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.

The Thoreau House was the original student house. Today, it 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 farming 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. It is a significant location both in its importance to the college’s foundation, and its continued function as a home to all.

The Shivers House is named for Alga “Algie” Shivers. Algie Shivers grew up in the Cheyenne Valley settlement near Hillsboro Wisconsin, one of the earliest African-American communities in the state. After serving in World War I and attending George Smith College, Shivers returned to Vernon county to pursue a career in farming and architecture. This led him to design and construct over a dozen round barns, marrying beauty and functionality to create a longstanding symbol of the Driftless Region. 

The Lucy Stone House is named after the famed orator, abolitionist, and suffragette. Lucy Stone was an important early figure in revolutionizing the world of women and advancing the civil rights movement. In 1856, a time when women were often prevented from speaking publicly, she delivered the first female-led anti slavery speech in the Midwest in Viroqua. As she gave her address, the platform beneath her broke down. Rising unhurt, Stone cried out, “So will this nation fall unless slavery is abolished!”


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.

Note: Applications for the 2022-2023 Metamorphosis Year are now closed.