of her unconventional attitudes and lifestyle. Gilmour's "Founding a Tent-Home in California," for example, provides a remarkable view of turn-of-the-century Los Angeles seen from the perspective of a hapless, idealistic new arrival. "Dorobo, or the Japanese Burglar" portrays the experience of being burglarized with a humorous perspective, extending Gilmour's customary sympathy even to the perpetrator.

"George Meredith---A Study," National Magazine 23 (Dec. 1905): 272-77.
"Founding a Tent-Home in California," National Magazine 23 (Feb. 1906): 554-57.
"The Ways of Mirabell and Dousabel" National Magazine 25 (Oct 1906), 93-4
"Of Pride and the Fall" National Magazine 25 (Dec 1906) 299-300
"A Little California House: Living Close to God and Nature In Sunland" The West-Coast Magazine (Dec. 1906).
"Dorobo, or the Japanese Burglar," New York Times, 17 Jul. 1921, p. 44.

Some of Gilmour's letters also appear in The Collected English Letters of Yone Noguchi (1975).

Interest in Gilmour

Gilmour's unconventional life and perspectives have made her the subject of interest among scholars and a Japanese filmmaker. The most extensive discussion of Gilmour's life to date is found in Masayo Duus's biography of Isamu Noguchi. In 2009, Japanese filmmaker Matsui Hisako (松井久子?) began production of Leonie, a film based on Gilmour's life. Actress Emily Mortimer will play the role of Gilmour in the film.

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Leonie Gilmour's Timeline

November 17, 1904
Age 31
January 27, 1912
Age 39
Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan
Age 60