Maria Ita Wegman was born on February 22, 1876 in Karawang, West Java. She was the eldest child of a Dutch colonial family. Around the turn of the century, she returned to Europe where she completed her education as a physical education teacher in Holland. She later learned Swedish massage and gymnastics in Berlin.
Anthroposophic medicine takes into account the human, as it’s developing. A patient comes in as a person, and the illness belongs to them. Then we ask the question when we look at each individual patient – What do I have to change to fix this illness for this person? What is the next developing stage? And what can we do to help that person to do the next step themselves. This is a different view of the patient, as a developing being.
– Dr. math. Andreas Jäschke, Director, Ita Wegman-Klinik
In 1902, when she was 26, she met Rudolf Steiner, who inspired her to pursue medicine. Five years later, she began medical school at the University of Zürich (which allowed women to study medicine). She received her diploma as a medical doctor in 1911 and specialized in “women's medicine”. She then joined an existing medical practice.
In 1917, having opened an independent practice, Dr. Wegman developed a cancer treatment using an extract of mistletoe following indications from Steiner. This first remedy, which she called Iscar, was later developed into Iscador and has become an approved cancer treatment in Germany and several other countries.
By 1919, she had a joint practice together with two other women doctors. In 1920, she purchased land in Arlesheim, Switzerland where she opened her own clinic, the Klinisch-Therapeutisches Institut, or Clinical-Therapeutic Institute. In 1921, she founded the first anthroposophical medical clinic in Arlesheim (renamed the Ita Wegman Clinic in 2014).
She also developed a special form of massage therapy, called rhythmical massage, and numerous other unique therapeutic treatments. Several other doctors joined the institute, which grew steadily as the first center for anthroposophical medicine.
The clinic’s therapeutic approach was based on conventional medicine, but with “more options” created by anthroposophic medicine – such as eurhythmy therapy, music therapy, art therapy, and rhythmic massage.
Klinisch-Therapeutisches Institut in Arlesheim, Switzerland
Under the anthroposophical approach, each individual is examined in their physical, psychological and spiritual-biographical aspects before any diagnosis or treatment is prescribed.
Dr. Wegman and colleagues began to train the first anthroposophic nurses for the clinic. At Wegman’s request, Steiner regularly visited the clinic and suggested treatment regimens for patients. Between 1921 and 1925, he also gave several series of medical lectures at the clinic.
In 1922, the clinic was sold to the Anthroposophical Society and ownership transferred to the non-profit association “Klinisch-Therapeutisches Institut” in 1931. In 2008, the association reformed its judicial structure and renamed the clinic the “Ita Wegman-Klinik”. Today, Ita Wegman-Klinik is a private hospital with 63 beds that concentrates on anthroposophical treatment and therapies but is also well equipped and staffed in the fields of conventional western medicine.
In 1922, Wegman founded a therapeutic home for mentally handicapped children, Haus Sonnenhof, also in Arlesheim.
Today, the Institute maintains several archives that are open to the public, based on the estates of seminal anthroposophists in the fields of medicine, education, and curative education: The Ita Wegman Archives, Hilma Walter Archives, Willem Zeylmans van Emmichoven Archives, Karl Koenig Archives, and Karl Schubert Archives.
In collaboration with the Rudolf Steiner Archives Dornach (the center for the documentation and publication of Rudolf Steiner’s scientific and artistic works), the Ita Wegman Institute publishes monographs that illustrate the scientific methodology and practical applications of anthroposophy in various fields of life.
The books produced by the Institute are generally published in German, but many titles are available in English, and some are available in French, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Slovakian, Romanian, Czech, Hungarian, Norwegian, and Russian. The publishers SteinerBooks in Great Barrington, MA (USA) have for some years been in the process of publishing a comprehensive selection of the Institute’s monographs in English.
Professor Peter Selg, MD, is the director of the Institute. He teaches at the Alanus University for Arts and Social Sciences near Bonn and at the University of Witten-Herdecke (both in Germany), and gives public lectures. Dr. Selg has written numerous other books on Ita Wegman and Anthrophosophy.
The Founding of Weleda
In 1920, Steiner and Wegman founded the Futurum AG in Arlesheim, Switzerland and Der Kommende Tag AG in Stuttgart, Germany – a company for the development of economic and spiritual values. Both companies had chemical and pharmaceutical departments run by chemists, doctors and pharmacists. The aim of the companies was to secure financial resources for the running of the Freie Waldorfschule - also known as Steiner School - in Stuttgart and the School of Spiritual Science in Dornach, Switzerland on the premises of the Goetheanum – the architecturally-dramatic world center for the anthroposophical movement and also the center of the General Anthroposophical Society.
In 1921, Futurum AG took over the trial laboratory at the Goetheanum, led by Dr. Oskar Schmiedel, and merged it with the chemical-pharmaceutical manufacturing laboratory, led by the pharmacist Ernst Heim. In August of that year, the company moved to new premises in neighboring Arlesheim and the history of today's Weleda AG began. From this point forward, the focus was the production of pharmaceutical products and of natural cosmetics with a holistic view of humans, society and nature. Within a year, Weleda’s offerings totaled 120 different products and the two companies merged for financial reasons as International Laboratories and Clinical Therapeutic Institute Arlesheim AG.
In 1928, the company name Weleda was introduced and adapted from the Germanic healer and prophet Veleda. Rudolf Steiner personally designed the logo, which is still used today. It shows a stylized staff and Aesculapian snake – symbolically and mythologically linked with healing. A giving and a receiving symbol is drawn around the staff, symbolizing the medical and the social approach of Weleda.
In the years that followed, Dr. Wegman joined the Executive Council of the newly reformed Anthroposophical Society at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland, where she directed the Medical Section of the research center.
The Goetheanum was designed by Rudolf Steiner and named after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The First Goetheanum was a timber and concrete structure designed between 1908 and 1925. It was intended as a Gesamtkunstwerk (the synthesis of diverse artistic media and sensory effects), infused with spiritual significance. In 1923, Steiner designed a building to replace the original.
This building, now known as the Second Goetheanum, was built wholly of cast concrete. It includes two performance halls (1500 seats), gallery and lecture spaces, a library, a bookstore, and administrative spaces for the Anthroposophical Society; neighboring buildings house the society's research and educational facilities. Conferences focusing on themes of general interest or directed toward teachers, farmers, doctors, therapists, and other professionals are held at the center throughout the year.
From 1923 on, Steiner showed signs of increasing frailness and illness. He nonetheless continued to lecture widely, and even to travel. He often presented two, three or even four lectures daily for courses taking place concurrently. Many of these lectures focused on practical areas of life such as education.
In 1925, Wegman and Steiner wrote the first book on the anthroposophic approach to medicine, Fundamentals of Therapy. Together, Wegman and Steiner also wrote what was to be Steiner’s last book, Extending Practical Medicine. The book was partly written while Wegman was caring for Steiner, who was already terminally ill.
Rudolph Steiner died on March 30, 1925.
During the final six months of Steiner’s life, he had been confined to a bed in his Dornach atelier where he worked with Dr. Wegman much of the time. In the months preceding his illness - indeed, during the whole period after the burning of the first Goetheanum, Ita Wegman stood close by his side and was engaged in much of what he did.
In 1936, the clinic expanded and soon opened a branch in Ascona, Switzerland. Shortly thereafter, difficulties between Wegman and the rest of the Executive Council flared, and Wegman was asked to leave the Council. She and several other supporters had their membership in the Anthroposophical Society withdrawn.
However, their medical work flourished and Wegman travelled extensively in support of the rapidly growing movement. At this time, she was especially active and lectured widely, visiting Holland and England frequently. An increasing number of doctors began to include the anthroposophic approach in their practices.
Dr. Wegman founded a new anthroposophical medical journal, Natura, in the mid-1920’s.
Wegman traveled to Palestine in the fall of 1934 following a grave, near-terminal illness. She tried to live and work in true accord with her inner impulses and, ultimately, with Rudolf Steiner’s legacy, especially within the anthroposophic movement. Doing so, she increasingly found her way to her own distinctive and uncompromising path. These years are described in the book Spiritual Resistance by Peter Selg. This book was originally published in German as Geistiger Widerstand und Überwindung. Ita Wegman 1933–1935 by Verlag am Goetheanum, Dornach, Switzerland, 2005.
Dr. Ita Wegman died in Arlesheim in 1943, at the age of 67.
Anthroposophic Medicine is a human medicine. And we can look at humans in very different ways. Our job is to look at the human as a complicated, biochemical machine. A human that has its ‘being’ at its core that is housed in a body. So, if you look at the human in a different perspective, as a self-conscious developing being one may come up with the same way of treating the illness… or maybe a whole different path for therapy.
– Dr. math. Andreas Jäschke, Director, Ita Wegman-Klinik
Perseverance, Courage, and Greatness
Dr. Ita Wegman was a medical doctor with great vision. She founded the Ita Wegman Hospital in Arlesheim, Switzerland and was the Co-founder of Weleda. She was one of Rudolf Steiner’s trusted colleagues as well as his personal physician. Ita Wegman was an inspiring, healing genius of Anthroposophy.
• Selg, Peter, The Last Three Years. Ita Wegman in Ascona. 1940-1943, SteinerBooks, 2014.
• Selg, Peter, Die Rehabilitierung Ita Wegmans, 3 volumes, Arlesheim (may be available by Christmas, 2017.
• Selg, Peter, Elisabeth Vreede. Adversity, Resilience, and Spiritual Science SteinerBooks, 2017.
• Selg, Peter, Spiritual Resistance, 1933-1935, SteinerBooks, 2014.
• Selg, Peter, I am for Going Forward: Ita Wegman’s Work for the Social Ideals of Anthroposophy, SteinerBooks, 2012.
• Selg, Peter, Ich bleibe bei Ihnen. Rudolf Steiner und Ita Wegman, Stuttgart, 2007.
• Selg, Peter / Desaules, Marc (ed.) Die Anthroposophische Gesellschaft, Beiträge zum Verständnis und zum Weiterwirken der Weihnachtstagung, volume 3, Arlesheim, 2016.
• Wegman, Ita / Selg, Peter (ed.), Erinnerung an Rudolf Steiner, Arlesheim, 2011.
• Weihrauch, Wolfgang (ed.): Ita Wegman und die Anthroposophie: Ein Gespräch mit Emanuel Zeylmans, Flensburger Hefte, Special Issue Nr. 17, 1996.
• Zeylmans van Emmichoven, J. Emanuel: Who Was Ita Wegman? A Documentation, 4 Volumes, Mercury Press, Spring Valley, NY. The third volume contains the full Denkschrift along with documents from L. Polzer-Hoditz, H. Poppelbaum, O. Schmiedel, M. Röschl, E. Vreede and F. W. Zeylmans van Emmichoven.
• Zeylmans van Emmichoven, J. Emanuel: Who was Ita Wegman: A Documentation, Vol. 4 - Strengthening the Heart, Mercury Press 2009.