Detroit Waldorf School’s History

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Detroit Waldorf School opened…

Detroit Waldorf School opened at the height of Detroit’s Civil Rights tumult, when Detroiters grappled with solutions for the city’s social, racial and ethnic problems. Representative of the school’s dedication to cultural and ethnic diversity, it was one of the first integrated schools in the city in the 1960s and it remains Detroit’s only independent school.

The school continues to be a beacon of solidarity and proponent of justice and equality as one of the few alternative education options within the city limits. Before DWS founders Amelia and the late Dr. Rudolf Wilhelm purchased the current building for the school, they operated out of Detroit’s Central Methodist Church. The Wilhelms funded the school’s creation and its early years completely out of their own pocket. They also opened a Waldorf teacher training program to groom teachers in the unique curriculum and philosophy developed by Rudolf Steiner.

“We lived in Dearborn and went to church at Central Methodist Church every Sunday because we wanted our children to be in a more diverse environment.”
— Amelia Wilhelm
Amelia and Dr. Rudolf Wilhelm

Amelia and Dr. Rudolf Wilhelm


Our Building

Beginning with just a Kindergarten, they grew year by year, adding teachers as students advanced from grade to grade. The first classes were held in 1966 in our school’s current Albert Kahn-designed historical building in Indian Village. The building features a sleek slate roof, coved ceilings and leaded glass windows. Classrooms are bright and colorful, brilliant sunlight streaming through abundant windows. A bona fide auditorium features permanent seating and a stage. This is the last standing Albert Kahn-designed school in the world. The north-facing wing was built in 1913, followed by the south wing in 1923. Before it housed DWS, the building was home to the University Liggett school for girls.

Watch our founder Amelia Wilhelm receive a historical marker commemorating 50 years to the history of Detroit Waldorf School.

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Our School Today

Detroit Waldorf School educates more than 250 children from not only the city of Detroit but also Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties. Each grade moves through the elementary years with the same teacher from first grade until graduation after grade eight. All students play violin beginning in grade three and study multiple foreign languages beginning in grade one. Some unique components of the Waldorf approach are its inclusion of handwork (knitting, cross-stitch, sewing and more), woodworking, and several daily recesses to encourage outdoor play year-round.