Celebrating 100 Years of Waldorf Education
The first Waldorf school was founded in 1919 at a factory in Germany. Today, Waldorf education is the largest free school movement in the world.
In 1919, Rudolf Steiner gave a lecture to workers at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. Steiner was a philosopher, social reformer, and scientist — and his lecture made quite an impression. The workers wanted a new, more humanist education for their children in the wake of the World War I. They asked Steiner to start a school. He agreed, but he set radical conditions: that the school be coeducational and open to all economic classes, and that the teachers have primary control of the school.
By 1939, 34 Waldorf schools were founded across Europe and America. But the rise of Nazism and the outbreak of war closed many of the new schools in Europe. After the war ended in 1945, the Waldorf movement began to expand again. Over 300 schools were founded in 23 countries by 1985. When walls crumbled and communist regimes collapsed at the end of the 20th century, Waldorf schools put down roots where freedom had been scarce.
Today, the Waldorf movement is the largest free school movement in the world, and comprises 1,100 schools and 2,000 kindergartens throughout 100 countries.
The concerns of the factory workers in 1919 Stuttgart are echoed today by parents around the world. The Waldorf movement is global shift away from call-and-response education and towards fostering creativity, adaptability, empathy, and resilience. A Waldorf education prepares students to be leaders and thinkers and problem solvers in a future we cannot yet imagine.
Watch the video below to witness the progression of Waldorf education through history and to learn more about the Waldorf approach to educating modern youth.
In 1942, the first Waldorf high school in America opened on a peaceful hilltop in Wilton, New Hampshire. Beulah Hepburn Emmet (1890–1978) converted her summer home into a school — a school founded on the principles of Waldorf education. Mrs. Emmet wrote:
“Rudolf Steiner said that he was starting a form of education for modern youth. So our acceptance by the New Hampshire hill was not just a move … it was an effort to meet the deep needs, to answer the questions asked by and implicit in the young.”
While the war was closing schools in Europe, a war-time building moratorium in the United States slowed the opening of High Mowing School. But Mrs. Emmet overcame that obstacle, and many others, and built a foundation on which a community could grow.
High Mowing School gained accreditation in 1944. The school remained the personal property of Mrs. Emmet until 1957, when at a teaching staff and trustee meeting she gifted the buildings and the land to the school. In 1965, the first North American Waldorf School conference was held at High Mowing School. Eight schools met to share their experiences, and to support those seeking to start new schools.
Ann PRATT ‘50, a High Mowing alumna, started a Waldorf lower school in Wilton in 1972. At first, Pine Hill Waldorf School was just a small schoolhouse in Old Wilton Center, but enrollment grew quickly in the early years. Additional space was rented, then an old farmhouse was bought. In 1984, construction of a new campus began on 45 acres of land purchased from and adjacent to High Mowing’s campus.
2017 marks 75 years since Mrs. Emmet opened the doors of her summer home to students, and 45 years since Ann Pratt opened the small schoolhouse. As we celebrate these anniversaries, we are also preparing for a significant new chapter in the history of both schools: High Mowing and Pine Hill are proudly unifying as one school offering early childhood through grade 12 Waldorf education in Wilton, NH.
At this momentous milestone in the history of our schools and the Waldorf movement, our community looks back with gratitude to all who have dedicated their lives, their energies, and their resources to Waldorf education. Thank you.