Leonard Elmhirst was born in Yorkshire in 1893. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and later studied Agriculture at Cornell University, USA.
When Rabindranath visited America in 1920-21, one of the few positive outcomes of this trip was his meeting with Elmhirst. It took place in New York in March 1921, just before Rabindranath sailed back to England. Elmhirst, then soon to finish his course in agriculture, wanted to return to India, where he had earlier lived for two and a half years. Rabindranath, on hearing this asked Elmhirst to join him. Elmhirst spent the years 1922 to 1925 with the Poet.
He was largely responsible for the building up of the Institute of Rural Reconstruction at Sriniketan. Mrs Dorothy Straight, whom he married in 1925, financially supported Sriniketan for 25 years. Elmhirst was the first Director of Sriniketan and the work started in February 1922. Rabindranath recalled, in a letter written on 29 August 1932 to Elmhirst: “You came from your university and you were absurdly young, but you were not in the least academic or aridly intellectual. You had human sympathy in abundance which was the principal motive power that carried you across all the difficulties that stood against you in their congregated might. You rightly named your work Village Reconstruction Work, for it was a living work compreheding village life in all its various activities and not merely productive of analytic knowledge“
In 1924, Elmhirst accompanied Rabindranath, first on his trip to China and later that year on his trip to South America. He was the Poet’s travel companion, confidante and secretary. In 1925, on returning to England, he married Dorothy Straight and together they founded Dartington Hall, an institute modelled after Sriniketan at Totnes, Devonshire.