Celebrating Women’s History Month with Leslie Watt, The Experiment in International Living’s ‘unsung hero’

World Learning
3 min readMar 5, 2024

This Women’s History Month, we’re spotlighting some of the impactful women of World Learning, School for International Training, and The Experiment in International Living. This series seeks to showcase their extraordinary journeys and indelible contributions to our more than 90-year history. Each of them, in their own way, has helped us create a more sustainable, peaceful, and just world.

Leslie Barbara Watt (nee: Somers); 1896–1991

In 1922, Leslie Somers and Donald Watt began a life’s journey together that not only would take them all over the world, it would lead to the creation of The Experiment in International Living. Just one month after their marriage, Leslie took her first extended trip to Europe and the United Kingdom. She went on to make countless trips by ship and airplane, accompanying her husband to Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America.

Dr. Watt’s experiences working with young people abroad influenced him to create The Experiment. Once it was launched in 1932, Leslie, a University of Rochester graduate, was employed as a secretary due to her talent for writing and attending to details. In the days before computers, she wrote hundreds of letters and aerograms, assisting in organizing and conducting groups for student travel abroad. Notebooks and letters, editorial remarks on institutional reports, identification tabs on file folders, and personal papers reveal her input from the early days on the direction and mission of the future organization.

A black and white photo of a man and a woman’s profiles side by side as they look to the side.
Donald and Leslie Watt

The Watts moved to Putney, Vermont, which became headquarters of the original Experiment and its staff. Leslie was a gracious host to the many visitors, both national and international, who came to their unique home, called Himmel House. Items collected throughout their travels and other architectural features reflected their appreciation for the many cultures they encountered.

A black and white photo of two people sitting on a stone staircase.
The Watts in Peru in 1941.

In many ways, Leslie Watt is the unsung hero of the early Experiment. Her handwriting and photos are found everywhere in the history of their efforts toward building peace through understanding. Her role was essential to the success of the organization as it grew from The Experiment into School for International Training to World Learning.

The Watts retreated from everyday administration in the 1950s, but throughout her life, Leslie never lost her zeal for the values and mission of the organization.

We wish to thank Lou Witherite and Alvino Fantini from World Learning’s Alvino E. Fantini Institutional Archives who generously volunteered their time to provide the research and photos for this series.



World Learning

World Learning works globally to enhance the capacity and commitment of individuals and communities to create a more sustainable, peaceful, and just world.