How it all began: The history of Waldorf schools

After its founding in Stuttgart-Uhlandshöhe in September 1919, the first Waldorf school grew rapidly. The children of workers at the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Company came in response to the initiative of founders Emil and Berta Molt, and many other children soon flocked to the school, children whose parents were looking for more humane values and new educational methods after the ravages of World War I. The first school had twelve founding teachers who participated in a 14 day seminar with Rudolf Steiner exploring his anthroposophical ideas regarding the nature of man and education that focuses on developing character. They learned on-the-job while teaching their first classes, children and teachers learning together. Whenever this happens, genuine Waldorf education takes place: pupils and teachers developing together.

By the start of World War II, 34 Waldorf schools had been founded – in Germany, Switzerland, Holland, England, Norway, Sweden, Hungary, Austria, and in the USA. These new schools supported by Rudolf Steiner bore different names: Friedwart School, Goethe School, Vrije School, New School. The schools expressed diversity and celebrated common roots. Teacher training was concentrated in Stuttgart, centers were established in Switzerland and England as well. The rise of Nazi power and the outbreak of World War II resulted in the closure of most schools in Germany, Austria, and Hungary, and to some schools in Holland and Norway. In contrast, the number of such schools grew in Switzerland, England, and the USA during the war.

From 1945 to 1989 the Waldorf education movement consolidated and became a broadly disseminated, well-preserved educational model. Conventional pedagogical thought eyed the movement with skepticism, occasionally with downright rejection. In some countries, such as Germany, Holland and Scandinavia, Free Waldorf Schools were partially subsidized by the state as privately-operated facilities. In most countries, however, parents financed the Steiner/Waldorf schools and many new kindergartens were founded. The Waldorf movement continued to grow despite sometimes precarious economic conditions. In 1985, there were already 306 schools in 23 different countries.

The global spread of Steiner/Waldorf education, even into the furthest corners of the earth, has continued until today. Interest in Waldorf teaching approaches is evident in about half of all the world’s nations (about 100 countries), independent of language, religious affiliation, or political situation. There are Waldorf kindergartens and schools, and teacher training facilities, on all continents. Parents across the globe are making an extraordinary commitment to support growth and strive towards a future in which humanity is attainable and healthy development and social participation is truly possible. The Waldorf education movement, with about 1,100 schools and over 2,000 kindergartens around the globe, has become the largest free school movement in the world.

(Nana Göbel)