Our Founder

Welthy Honsinger Fisher was the tremendously innovative and dynamic woman who was the main inspiration for the establishment of World Literacy Canada in 1955. She served as its Honorary President from 1959 until her retirement in 1978. Born in Rome, New York in 1879, Welthy Honsinger was drawn to overseas service after teaching for six years in the United States. In spite of the reservations of friends and family, in 1906 she traveled to China and became the headmistress of the Bao Lin School in Nanchang. Of her years in China, Welthy Fisher said, “I began to study larger maps … to question the exclusiveness of nationality, religion and race.”

In 1924, Welthy Honsinger married Fred Fisher, a Methodist bishop working in India. The Fishers were well-acquainted with and respected by Tagore, Nehru, Gandhi and other prominent leaders of the Indian Independence movement. Following her husband’s death in 1938, Welthy Fisher travelled widely, returning to China and then to India.

On a trip to India in 1947, she was asked by Mahatma Gandhi personally to return permanently to India and continue her work in education there. Her life came full circle, as it was in India that she decided that the only way to eradicate poverty was through literacy training.

Dedicated to improving people’s lives in the “new India” through education, in 1953 Welthy founded Literacy House, a small, non-formal school that combined literacy with vocational training. However it was not long before Welthy and her fellow literacy pioneers realized that similar programs were needed throughout the world, and soon two non-profit organizations, World Education in New York City and World Literacy Canada in Toronto, were founded with the purpose of providing literacy training to those who needed it most.

Welthy remained deeply involved in both organizations for many years, either as President or advisor. Part of her genius was that she understood the importance of learning on all fronts and devoted much energy to educating and raising the consciousness of donors. Her strength, determination and stamina for literacy work in India seemed limitless, and even today continue to be an inspiration for members and supporters of both World Education and World Literacy Canada.

Throughout her nineties, Welthy Honsinger Fisher also continued to travel widely. In 1978 she visited Beijing as the oldest foreign guest of the Chinese government. She then made two “farewell” trips to India in 1973 and 1977, but returned one last time in 1980 shortly before her death at the age of 101 in Southbury, Connecticut.

Welthy Fisher’s vision remains with World Literacy Canada and her unique life is a testament to her faith and perseverance. Her motto, a Chinese proverb, was the guiding force of her own life:

“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”

Sources for this section were taken from:
Welthy Honsinger Fisher: Signals of a Century, by Sally Swenson; and
Three Decades for Literacy & Development: A History of World Literacy Canada