Kip Rhinelander

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Kip Rhinelander
Born (1903-05-09)May 9, 1903
Pelham, New York, U.S.
Died February 20, 1936(1936-02-20) (aged 32)
Long Beach, New York, U.S.
Cause of death
Lobar pneumonia
Resting place
Woodlawn Cemetery
Nationality American
Occupation Socialite
Known for Rhinelander v. Rhinelander
Spouse(s) Alice Jones (m. 1924; div. 1929)

Leonard Kip Rhinelander (May 9, 1903 – February 20, 1936) was an American socialite and a member of the socially prominent and wealthy New York Rhinelander family. His marriage to Alice Jones, a biracial woman made national headlines in 1924.

Their 1925 divorce trial highlighted a contemporary racial issue and the vague legal definition of that time on who was to be considered "white" or "colored".

Early years[edit]

Rhinelander was born in Pelham, New York to Adelaide Brady (née Kip) and Philip Jacob Rhinelander. He was the youngest of five children including four sons and one daughter. The couple's eldest child, Issac Leonard Kip Rhinelander, died in infancy.[1] Adelaide Rhinelander died on September 11, 1915 after sustaining burns when an alcohol lamp on her dressing table exploded.[2] The third son, T.J. Oakley Rhinelander, died in France in 1918 while serving in the 107th Regiment during World War I.[3]

The Rhinelander family first settled in the New Rochelle and Pelham Manor, New York area in the 1700s. They made their fortune in shipping agricultural goods. The family also had holdings in real estate and owned the Rhinelander Real Estate Company. Many members of the family were active in philanthropic causes and participated in New York high society.[1]


In 1921, Rhinelander began a romance with Alice Beatrice Jones, a domestic. The two met while Rhinelander was attending the Orchard School in Stamford, Connecticut, an inpatient clinic where he was seeking treatment to help him overcome extreme shyness and to cure his stuttering. They had a three-year romance before marrying at the New Rochelle, New York courthouse on October 14, 1924, shortly after Rhinelander turned 21. The couple moved in with Jones' parents in Pelham Manor. Rhinelander did not tell his family of the marriage but continued to work at Rhinelander Real Estate Company.[4]

Although the couple attempted to keep their marriage secret (Jones' sister Grace claimed the couple even paid reporters not to announce their marriage), news of the marriage was announced by the press. Because of the Rhinelanders' fortune and social standing, New Rochelle reporters were eager to learn about Jones' background and began investigating. Reporters discovered that Jones was the daughter of English immigrants and her father, George, was a "colored man". The Rhinelanders got wind that reporters had discovered Jones' heritage and attempted to keep the information out of the papers. According to one article printed in the New York Daily Mirror, the Rhinelanders sent an "agent" to warn the editor of the New Rochelle Standard Star that if the story was printed, there would be "dire punishment". The editor ignored the threat and on November 13, 1924, the New Rochelle Standard Star printed the story with the headline, "Rhinelander's Son Marries Daughter of Colored Man."[5]

The New York Evening Post picked up the story but was hesitant to identify Jones' father as black. They instead referred to George Jones as being "West Indian". Other papers picked up the story but were also careful to omit the racial angle choosing instead of focus on the differences in social class (in varying papers, Jones was identified as a nanny and "the daughter of a cabdriver"). The larger city papers were also wary of printing such a scandalous story due to the Rhinelanders' wealth and social status.[6]

Divorce trial[edit]

For a time, Rhinelander stood by his wife during the intense national coverage of their marriage. After two weeks, he succumbed to his family's demands that he leave Jones and signed an annulment complaint that his father's lawyers had prepared. The document asserted that Jones had intentionally deceived Rhinelander by hiding her true race and had passed herself off as being a white woman. Jones denied Rhinelander's claim stating that her race was obvious.[7] Rhinelander later said that Jones hadn't deceived him outright but did so by letting him believe she was white.[8]

The ensuing divorce trial was known as Rhinelander v. Rhinelander. Rhinelander's attorney was a former New York Supreme Court justice, Isaac Mills. Jones retained a former protégé of Mills, Lee Parsons Davis. The jury was all-white and all-male. Jones' attorney argued that his client and Rhinelander had engaged in sex before they were married and read love letters written by Rhinelander which detailed the couple's sexual activity.[8] Davis contended that Rhinelander had seen Jones' "dusky" breasts and legs thus making it impossible for him not to have known that Jones was biracial. In an unusual turn, vaudeville star Al Jolson was called to testify that he did not have an affair with Jones after a letter she wrote stating that she heard from a co-worker that Jolson was a "flirt" was disclosed at the trial.[9]

The most famous aspect of the trial was the question of whether Jones was really "colored" as both sides contended. In a notorious episode, Jones' attorney stated that his client was willing to remove her upper clothing in the judge's chambers so that the jury could inspect the precise color of her nipples (245 N.Y. 510).[9] The jury viewed her breasts, back and legs, concluding that she was indeed "colored" and that Rhinelander had to have been aware that she was not white. The judge barred reporters from seeing the demonstration to prevent any photographs. The tabloid newspaper New York Evening Graphic, which had regularly used composographs to depict various events (usually salacious in nature), created a photograph depicting a model stripped to the waist with her back to the camera being viewed by a group of lawyers and one woman in a courtroom. The photo ran on the front page of the Evening Graphic and boosted the paper's circulation.[7]

After weighing all the evidence, the jury ruled in Jones' favor.[10] The annulment Rhinelander requested was denied and the marriage was upheld. Rhinelander appealed several times but the verdict was upheld. He disappeared from public view but was discovered living in Nevada in July 1929. Rhinelander was using the assumed name "Lou Russell", had grown a mustache, and was working as a woodcutter. Jones remained in New York where she filed a separation suit against Rhinelander.[11] In December 1929, Rhinelander was granted a divorce by default in Las Vegas.[12] The divorce was not recognized in New York where Jones still had a separation suit pending.[13] Rhinelander and Jones eventually reached a settlement in the separation suit. Rhinelander was ordered to pay Jones a lump sum of $32,500 (approximately $459,000) and $3600 a year for the remainder of her life ($300 a month that was never adjusted for inflation).[8] In return, Jones forfeited all claims to the Rhinelander estate and agreed not to use the Rhinelander name or to speak publicly or write about her story. She honored those terms for the rest of her life.[8]

Later years[edit]

Rhinelander eventually returned to New York where he worked as an auditor for his family's company, the Rhinelander Real Estate Company. Rhinelander never remarried.[14] Alice Jones also chose to never remarry, and continued to live with her parents in Pelham Manor. Her father died of a heart attack in 1933. Her mother died of a stroke in December 1938.[15]


On February 20, 1936, Rhinelander died of lobar pneumonia at the age of 32 at his father's home in Long Beach, New York.[16] He was buried in the family vault in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx.[3]

After Rhinelander's death, his father Phillip continued to pay Jones her yearly settlement money. After his death in 1940, his estate continued payments until 1941 when they abruptly stopped. Jones took Phillips' heirs (his daughter Adelaide, two nieces and two granddaughters) to court. After two years of court battles, the New York Supreme Court upheld the original settlement agreement and the heirs resumed Jones' payments.[17] After her final court battle with the Rhinelanders, Alice Jones remained out of the public eye. She died on September 13, 1989 of a heart attack caused by a stroke and hypertension.[18] She was buried in Beechwoods Cemetery in New Rochelle with a gravestone bearing the name "Alice J. Rhinelander."[19]

Case citation[edit]

Leonard Rhinelander v. Alice Rhinelander; 219 A.D. 189; 219 N.Y.S. 548; Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, Second Department (1927).


  1. ^ a b (Ardizzone 2002, p. 9)
  2. ^ "MRS. P. RHINELANDER IS BURNED TO DEATH; Alcohol Lamp in Her Tuxedo Home Explodes, Enveloping Her in Flames. LINGERS FOR TWELVE HOURS Physicians Work All Night in an Effort to Save Her ;- Two Sons on Way from the Coast". The New York Times. September 12, 1915. p. 1. 
  3. ^ a b (Greene 1940, p. 305)
  4. ^ Norwich, William (April 1, 2012). "Blue Blood Marries "Colored Girl"". Retrieved January 25, 2013. 
  5. ^ (Ardizzone 2002, pp. 10–11)
  6. ^ (Ardizzone 2002, pp. 12–13)
  7. ^ a b (Hunt 1989, p. 150)
  8. ^ a b c d (Johnson 2003, p. 159)
  9. ^ a b (Allen 2003, p. 37)
  10. ^ (Johnson 2003, p. 160)
  11. ^ "Kip Cuts Wood In Nevada". Rochester Evening Journal. July 24, 1929. p. 1. Retrieved January 25, 2013. 
  12. ^ "Kip Rhinelander Is Given Divorce". The Pittsburgh Press. December 28, 1929. p. 1. Retrieved January 25, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Kip, Alice Near Settlement". Rochester Evening Journal. July 14, 1930. p. 6. Retrieved January 25, 2013. 
  14. ^ (Ardizzone 2002, pp. 247)
  15. ^ (Ardizzone 2002, pp. 247, 249)
  16. ^ "Kip Rhinelander, Figure In a Sensational Divorce Suit, Dies of Pneumonia". The Evening Independent. February 20, 1936. p. 1. Retrieved January 25, 2013. 
  17. ^ (Ardizzone 2002, pp. 250–251)
  18. ^ (Ardizzone 2002, pp. 252)
  19. ^ (Smith-Pryor 2002, pp. 339)


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