A Short History of Lisle

Lisle was established as The Lisle Fellowship, in 1936. The name was taken from the rural upstate New York town of Lisle which hosted the first intercultural education program for American and international students. The founders, Dr. DeWitt and Edna Baldwin, were former Methodist missionaries in Burma who wanted to develop an educational experience – multicultural, interracial and interfaith – to foster increased interaction between U.S. and international students studying on college campuses. This was a radical idea in the 1930’s. Lisle’s pioneering model of group interaction, community living, reflection and community service for students was unique.

From 1936 until 1952, Lisle sponsored summer programs for students only, and solely within the United States. The first international group was conducted in Denmark in 1952 and since that time, programs have been held in 21 nations. During the 1980’s and 1990’s Lisle has been offering inter-generational programs in many developing areas of the world.

In the beginning these were six week programs developed by volunteers to foster understanding across the globe. Lisle programs are based on a unique model of intercultural education and work experience. This model incorporates intimate involvement in community life, reflective group experience, sensitivity to the variety of human perspectives, the development of personal values, and the creating of a sense of world-mindedness.

Though Lisle’s purposes have expanded and evolved, today Lisle continues to open minds to other cultures and other individuals, creating the possibility for world peace and understanding. The History of Lisle, a.k.a. the Lisle Fellowship, is contained in the book Tiger By the Tail, by Dr. Dewitt Baldwin, founder.

Lisle is committed to a more just social order in which persons of all cultures, social classes, religious affiliations, nationalities, and political persuasions are full participants. Lisle believes that actions and plans must be rooted in a clear understanding of the hopes and aspirations of all people. However, idealism must be tempered with realistic vision. The future leadership of our world community demands experiences which develop emotional maturity, social sensitivity, self awareness, and appreciation of cultural diversity.

In 2004, Lisle embarked on a new approach to fostering global minded-ness through a Mini-grant funding approach which is designed to support Lislers and others in their work to accomplish the goals of Lisle.


Lisle Founders

Dr. DeWitt C. Baldwin with his wife Edna Aiken Baldwin founded, nurtured and guided Lisle for almost 60 years, until his death in the early 1990’s. Their creative understanding of the isolation of the United States in the 1930’s led to the development of Lisle’s six week summer camp programs starting in 1936. Their idea of inviting both international and US college students to come, live and learn together in a sharing and serving atmosphere was at the cutting edge of the educational practice of the time.

Below are pictures of “Uncle Si” and “Aunt Edna,” as they were affectionately known, during their participation in a 1978 “Unit.”


Dr. Dewitt & Edna Baldwin


Dr. Dewitt & Edna Baldwin at the birthday celebration at Howard Binkley’s home

Past Intercultural Work

Even in the beginning, the Baldwins had a unique idea for fostering understanding among people from diverse cultural backgrounds. They developed a model of education which integrates group learning through experience to help participants see broader relationships beyond their membership in the group. The focus is “within” and “without”, toward a better understanding of oneself and beyond the self to the culture and community of people whose lives they have shared. In each Lisle program, an effort is made to incorporate the following principles:

  • A person-centered approach
  • Co-operative group living
  • Consensus decision-making

Since 1936, Lisle has sponsored programs in the United States and 19 other countries. Program participants of all ages, from teenagers through senior citizens have found that it is people — in the group and in the host culture — that matter.

Lisle, through the efforts of its founders, was a catalyst for numerous educational organizations and projects including the Scandinavian Seminar (founded by a Lisle alum), the U.S. Institute of Peace, The Council for International Educational Exchange (CIEE), and NAFSA: Association of International Educators.