The First Waldorf school

In the chaotic circumstances of post-World War One Germany, Steiner had been giving lectures on his ideas for a societal transformation in the direction of independence of the economic, governmental and cultural realms, known as Social three folding, to the workers of various factories. On April 23, 1919, he held such a lecture for the workers of the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany; in this lecture he mentioned the need for a new kind of comprehensive school. The lecture had two consequences; on the following day, the workers approached Herbert Hahn, one of Steiner's close co-workers, thanked him for the lecture, and said to him: "But it's a little late for us. Could not our children have a school where they could experience such lively teaching?" Independently of this request, the owner and managing director of the factory, Emil Molt, announced his decision to set up such a school for his factory workers' children to the company's Board of Directors and asked Steiner to be the school's pedagogical consultant. The name Waldorf thus comes from the factory which hosted the first school.

The original Waldorf school was formed as an independent institution licensed by the local government as an exploratory model school with special freedoms.

Steiner insisted upon four conditions before opening:

1. that the school be open to all children;

2. that it be coeducational;

3. that it be a unified twelve-year school;

4. that the teachers, those individuals actually in contact with the children, have primary control over the pedagogy of the school, with a minimum of interference from the state or from economic sources.

On May 13, 1919, Molt, Steiner and E.A. Karl Stockmeyer had a preliminary discussion with the Education Ministry with the aim of finding a legal structure that would allow for an independent school. Stockmeyer was then given the task of finding teachers as a foundation for the future school; he was advised to "travel about like a theater director seeking to gather together an ensemble of actors". At the end of August, seventeen candidates for teaching positions attended what would be the first of many pedagogical courses sponsored by the school; twelve of these candidates were chosen to be the school's first teachers. The school opened on Sept. 7, 1919 with 256 pupils in eight grades; 191 of the pupils were from factory families, the other 65 came from interested families from Stuttgart, many of whom were already engaged in the very active anthroposophical movement in that city. In the following years, a numerical balance between the factory workers' and outside children was achieved; it had been an explicit goal of the social three-folding movement to create a school that bridged social classes in this way. For the first year, the school was a company school and all teachers were listed as workers at Waldorf Astoria, by the second year the school had become an independent entity. The Stuttgart school grew quickly, adding a grade each year of secondary education, which thus by the 1923/4 school year included grades 9-12, and adding parallel classes in all grades. By 1926 there were more than 1,000 pupils in 28 classes.


The first decade

Schools founded in the first decade after the Stuttgart school include those in:

Cologne, Germany (1921) (closed 1925)

Dornach, Switzerland (1921) – high school

King's Langsley, England, where in 1922 a boarding school began a slow process of transforming itself into a Waldorf school

Hamburg, Germany (1922)

Essen, Germany (1922) (closed by the Nazi government in 1936)

The Hague, Holland (1923)

London, England (1925), now Michael Hall school in Sussex, England

Basel, Switzerland (1926)

Oslo, Norway (1926)

Hannover, Germany (1926)

Budapest, Hungary (1926)

Zurich, Switzerland (1927)

Gloucester, England (1927)

Berlin, Germany (1928)

New York, USA (1928)

Vienna, Austria (1929)

Bergen, Norway (1929)

Dresden, Germany (1929)

A 1928 attempt to found a Waldorf school in Nuremberg met with resistance from the Bavarian Education Ministry, which stated that there was the "no need in Bavaria for independent schools employing novel ideas, especially when they had no religious ties."