Dr. Maxine Berntsen was born in Escanaba, Michigan, USA on 7 October 1935. Her father was an immigrant from Norway, and her mother the daughter of immigrants from Finland. After completing her B.A. from Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she taught English in high school for one year, then received the prestigious Woodrow Wilson fellowship to do her M.A. in English at Columbia University in New York. After completing her degree she taught English in Luther College in Decorah, Iowa for two years.

In 1961 Maxine Berntsen first came to India, where she worked for two years as a lecturer in English in Vivek Vardhini College, Hyderabad. Then she returned to the United States where she received a fellowship to do her coursework for a Ph.D. in linguistics and Indian languages at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1966 she received a Fulbright-Hays fellowship to do fieldwork for her dissertation on social variation in the Marathi speech of Phaltan, a taluka town in Western Maharashtra. She later received a fellowship from the American Institute of Indian Studies to remain in India and complete her dissertation. In 1973 she received her Ph.D.

In addition to doing her linguistic research Dr. Berntsen collaborated with her friend Jai Nimbkar in writing a series of nine books, including a reference grammar and a dictionary, to teach Marathi to adult non-Maharashtrians. Since 1971 she supported herself largely by going to the United States every other year to teach Marathi in the spring orientation course for students preparing to come to Pune under the Associated Colleges of the Midwest India Studies program.

From the mid-1970's Dr. Berntsen's interests turned to school education. She began writing articles in English and Marathi in newspapers and periodicals, advocating the use of the regional language as the medium of instruction. She was also one of the founders of the Marathi Abhyas Parishad.

In 1978 Dr. Berntsen renounced her American citizenship and became an Indian citizen. That same year, along with a friend, she began informally teaching out-of-school children in the dalit area of town. This work gradually evolved into the full-scale program of the Pragat Shikshan Sanstha.

Along with her colleague, Dr. Manjiri Nimbkar, she continues to direct the work of the Pragat Shikshan Sanstha. She, along with Manjiri Nimbkar and Jane Sahi, directs the Centre for Language, Literacy and Communication (CLLC) which has been started under the aegis of the Pragat Shikshan Sanstha with the financial assistance of the Sir Ratan Tata Trust.

In 1993 Dr. Berntsen was honored for her work in language and education by the Abhijat Sahitya Sammelan of Satara. She is a lifetime fellow of the Ashoka Foundation, an international organization of people working as innovators in social fields. A profile of Dr. Berntsen is included in Daughters of Maharashtra, a volume presenting life sketches of eminent women working in Maharashtra today.






 Ashoka Foundation Fellowship, 1989 (later named Lifetime Fellow)

Brihan Maharashtra Foundation Puraskar, 1991

Abhijit Sahitya Sammelan Satara Puraskar, 1992

Sane Guruji Rashtriya Puraskar, 2000

Swayamsiddha Mahila Puraskar, 2000

Padmajarani Bang Rashtriya Puraskar 2002

Kamal and Prabhakar Padhye Award, 2003

IMC, Platinum Jubily Endowment Trust Award, 2006