The Development of Thoreau College


The process of establishing Thoreau College began on New Year’s Day, 2015 with an informal gathering in a private home in Viroqua, Wisconsin.  During the first year, a small circle of founders engaged in intensive discussions and studies of texts relating to anthroposophy and Waldorf education, as well as previous experiments in higher education, including Deep Springs College and the Scandinavian folk high school movement.

During the first year, the groundwork was laid for the birth of Thoreau College as a legal entity and as a cultural presence in the local community and beyond.  Over the following several years, Thoreau College staged a series of pilot programs, including “Thoreau College: A Prelude” (July-August, 2016), “Thoreau College Founding Fellows” (October 2017-June 2018), the “Thoreau College Semester Program” (Fall 2019 & 2020), and a set of “Guided Internships/Spring Fellowships” (Spring 2020 & 2021).

In 2020, Thoreau College completed a legal merger with the Driftless Folk School, securing 501c3 non-profit status and expanding educational offerings to members of the general public.

We also launched the Thoreau’s Garden Greenhouse enterprise, in facilities leased from Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School.

In 2021-2022 Thoreau College staged the Metamorphosis Year, an experimental 9-month long program, after which it was decided to return to a semester program format for our core Gap Year offerings.

In the summer of 2022, Thoreau College moved the core of our activities from our office and classrooms at the Commons to a new campus located on 6 acres of land on the eastern edge of Viroqua. In the fall of 2022 we hosted the first Viroqua Shakespeare Festival on the campus, in collaboration with the Jones Classical Theater.

Also in 2022, we launched the Microcollege Podcast, initiating a period of increasing collaboration and networking with allied initiatives around the country and the world.  This included participation in a gathering of 6 related programs at the Springboard convening in Maine in June 2023 and inclusion of Thoreau College in the League of Nunnian Schools, coordinated by Deep Springs College.

In 2023 Thoreau College resumed staging gap semester programs, and also offered the first monthlong Summer Field School, staging in collaboration with the anthropology faculty at the University of Illinois-Chicago, which sponsored two participating students.