Thoreau College fosters a culture of health and respect that supports and requires all members of the community to be fully awake and engaged in our work together. Whether reading challenging texts, observing natural phenomena, conversing with fellow students, or cooking dinner, all community members are called upon to be wholly present.

The academic curriculum is rigorous and designed to challenge and deepen students’ understanding of themselves and the world, requiring their highest level of intellectual and emotional participation. Through the self-governance process, the student body is given the responsibility and autonomy to govern itself, and is entrusted to develop processes by which to hold each other accountable, work through conflicts, and weigh in on aspects of the labor and academic curriculum. The labor program allows students to offer their manual skills to create and sustain their community’s resources, through growing food, maintaining facilities, and providing able hands.

Each aspect of the program calls upon students to come wholly engaged and ready for our work together.

Click here to read more about the norms and expectations for members of the Thoreau College community.

Thoreau House has been a college student residence since 2017. Located in town just a a couple of blocks from the local Waldorf schools and a short walk from main street, the house serves both as a living space and as a place for the college to gather for classes and social events. The backyard features a small garden plot  and students are also responsible for tending to the chicken coop. In the spirit of Thoreau himself, many a story has been exchanged over the outdoor fire pit.

The Thoreau College Main Campus is located on 6 acres of land on the eastern edge of Viroqua.  The site became a part of the college in 2022 and includes a three-story building with classroom, office spaces, kitchens, and residences for up to 8 students or guests.  Since 2023, students and faculty have been hard at work planning and implementing gardens, perennial plantings, a prairie restoration, and other improvments to the surrounding fields and open spaces.

Algie Shivers House

The Algie Shivers House is named in honor Alga “Algie” Shivers (1889-1978), a remarkable local African-American farmer, round barn architect, and native son of the mixed-race Cheyenne Valley community here in Vernon County.  Since 2020, Thoreau College has stewarded this sturdy 5 bedroom home, which also has a quiet backyard, chicken coop, and broad shady porches.  It is located a short walk from the Main Campus, Viroqua’s Main Street, and the fabulous Driftless Books and Music.


Over the course of the semester, students live in the small town of Viroqua, Wisconsin, a vibrant community of artists, educators, entrepreneurs, and farmers. Students live in communal homes, sharing the responsibilities of running the house. There is designated quiet time and space for reading and relaxation. Students grow much of their food in the Thoreau gardens through the labor program and eat some meals communally.


Thoreau College discourages using anything, such as technological devices and mind-altering substances, in ways that distract from our work together. As part of the Thoreau College curriculum, students will engage with what it means to live intentionally and what is healthy for each individual in the context of community. We ask all students to abstain from alcohol and recreational drugs and to strictly limit their use of technological devices during their time at Thoreau College.


Our programs are inherently challenging and incoming students should be open to delving deeply into themselves and working with their most difficult qualities in order to engage with their whole selves. Folks should consider whether they are in a healthy place to take on this challenge, and should have a support plan in place in advance of their participation. 

Thoreau College does not provide medical or psychological health insurance and students should have an insurance plan that will cover them during their time in the program.


Viroqua, Wisconsin is a vibrant rural town and cultural hub with regular events such as live music, art openings, theatrical performances, and lecture series. Participants are expected to fully participate in all Thoreau College programming, but outside those commitments, they are encouraged to engage in the local culture.