Introduction to
The Spirit of the Waldorf School

Robert F. Lathe and Nancy K. Whittaker

We thought this might be helpful for anyone who would like to know more about the historical context in which the Waldorf School was founded.

Bob and Nancy




By the spring of 1919, nothing was left of what had been called Germany and little remained of what had been Europe. The dissolution of society had gone far beyond the fall of governments, beyond the collapse of institutions, beyond the blurring of social conventions and mores, beyond harsh economic reality. This destruction bored into the hearts and minds of each individual who walked the streets of a devastated world. Despair replaced hope. Shame slouched where pride once strode. Knowledge dissolved into confusion. What had seemed a wellspring of ideas was revealed as only cracked, barren earth. Everywhere lay the rubble of old foundations.
The German people believed that its Imperial structure, erected half a century ago, would last for an unlimited time. In August 1914, they felt that the immanent catastrophe of war would prove this structure invincible. Today, only its ruins are left. After such an experience, retrospection is in order, for this experience has proved the opinions of half a century, especially the dominant thoughts of the war years, to be tragically erroneous.1
From all directions came not retrospection, but the struggle for control. In large and small ways, thousands of people engaged in an effort to replace the crumbled order with a better world. The solutions tended in opposing directions and ranged from military dictatorship to the creation of a "soviet" in Bavaria. Ideology, not ideas, became the driving force of social activity.

These polar efforts tore at the shreds of Germany. The rancor of opposing opinions succeeded in claiming public attention for a struggle that could hold no hope, regardless of the outcome. Behind the din of diverging forces, human beings cried out for a better society, but the clamor was so loud it was all but impossible to hear a thoughtful response. In July 1917, Rudolf Steiner had presented the German and Austrian governments with a proposal detailing how the principles of the Threefold Social Organism could be realized. Within days after it reached the German palace, internal political turmoil rendered any consideration of his ideas impossible. The Austrian government likewise failed to respond. Steiner turned to the German people. In public lectures he pointed again and again to the need to go beyond slogans and empty phrases, to fearlessly evaluate the past and face the future with clear commitment. His "Call to the German People and the Civilized World," was a deeply considered plea for a new direction based upon an unflinching evaluation of the past and a deep understanding of human needs. These efforts notwithstanding, Steiner soon realized that his ideas alone were insufficient to move a society forward.

Rudolf Steiner was forced to ask why it was that no one seemed to be able to hear what could be done to form a truly new society, a truly human society. He concluded that no one could hear him because the education people had been given left them unable to consider, and therefore unable to work with, anything not based in familiar routine. A window of opportunity for social change was open. Germany was in a state of chaos and the German people were searching for an answer to the question of how to reorganize society. The question was, how could a positive change be effected? The needed social change could result from neither political coercion nor revolutionary upheaval. A truly human society can be the outcome only of the fully developed human capacities of Thinking, Feeling and Willing. When Thinking is developed, it becomes possible to clearly perceive present circumstances and form accurate imaginations of positive change. Rightly developed Feeling enables people to sense how to unite these imaginations with the outer world. A developed Will grants the possibility of transforming these imaginations into deeds for the World. Only in this way can a sound human society develop. Rudolf Steiner concluded that truly human social change would not be possible until a sufficient number of people had received an education that undertook to develop complete human beings.

Emil Molt, Director of the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Company and student of Rudolf Steiner, first had the desire to be active in a reformation of German society during a lecture given by Dr. Steiner in Switzerland in early November, 1918. Shortly thereafter, during a mid-November discussion with some of the workers at the Waldorf-Astoria factory, he resolved to create a school, though the school as yet had no firm form. In a discussion with Rudolf Steiner in January, 1919, the latter mentioned that in order to achieve a real social reformation, schools must be formed.

Three months later, following a lecture by Steiner to the factory workers,2 the workers expressed a desire for a new school, a desire which was, of course, immediately taken up by Molt. Some weeks before, Molt had already begun discussions with the Minister of Education concerning the formation of a new unified school, discussions that were tending in a positive direction. Two days after the meeting with the factory workers, a first "teachers" meeting took place with Steiner, Molt and two of the future Waldorf School teachers (Stockmeyer and Hahn). Three weeks later, the Minister of Education agreed to the new school. In particular, it was agreed that the new school would meet the standards set for public school students at the end of the third, sixth and eighth grades. However, during these three periods, what and how the students were to be taught was left to the pedagogical leadership of the school. This agreement allowed Rudolf Steiner, Emil Molt and others to begin the formation of the Waldorf School.

The following weeks were filled with activity. Teachers needed to be found. Buildings needed to be located and renovated. The seminar for teachers was held. Finally, on September 7, 1919, the Free Waldorf School opened amid great festivities.

The Free Waldorf School was founded upon the impulse for social change, upon the need to reform society into a community which takes into account the true Being of Humanity. Into the desire for reform were sown the life-giving forces of the teacher's inner work and Rudolf Steiner's spiritual insight. The goal of this education was that, through living inner work guided by the insights of Rudolf Steiner, the teachers would develop in the children such power of thought, such depth of feeling, such strength of will that they would emerge from their school years as full members of the Human Community, able to meet and transform the world.

These six lectures and one essay are an exciting presentation of the heart of this education. The first two lectures introduce the goals and foundations of the Free Waldorf School to members of the Stuttgart Anthroposophical Society and invited Waldorf-Astoria officials. In Lecture Three, "A Lecture for Parents," Steiner widens this introduction to include parents of the incoming students. This lecture is remarkable in its combined qualities of warmth, clarity, depth and humor. Lectures Four and Five, given in Stuttgart and Basel after the Free Waldorf School had opened, were presented to the general public as part of a continued effort to generate understanding and support for this new education. The audience in Stuttgart must have received what Dr. Steiner had to say with a particularly deep warmth, for he closes this lecture with what begins as maxims of seminal value, then takes wing as a mantric verse capable of guiding us through the thin veil between matter and spirit.

The essay from The Social Future is a concise, slightly more formal presentation directed toward a readership concerned with social renewal.

Lecture Six deserves special mention. This lecture was given in Basel to sixty public school teachers working there. The eagerness of the audience and the fact that here Rudolf Steiner was able to speak as a professional to other professionals is evident on each page and in the way each aspect of this work is considered. The penetrating depth of the ensuing discussion session is further evidence of the shared living enthusiasm held by both lecturer and audience. As it happened, this lecture generated so much enthusiasm that the public school teachers of Basel arranged for Steiner to present a full cycle of pedagogical lectures in the spring of 1920, available in English as The Renewal of Education Through the Science of the Spirit, Kolisko Archives, 1981. There can be little doubt that what began as an introduction to the role of spiritual science in pedagogical renewal became the inspiration of new activity carried out by these teachers.

Throughout all these lectures, in simple, straightforward language, filled with enthusiasm and hope for the future, Rudolf Steiner clearly outlines the social impulse, the foundation of inner work, and the intent to graduate young men and women able to powerfully "put themselves into life." We find it quite significant that despite the increasing breadth of the successive audiences, Rudolf Steiner's presentation of the role of spiritual science as fundamental to the renewal of education remains uncompromised. From six different perspectives, the heart of this education shines forth. These lectures reveal the ground on which all else in Waldorf education must stand and the necessary path to walk. It is our hope that they will become a starting point for those making first inquiries about Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy as well as a fundamental resource for those already involved in this work.


1 Rudolf Steiner, "Call to the German People and the Civilized World," March, 1919. Found in Towards Social Renewal: Basic Issues of the Social Question, Rudolf Steiner Press, London, England, 1977. Translated by Frank Thomas Smith.

2 Rudolf Steiner, "Proletarische Forderungen und deren künftige praktische Verwiklichung" (Proletarian Demands and Their Future Practical Realization) in German, contained in Neugestaltung des sozialen Organismus (Reorganization of the Social Organism), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach Switzerland, 1983. (GA 330, 4/23/19) Not translated.