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Home: Freunde Waldorf

Where Waldorf Education Began

(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 44-47, Note the Copyright!)

Waldorf Education has of course existed longest in the country where it began. But the span of time encompasses seven years during which the schools were forbidden by those in power during the Third Reich (1938-1945) and forty-one years when the government of the German Democratic Republic made it impossible for them to exist in the eastern part of Germany. In fact, the dramas of the twentieth century are directly reflected in the history of the Waldorf Schools in this country.

The first Waldorf School was founded in Stuttgart in 1919 by the entrepreneur Emil Molt (1876-1936) and Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) as a direct response to the first catastrophic world war of the twentieth century which had been triggered by Europe’s nation states in their ambition to gain power in the world. In Germany especially, cultural life and the education system were for the most part subject to regulation by the state. Since Rudolf Steiner’s endeavours regarding the need for a threefold ordering of society had fallen on deaf ears the Waldorf School was to be a different approach towards extricating education from the state and letting it function independently in answer solely to what needed developing in individual growing human beings. This initial endeavour meant that from the start Waldorf Education focussed on the needs common to all regardless of national, ethnic, religious or ideological considerations.

Phases of development

The first phase (1919 to 1925) constituted the building up of the school in Stuttgart under the guidance of Rudolf Steiner. Emil Molt had intended the Waldorf School to cater for the children of workers in his factory, but it soon grew beyond this. Seen against the background of the many obstacles from the state and above all the economic distress and raging hyperinflation of the times, this growth has to be regarded as an astonishing achievement.

The second phase, which began after the death of Rudolf Steiner in 1925, brought expansion and consolidation of the education by the teachers themselves. More schools were founded in Germany: in Cologne 1921, in Hamburg-Wandsbeck and Essen 1922, in Hanover 1926, in Berlin 1928, in Dresden and Breslau 1929 and in Kassel 1930. Early foundations also took place in other countries: Switzerland, the Netherlands, Britain, Norway, Hungary, Argentina and the USA.

The founder generation worked on Rudolf Steiner’s many suggestions and put them into actual practice in the schools.

Being unwilling to compromise their principles by going along with National Socialism, most of the German schools closed in or around 1937 while the one in Dresden was finally shut down by the Gestapo in 1941. However, knowledge about Waldorf Education had by then reached so many people that it was possible to take up the work in the western zones of occupation as soon as the Second World War ended.

Constitutional basis

Thus began the third phase of development which received its external stamp through the changed political situation. Independent schools remained forbidden in the Soviet zone of occupation and in what subsequently became the German Democratic Republic. The constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany, however, guaranteed the right to found independent schools and obliged the public purse to provide financial assistance.

After the Second World War

During the years between 1945 and 1960 the “old” Waldorf Schools were joined by about 20 more. In the end this spate of new foundations had to slow down because not enough teachers were to be found.

The “pre-war” teachers were now joined by a younger generation marked by the Nazi dictatorship and the war. The cultural task of creating an “education towards freedom” fitting for human beings was taken up with much enthusiasm, and this led to greater differentiation within the Waldorf Education movement:

Pre-school education became a permanent impulse in the rapidly-growing kindergarten movement; various forms of upper school came into being to take account of subjects needed for the step into vocational life; conferences and publications made Waldorf Education increasingly known among the wider public. When the state began to talk of education reform, especially as schools covering the full span of the statutory schooling period came under consideration in response to what was seen as the “education catastrophe” of the 1960s, Waldorf Schools came to be regarded as good examples to follow. Owing to the “economic miracle”, however, such new impulses got bogged down in bureaucracy and the old forms of a three-tier education system directed by the state continued to come to the fore.

School and civil society

A fourth phase covers approximately the period between 1965 and 1995. Again there was a wave of new foundations, bringing the total number of Waldorf Schools in Germany to 150, with the culmination being reached in the founding of schools in the eastern part of Germany after reunification.

Before and after the Second World War the impulse and initiative to found Waldorf Schools came mainly from teachers. But now the impetus was often provided by “citizens’ initiatives”. There was a mood of new beginning towards the end of the 1960s and in the early 1970s when many young people found their way to Waldorf Education and to anthroposophy. It was these people who carried the many new kindergartens and schools.

This further expansion led inevitably to the founding of new teacher training facilities and much effort to cover the need for more teachers. The search for capable Waldorf teachers became the most urgent task. Where this remains unsolved both the quality and reputation of the Waldorf Schools is called into question.

As the number of Waldorf Schools grew, so did public awareness of them and thus, inevitably, also criticism and attacks on the fundamental principles and practices of the education.

All these factors mean that the schools must continue to re-work their foundations and further develop their practices in keeping with rapidly changing times.

Learning to combine freedom with responsibility

The cultural climate in the final decade of the twentieth century was on the one hand determined increasingly by technological and economic materialism, a spirit which took over almost all cultural institutions. Although this was a global phenomenon it came to the fore especially strongly in Central Europe. On the other hand the frequently catastrophic consequences of a technocracy that disregards both human beings and nature have led to a growing awareness of the fact that it is education which will enable individuals to decide whether they want to shape their own life and culture or become victims of economic and technological programmes.

At the turn of the new century the aims of Waldorf Education as formulated by Rudolf Steiner in 1919 sound more appropriate than ever: to cultivate and promote those faculties in children and young people which will help them become self-motivated individuals who are active culturally and socially. Another conclusion to be drawn in the land where Waldorf Education originated is that Rudolf Steiner’s impulses have been taken up and carried forward all around the world. The future development of Waldorf Education will depend on the variety of individual schools which, regardless of their own characteristics, feel called upon to serve the development of children while also collaborating with one another world-wide.


Curative Education

Many of those who work in establishments for curative education and social therapy belong to those large or small institutions which are a part of the Association for Anthroposophical Curative Education to which the establishments of the Camphill Movement in Germany have also belonged since 1994 (see article by R. Grimm). In about 150 establishments 8,500 people are cared for by at least as many co-workers. These establishments range from out-patient early care and curative work to the usual curative and educational institutions and home schools for those in need of special care. There are many curative day schools and institutions for people with all kinds of difficulties, ranging from large day workshops perhaps attached to living arrangements, via small, all-in living and working communities, some of them agricultural, as in northern Germany, to the large village communities in Hessen and southern Germany.

All these situations have many and varied contacts with their surroundings. Firstly there is the work with relatives and parents which is increasingly becoming genuine collaboration. Then lively and intensive contact is cultivated with other organizations caring for the disabled in Germany, such as “Lebenshilfe” and the Catholic and Protestant organizations which also specialize in this work.

How are these establishments getting on? There are new initiatives, often supported with great enthusiasm by parents, which have begun to suffer the problems that arise when the pioneering phase draws to a close. There are initiatives that have left the pioneering phase behind and entered on a consolidation of their work. And there are also a good many establishments that reach back in some cases to the time directly following the Second World War, or even earlier.

Over the years the German state has helped the curative establishments achieve prosperity. But now it is reaching the limits of what finance can do for social needs and is beginning to ask questions as to the quality of what these “services” have to offer. In coming to grips with these questions many places have undergone an intensive phase of self-examination and reached a stronger awareness of their own qualities.



Dietrich Esterl
Many years on the board of the Federation of Independent Waldorf Schools in Germany. Member of the Hague Circle.

Michael Dackweiler
Trains and looks after co-workers at the Tennetal Village Community.

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