Olly and Uno Donner: donors ahead of their time

Olly Donner (1881–1956) was born into the Sinebrychoff family; the father of Uno Donner (1872–1958) was a professor of Sanskrit and later became a senator.

Uno Donner was a pioneer in industry, as he founded Finland’s first worsted spinning mill. He was an engineer, educated at university level in England and Germany, but also a painter with a keen interest in philosophy.

Friends with Rudolf Steiner

The Donner couple knew Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the Anthroposophical movement, personally from the early 1910s. In 1923, Uno Donner founded the Anthroposophical Society in Finland and acted as chairman for the years 1923–1932.

Uno and Olly were both Anthroposophists and implemented their ideology, for example, at their farm of Gerknäs in Lohja, the first in Finland where biodynamic cultivation was carried out. In connection with the farm, the nursing home of Gustavsberg was founded for children in need of mental care. Olly Donner in particular was deeply engaged in this activity.

Olly published about thirty works in as many years in the form of story-dramas and poetry in French and Swedish. In addition, she studied English, Russian and German. The cosmopolitan couple spent long periods abroad each year.

Significant donation

Thanks to the Donners, the largest special library in religion in the Nordic countries, with over 90,000 volumes, is today to be found in Turku. Their endowment in 1956 was one of the largest donations received by Åbo Akademi University to date and comprised a large number of industrial shares, real estate and land. Later on, this gift grew even larger through the will of the Donners. The fund is currently managed by Åbo Akademi University Foundation.

Mysticism and esotericism fascinated the couple, and it was their wish that the Donner Institute should award scholarships and research funding, award research prizes and finance research positions. In the 1960s, the Institute organised symposia on the topic of shamanism, predestination and cultural contacts, in accordance with the donors’ wishes. In many ways, Olly and Uno Donner were ahead of their time.