by Anie Nunnally and Jeanne Korstange
The history of the Foundation for World Education begins in the early 1950s when its founder, Mrs. Eleanor Montgomery, was inspired by Margaret Woodrow Wilson’s spiritual search to read Sri Aurobindo’s writings and visit the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry and meet the Mother. Mrs. Montgomery was particularly moved by the work being done at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education and asked Mother, “How can I help?” The Mother replied, “Return to America and raise funds for the school.”
At that time, many disciples were moving their families to the Ashram to live. The Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education in Pondicherry served the children of disciples, allowing them to grow up in the Ashram community, become educated under the ideals and practice of Sri Aurobindo and Mother’s educational philosophy, and later choose whether or not to join the Ashram.
In the beginning, Mrs. Montgomery raised funds for the Ashram school through friends and a yearly monetary gift from her financier husband, A. Moore Montgomery. Eventually in 1955, at the Mother’s behest, a foundation was incorporated in New York City under the name “Sri Aurobindo International Center Foundation, Inc.”
With the Mother herself as president, the original board consisted of a group of disciples, among whom were Mrs. Montgomery, Mr. Lee Russell, Elsie Calvert, and Dr. Marie Karelitz-Karry (all now deceased.) Other members who came on the board later on during that time period (also deceased) were Joseph Heil, Mrs. Polly Holmes, and John Kelly. The Foundation provided encyclopedias, educational books and materials, office equipment and supplies, and sports equipment for the Ashram school. There were other donations, such as the electronic organ Mother played (which can be heard on the many tapes recorded by the Ashram).
Mrs. Montgomery also formed a study group in New York City that met on a regular basis from 1955 to 1963. As hostess for the meetings, she brought noted personalities such as French Jesuit author Teilhard de Chardin and scholars from the Ashram and around the world to fulfill the organization’s mission of establishing “a center of education and learning without distinction of race, nationality, caste, sex or creed so that such education might be provided without charge.” A number of Sri Aurobindo disciples, such as Ann Harrison, Kailas Jhaveri, and Anie Nunnally, volunteered and assisted Mrs. Montgomery in creating an active center in the city.
In 1963, Mrs. Montgomery’s husband passed away and the foundation fell into a period of quiescence. In 1972, Udar Pinto of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram was sent to the USA by the Indian government for Sri Aurobindo’s birth centenary year. He persuaded Mrs. Montgomery to reactivate the foundation in order to help the Sri Aurobindo Center, which was being organized by Muriel Spanier at that time. Thus the foundation supported the running and maintenance of the Sri Aurobindo Center in New York City. By 1974, Mrs. Montgomery had changed the name of the foundation from the Sri Aurobindo International Center Foundation to the Foundation for World Education (FWE), so that its work could embrace related activities and be more widely accessible.
When Mrs. Montgomery passed away at the age of 74 on Mother’s birthday, February 21, 1983, she left her entire estate to FWE. In 1984, a board of directors was formed in order to organize and reactivate FWE. Anie Nunnally became secretary and served FWE until 1999. Other board members were Sam Spanier (who served on the board until 1999), Julian Lines, John Kelly, Connie Buckley, Robert McDermott, and George Nakashima. In 1985, Rudy Phillips became the president and Margo MacLeod the treasurer.
In 1990, board membership changed with Julian Lines and Robert McDermott leaving for other interests and George Nakashima, John Kelly, and Jesse Cohen passing away. Sudha Hunziker and Jerry Schwartz joined the board at that time.
Currently the board consists of Bhuvana Nandakumar (president), Jerry Schwartz (treasurer), Jean Eisele (secretary), Mateo Needham, Heidi Watts, Dakshina Vanzetti, Aviram Rozin, and John Schlorholtz.
Members of the board are nominated and unanimously approved by the current board. From the 1990s, one goal of board membership has been to include representatives from the broad spectrum of Sri Aurobindo devotees in the USA. This has meant including people who have a long history of involvement with the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Auroville, and U.S. centers. Board members share the interests and concerns of Sri Aurobindo and Mother’s devotees all over the world. Meetings are held four times a year to oversee the funds, carry out any legal business for the continuation of the foundation, and grant money to projects.
In 1985, the FWE board drew up guidelines for granting money to incorporated nonprofit organizations to carry out the mission of supporting “the vision for a transformed world espoused by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.” Since that time, over three million dollars have been distributed from the annual dividends and interest which Mrs. Montgomery’s estate continues to generate.
FWE’s grants began by supporting the purchase of the crystal for the Matrimandir, a student learning exchange from Auroville to the USA, and projects of the Ashram Archives and school. It continues today, supporting Auroville development, student and teacher exchanges, programs for U.S. centers, publication of books such as Mother’s Agenda, republication of works such as The Essential Aurobindo, translations of Sri Aurobindo and Mother’s writings into Dutch and Russian, and publications of recent works by Ashram scholars.
FWE also works with centers and foundations in Europe to co-fund projects in Auroville and publish translated works of Sri Aurobindo. Many of the speakers who have come from the Ashram to the USA have been funded through FWE. Participant scholarships to the All USA Meeting (AUM) have been provided since the beginning of this annual conference of people interested in Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
The Foundation for World Education is proud of its achievements over the past 25 years and looks forward to many more years of service in expanding and enlarging the work of Mother and Sri Aurobindo. FWE welcomes and encourages suggestions and donations from those who are interested in helping it to achieve the goal of a more enlightened humanity, continuing its ongoing programs, taking part in the creation of new programs, and perpetuating the message of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo for the benefit of the world.