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About | CAMPHILL HISTORY

The beginning

THE INNOVATIVE communities that make up the Camphill Movement have, for almost 70 years, been creating new ways of supporting people with learning disabilities and other special needs so that their full potential can find expression.
The first community was founded at Camphill House, just outside Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1940, to educate mentally handicapped children. At that time, such children didn't usually receive an education, either staying at home or being placed in a hospital.
Camphill's founders, led by Dr Karl König and inspired by the Austrian thinker Rudolf Steiner's philosophy of anthroposophy, wanted to make a real difference in the lives of these people who were marginalised and excluded from society. They believed that those with mental handicaps had much to contribute if only their inner self could find expression. 
Refugees from Nazi oppression in Austria, Dr König's group included doctors, medical students and creative young people who had come together in pre-war Vienna to explore anthroposophy. After fleeing Austria, the group came together in 1939 at Kirkton House, near Aberdeen, to begin putting their ideas for a new kind of life into practice. The first two children with disabilities joined them that May.
The group chose to do their work, not as a job or career but as a way of life, with social rather than personal values taking priority. Through curative education they aimed to stimulate each child's developing individuality, giving them the freedom to grow to their full potential. Such a task could not be achieved in the classroom alone. By living in a community with the children 24-hours-a-day, what today is called an 'holistic approach' could be followed, educating the children in all aspects of life. This new approach appealed to many parents and, a year later, Camphill came into being when a move was made to larger premises at Camphill House.
The community soon established a good reputation and local authorities began seeking places for children. By 1945, the Camphill schools occupied four large properties with around 250 acres of land and by 1949 180 children were being cared for and there was a long waiting list.

Read part 2: A worldwide movement

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