Racial Passing and the Rhinelander Case

Posted in Articles, Law, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-10-29 19:50Z by Steven

Racial Passing and the Rhinelander Case

English 365: The “Great” American Novel: 1900-1965: Prof. VZ
College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina

Brooke Fortune

Alice Jones with her parents

On page 101 of Passing, Irene references the widely publicized case of Rhinelander vs. Rhinelander (“What if Bellew should divorce Clare? Could he? There was the Rhinelander case”). Occurring in the 1920’s, the Rhinelander Case remains one of the most well-known controversies surrounding racial passing, and would have been well within the memories of the novel’s initial audience. Ensuing information for this post is sourced from here and here.

In 1924, Leonard Rhinelander, a member of one of New York’s wealthiest and prominent families, married Alice Beatrice Jones, a multiracial chambermaid. Alice had been brought up against a predominantly white background, attending white churches and socializing with primarily white people—a fact that led the Jones’s non-white neighbors to denounce the family as trying to pass. Due to Rhinelander’s social status, curiosity amassed around the figure of his new wife, and it was eventually revealed and published that Jones’s father was black. Under pressure from his father, Leonard Rhinelander then sought to have his marriage annulled on the grounds that Jones had hidden her racial identity, passing herself off as a white woman…

Red the entire article here.

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Lecture: What Would Be the Story of Alice and Leonard Rhinelander Today?

Posted in Articles, Law, Media Archive, United States on 2013-05-15 04:43Z by Steven

Lecture: What Would Be the Story of Alice and Leonard Rhinelander Today?

UC Davis Law Review
University of California School of Law
Volume 46, Number 4, April 2013
pages 939-960

Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Charles M. and Marion J. Kierscht Professor of Law
University of Iowa

On November 8, 2011, I presented this lecture as part of the annual Brigitte M. Bodenheimer Family Law Lecture Series at the University of California, Davis School of Law. I extend sincere thanks to the Bodenheimer family for endowing this special lecture. I feel honored to he a small part of this wonderful lecture series in family law. I feel particularly grateful because the University of California, Davis School of Law was my “birthplace” as a professor. Dean Rex Perschbacher, then-Associate Dean Kevin Johnson, and the law school faculty welcomed me into academia by giving me my first job as a tenure-track law professor and serving as fantastic mentors to me along the way. I did not have the honor of knowing Professor Bodenheimer, but I was very fortunate to be a part of her legacy at the law school in two important ways. First, I followed in the footsteps of Professor Bodenheimer, who was the first tenured woman law professor at the University of California, Davis School of Law, when I joined the faculty as one of its many female law professors. I also was lucky to be a part of Professor Bodenheimer legacy at the law school by following her and Professor Carol Bruch as the institution’s family law professor. This Essay is based on materials from my forthcoming book According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family (Yale University Press 2013). It explores both how far we have travelled and how little we have travelled in terms of equality and interracial intimacy since the stunning annulment trial of Alice and Leonard Rhinelander in 1925.

Table of Contents

  • I. Tragic Love: The Story of Alice and Leonard Rhinelander
  • II. Lessons from Alice and Leonard Rhinelander
    • A. Marriage in Black and White
    • B. The Jim and Jane Crow of Love
    • C. Why Aren’t There More “Alices and Leonards”?
    • D. Race As an Acceptable Basis for Annulment Today?

Read the entire lecture here.

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Love on Trial: An American Scandal in Black and White

Posted in Books, History, Law, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, Social Science, United States on 2012-05-05 21:01Z by Steven

Love on Trial: An American Scandal in Black and White

W. W. Norton & Company
May 2002
320 pages
5.5 × 8.3 in
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-393-32309-2

Earl Lewis, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
Emory University

Heidi Ardizzone, Assistant Professor of American Studies
University of Notre Dame

When Alice Jones, a former nanny, married Leonard Rhinelander in 1924, she became the first black woman to be listed in the Social Register as a member of one of New York’s wealthiest families. Once news of the marriage became public, a scandal of race, class, and sex gripped the nation—and forced the couple into an annulment trial.

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Property Rites: The Rhinelander Trial, Passing, and the Protection of Whiteness (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing on 2010-12-13 19:12Z by Steven

Property Rites: The Rhinelander Trial, Passing, and the Protection of Whiteness (review)

Journal of Interdisciplinary History
Volume 41, Number 3, Winter 2010
E-ISSN: 1530-9169, Print ISSN: 0022-1953
pages 478-480

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Hunt Family Assistant Professor History
Duke Univeristy

In October 1924, Leonard Rhinelander, scion of a wealthy and well-established New York family, wed Alice Jones, domestic worker and daughter of a Caribbean-born coachman. Less good-looking than well-appointed, Leonard used his fashionable goods and family fortune to woo Alice—appearing, as one reporter stated, like “a weak-chinned version of the sheiks”. Alice fell for Leonard and the life that he promised, one vastly different from the sturdy working-class existence that she shared with her parents in New Rochelle. After a three-year courtship, they announced their marriage in the society pages, but within a month, the honeymoon ended. The Rhinelanders had initiated an annulment suit, claiming that Alice had defrauded Leonard by hiding her racial lineage. Alice, as their lawyer alleged and the New York press trumpeted, had fooled Leonard into making her his “colored bride”.

In Property Rites, Smith-Pryor uses the Rhinelander trial to weave a narrative of classification, confusion, and cultural dislocation in the Jazz Age. At once a period…

Read or purchase the review here.

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Kip And Alice Rhinelander Social Error

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, United States on 2009-12-09 02:07Z by Steven

Kip And Alice Rhinelander Social Error

New York Daily News
1999-05-02 07:10Z

Jay Maeder, Daily News Staff Writer

From Germany to the New World came the Rhinelanders in the year 1696, and here they settled New Rochelle and begat. They were quite meticulous about it. For 200 years, naught but the proudest blood streamed through the veins of old Philip Jacob Rhinelander’s descendants as they amassed a real estate fortune second only to that of the Astors and assumed positions of importance at the most rarefied levels of New York and Newport society.

There was a bit of clucking late in the 19th century when young Philip R. Rhinelander married a Kip. Still, the Kips were only slightly less distinguished. It was not as if young Rhinelander had married, for example, a Vanderbilt. The Vanderbilts were nothing but Staten Island farmers.

In the year 1924, the last of the line was Philip’s son, 21-year-old Leonard Kip Rhinelander, and he was something of a disappointment, a graceless and awkward lad who was in and out of sanitariums for treatment of assorted nervousnesses and who was regarded as perhaps a little feeble. For all that, he still belonged to the Sons of the Revolution and the Society of Colonial Wars and the Society of the War of 1812 and the Riding Club and the Badminton Club, and he was heir to $100 million, and accordingly he was one of high society’s most eligible bachelors, fluttered at by the fairest of debutante flowers and even by a few hopeful widows. He was, after all, a Rhinelander.

But Kip’s heart belonged to pretty Alice Jones, a nursemaid and laundress, daughter of a New Rochelle busman, and on Oct. 14, 1924, he married his Cinderella in a civil ceremony so quiet that word did not get out into New York and Newport for several more weeks. Whereupon there erupted high society’s most shocking public scandal in generations.

For the bride’s father, English-born George Jones, was the son of a West Indian, and thus did West Indian blood stream through his own veins as well, and thus, too, did it stream through his daughter’s.

Or, to put it another way, Alice Jones was a colored girl…

Read the entire article here.

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Love and Race Caught in the Public Eye

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2009-12-05 05:23Z by Steven

Love and Race Caught in the Public Eye

ND Newswire
University of Notre Dame

Heidi Ardizzone, Assistant Professor of American Studies
University of Notre Dame

Earl Lewis, Provost
Emory University

Lovers seek to create a place that they can inhabit together against the obstacles of the world. Marriage promises that they will live in that place forever. What happens, though, when love cannot keep out the world’s strictures? What happens when the bond severs, and the nation serves as a witness to marital separation? And what happens when a culture’s notions about love and romance come into conflict with the lines dividing races and classes?

In 1925 Alice Beatrice Jones and Leonard “Kip” Rhinelander found themselves painfully trapped in this conflict between love and family, desire and social standing. Their marriage had the trappings of a fairy tale — wealthy New York scion marries humble girl from New Rochelle — yet the events that led to their estrangement provide an unusual window into the nation’s attitudes about race, class, and sexuality. Their sensational annulment trial scandalized 1920’s America and opened their private life to public scrutiny, amid cultural conflicts over racial definitions, class propriety, proper courtship and sexual behavior, and racial mixing.

As a Rhinelander, Leonard was descended from several of New York’s oldest and wealthiest families. Had he followed in the family tradition, Leonard might have attended Columbia University, joined the Rhinelander Real Estate Company, and made his mark on New York society through philanthropy and support of the arts.

By contrast, Alice’s parents immigrated in 1891 to the United States from England, where they had both worked as servants. George Jones had had some success in his adopted country; he eventually owned a fleet of taxicabs and several small properties. Alice, her sisters, and their husbands worked primarily as domestics and servants — solid members of the working class.

Despite this pronounced class difference, Alice and Leonard met and began dating in 1921. Their love deepened over the next three years, tested by months and years of separation as Leonard’s father tried to keep them apart. Philip Rhinelander’s efforts were in vain, however.  From 1921 to 1924 the lovers exchanged hundreds of letters and visited when possible. As soon as Leonard turned 21 and received money from a trust fund, he left school and returned to Alice. In the fall of 1924, they quietly married in a civil ceremony at the New Rochelle City Hall.

Had reporters from the New Rochelle Standard Star ignored the entry in the City Hall records, the couple might have lived their lives away from the public spotlight. They did not. Someone eventually realized that a Rhinelander had married a local woman, and it was news. And once they discovered who Alice Jones was, it was big news. The first story appeared one month after their wedding, announcing to the world that the son of a Rhinelander had married the daughter of a colored man.

Or had he? Well, at least he had married the daughter of a working-class man, and that was enough to start a tremor of gossip throughout New York. Reporters rushed to sift through the legal documents and contradictory accounts of and by the Joneses and the newlyweds. Despite the confidence of the first announcement, there was confusion for quite some time as to George Jones’s — and therefore Alice’s — precise racial identity…

Read the entire article here.

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Property Rites: The Rhinelander Trial, Passing, and the Protection of Whiteness

Posted in Books, History, Law, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States on 2009-11-17 19:23Z by Steven

Property Rites: The Rhinelander Trial, Passing, and the Protection of Whiteness

University of North Carolina Press
April 2009
408 pages
6.125 x 9.25, 10 illus., notes, bibl., index
Cloth ISBN  978-0-8078-3268-4
Paper ISBN  978-0-8078-5939-1

Elizabeth M. Smith-Pryor, Assistant Professor of History
Kent State University

In 1925 Leonard [Kip] Rhinelander, the youngest son of a wealthy New York society family, sued to end his marriage to Alice [Beatrice] Jones, a former domestic servant and the daughter of a “colored” cabman. After being married only one month, Rhinelander pressed for the dissolution of his marriage on the grounds that his wife had lied to him about her racial background. The subsequent marital annulment trial became a massive public spectacle, not only in New York but across the nation—despite the fact that the state had never outlawed interracial marriage.

Elizabeth Smith-Pryor makes extensive use of trial transcripts, in addition to contemporary newspaper coverage and archival sources, to explore why Leonard Rhinelander was allowed his day in court. She moves fluidly between legal history, a day-by-day narrative of the trial itself, and analyses of the trials place in the culture of the 1920s North to show how notions of race, property, and the law were—and are—inextricably intertwined.

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A Beautiful Lie: Exploring Rhinelander v. Rhinelander as a Formative Lesson on Race, Marriage, Identity, and Family

Posted in Family/Parenting, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Law, Media Archive, Papers/Presentations, Passing, Social Science, United States on 2009-11-13 22:44Z by Steven

A Beautiful Lie: Exploring Rhinelander v. Rhinelander as a Formative Lesson on Race, Marriage, Identity, and Family

California Law Review
Volume 95, Issue 6 (2007)
pages 2393-2458

Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Professor of Law and Charles M. and Marion J. Kierscht Scholar
University of Iowa College of Law

During the mid-1920s, the story of the courtship, marriage, and separation of Alice Beatrice Jones and Leonard Kip Rhinelander astounded the American public, especially the citizens of New York and black Americans across the country.  Alice, a chambermaid and the racially mixed daughter of English immigrants who had worked as servants on a large estate in Bradford, England, had committed the social faux pas of falling in love with and marrying Leonard Kip Rhinelander, the son of a white multi-millionaire who descended from the French Huguenots.  Or rather, as certain arguments from Leonard’s trial attorney Isaac Mills and later the jury’s verdict would together suggest, Leonard had committed a social offense by “knowingly” loving and marrying Alice, a colored woman.

Scandal arose about the marriage of Alice and Leonard when a story with the title “Rhinelanders’ Son Marries Daughter of a Colored Man” ran in the Standard Star of New Rochelle on November 13, 1924.  Two weeks later, on November 26, 1924, Leonard filed for an annulment of his marriage to Alice. In his Complaint, Leonard alleged that Alice had misrepresented her race to him by improperly leading him to believe that she was white, “not colored,” before their nuptials. New York law did not ban interracial marriages between Blacks and Whites at the time; thus, Alice and Leonard’s marriage was not automatically void.  In the state of New York, the law did not identify interracial marriages as so odious to public policy that they were legally impossible; however, fraud as to a spouse’s race before marriage signaled that there had been no meeting of the minds between husband and wife. Given the importance of racial classifications and their corresponding status in society, New York courts readily accepted knowledge about a spouse’s race to be a factor so crucial to the understanding of the marital contract that fraud about it rendered the marriage voidable and thus eligible to be annulled from its start.  In other words, the primary basis for recognizing knowledge of a spouse’s race as a material fact that went to the essence of marriage, a requirement for annulling voidable marriages based on fraud after consummation, was racial prejudice and social opprobrium of intermixing. Additionally, although New York had not followed many southern states in adopting the “one drop rule,” many Whites in New York agreed that any taint of colored blood removed a person from the class of white citizens. In essence, because of long-held beliefs about racial genetics and community expectations about social barriers of race in 1920s New York, knowledge of a spouse’s race was considered to be as central to marriage as the ability to consummate it.  Thus, no question was ever raised about whether Leonard’s alleged basis for annulment, racial fraud, could legitimately serve as a reason for legally declaring his marriage to Alice to be void…

Read the entire article here.

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Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Novels, Passing, Women on 2009-10-26 20:23Z by Steven


W. W. Norton & Company
September 2007
584 pages
5.2 × 8.4 in
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-393-97916-9

Nella Larsen

Edited by

Carla Kaplan, Davis Distinguished Professor of American Literature
Northeastern University

Nella Larsen is a central figure in African American, Modernist, and women’s literature.

Larsen’s status as a Harlem Renaissance woman writer was rivaled by only Zora Neale Hurston’s. This Norton Critical Edition of her electrifying 1929 novel includes Carla Kaplan’s detailed and thought-provoking introduction, thorough explanatory annotations, and a Note on the Text. An unusually rich “Background and Contexts” section connects the novel to the historical events of the day, most notably the sensational Rhinelander/Jones case of 1925. Fourteen contemporary reviews are reprinted, including those by Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Mary Griffin, and W. E. B. Du Bois. Published accounts from 1911 to 1935—by Langston Hughes, Juanita Ellsworth, and Caleb Johnson, among others—provide a nuanced view of the contemporary cultural dimensions of race and passing, both in America and abroad. Also included are Larsen’s statements on the novel and on passing, as well as a generous selection of her letters and her central writings on “The Tragic Mulatto(a)” in American literature. Additional perspective is provided by related Harlem Renaissance works. “Criticism” provides fifteen diverse critical interpretations, including those by Mary Helen Washington, Cheryl A. Wall, Deborah E. McDowell, David L. Blackmore, Kate Baldwin, and Catherine Rottenberg. A Chronology and Selected Bibliography are also included.

Table of Contents

A Note on the Text
The Text of Passing
Backgrounds and Contexts

  1. Mary Rennels – “Passing” Is Novel of Longings (April 27, 1929)
  2. Beyond the Color Line (April 28, 1929)
  3. Margaret Cheney Dawson – The Color Line (April 28, 1929)
  4. The Dilemma of Mixed Race: Another Study of Color-line in New York (May 1, 1929)
  5. Alice Dunbar-Nelson – As In a Looking Glass (May 3, 1929)
  6. W. B. Seabrook – Touch of the Tar-brush (May 18, 1929)
  7. Esther Hyman – Passing by Nella Larsen (June 1929)
  8. Aubrey Bowser – The Cat Came Back (June 5, 1929)
  9. Mary Griffin – Novel of Race Consciousness (June 23, 1929)
  10. W. E. B. Du Bois – Passing (July 1929)
  11. Mary Fleming Larabee – Passing (August 1929)
  12. Do They Always Return? (September 28, 1929)
  13. “M. L. H.” – Passing (December 1929)
  14. Passing (December 12, 1929)


  1. When Is a Caucasian Not a Caucasian? (March 2, 1911)
  2. [Publisher’s Preface to the 1912 Edition of Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man]
  3. Writer Says Brazil Has No Color Line (October 1925)
  4. Blood Will Tell (July 24, 1926)
  5. Don Pierson – Does It Pay to “Pass?” (August 20, 1927)
  6. Juanita Ellsworth – White Negroes (May-June 1928)
  7. Lewis Fremont Baldwin – From From Negro to Caucasian, Or How the Ethiopian Is Changing His Skin (1929)
  8. Emilie Hahn – Crossing the Color Line (July 28, 1929)
  9. Caleb Johnson – Crossing the Color Line (August 26, 1931)
  10. Langston Hughes – Passing for White, Passing for Colored, Passing for Negroes Plus (1931)
  11. 75,000 Pass in Philadelphia Every Day (December 19, 1931)
  12. Careful Lyncher! He May Be Your Brother (January 21, 1932)
  13. Blonde Girl Was ‘Passing‘ (January 23, 1932)
  14. Swedish Negro Baby! (April 28, 1932)
  15. Virginia Is Still Hounding ‘White’ Negroes Who ‘Pass’ (June 29, 1935)


  1. Mark J. Madigan – Miscegenation and “the Dicta of Race and Class”: The Rhinelander Case and Nella Larsen’s Passing (1990)
  2. Selected newspaper articles on the case (list pending)


  1. About Nella Larsen
  2. Miss Nella Larsen Bids for Literary Laurels (May 12, 1928)
  3. Thelma E. Berlack – New Author Unearthed Right Here in Harlem (May 23, 1928)
  4. Mary Rennels – Behind the Backs of Books and Authors (April 13, 1929)
  5. [Letter about Nella Larsen] Jean Blackwell Hutson to Louise Fox (August 1, 1969)
  6. Thadious M. Davis – Nella Larsen’s Harlem Aesthetic (1989)
  7. George Hutchinson – Nella Larsen and the Veil of Race (1997)
  8. Larson on birth, Passing, and death
  9. Davis on birth, Passing, and death
  10. Hutchinson on birth, Passing, and death

Author’s Statements

  1. Nella Larsen Imes, “Author Statement,” 1926
  2. Nella Larsen Imes, Guggenheim Application
  3. [In Defense of Sanctuary]


  1. To Carl Van Vechten [1925]
  2. To Charles S. Johnson [August 1926]
  3. To Eddie Wasserman
  4. To Eddie Wasserman
  5. To Dorothy Peterson
  6. To Dorothy Peterson
  7. To Dorothy Peterson
  8. To Dorothy Peterson
  9. To Langston Hughes
  10. To Gertrude Stein
  11. To Carl Van Vechten
  12. To Carl Van Vechten


  1. Lydia Maria Child – The Quadroons (1842)
  2. Williams Wells Brown– From Clotel (1853)
  3. Frances Harper – From Iola Leroy (1892)
  4. William Dean Howells – From An Imperative Duty (1892 or 83?)
  5. Kate Chopin – The Father of Désirée’s Baby (1893)
  6. Mark Twain – From Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894)
  7. Charles Chesnutt – From The House behind the Cedars (1900)
  8. Georgia Douglass Johnson – The Octoroon (1922)
  9. Countee Cullen – Near White (1925)
  10. Langston Hughes – Mulatto (1927)
  11. Fannie Hurst – From Imitation of Life (1933)


  1. Frank Webb – From The Gairies and Their Friends (1852)
  2. Frances Harper – From Iola Leroy (1892)
  3. Charles Chesnutt – From House behind the Cedars (1900)
  4. James Weldon Johnson – From Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912)
  5. Jessie Redmon Fauset – The Sleeper Wakes (1920)
  6. Countee Cullen – Two Who Crossed a Line (1925)
  7. Walter White – From Flight (1926)
  8. Jessie Redmon Fauset – From Plum Bun (1928)
  9. Rudolph Fisher – From The Walls of Jericho (1928)
  10. George S. Schuyler – From Black No More (1931)
  11. Langston Hughes – Passing (1934)


  1. Joseph Seamon Cotter, Jr. – The Mulatto to His Critics (1918)
  2. Countee Cullen – Heritage (1925)
  3. W. E. B. Du Bois – Criteria of Negro Art (1926)
  4. Nella Larsen [Pseud. Allen Semi] – Freedom (1926)
  5. George S. Schuyler – The Negro-Art Hokum (1926)
  6. Carl Van Vechten – From Nigger Heaven (1926)
  7. From Negro Womanhood’s Greatest Needs: A Symposium (1927)


  1. Nathan Irvin Huggins – [Schizophrenia from Racial Dualism]
  2. Mary Mabel Youman – Nella Larsen’s Passing: A Study in Irony
  3. Claudia Tate – Nella Larsen’s Passing: A Problem of Interpretation
  4. Mary Helen Washington – Nella Larsen: Mystery Woman of the Harlem Renaissance
  5. Cheryl A. Wall – Passing for What? Aspects of Identity in Nella Larsen’s Novels
  6. Deborah E. McDowell – [Black Female Sexuality in Passing]
  7. David L. Blackmore – “That Unreasonable Restless Feeling”: The Homosexual Subtexts of Nella Larsen’s Passing
  8. Jennifer DeVere Brody – Clare Kendry’s “True” Colors: Race and Class Conflict in Nella Larsen’s Passing
  9. Helena Michie – [Differences among Black Women]
  10. Judith Butler – Passing, Queering: Nella Larsen’s Psychoanalytic Challenge
  11. Ann duCille – Passing Fancies
  12. Kate Baldwin – The Recurring Conditions of Nella Larsen’s Passing
  13. Gayle Wald – Passing and Domestic Tragedy
  14. Catherine Rottenberg – Passing: Race, Identification, and Desire
  15. Miriam Thaggert – Racial Etiquette: Nella Larsen’s Passing and the Rhinelander Case

Nella Larsen: A Chronology
Selected Bibliography

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