What would you like to read about? Pick one of our topics.

A woman making her own way

The cosmopolitanism spirit was with Ita Wegman from birth: she was born in 1876 on the island of Java. This image shows her aged 40 in front of her house, which is now the Ita Wegman Institute in Arlesheim (Switzerland).
Photo: WALA Heilmittel GmbH’s historical company archive

Ita Wegman’s father was a colonial civil servant who managed a sugar factory, which allowed the family to achieve a certain degree of wealth. She excelled as a student so she received private lessons and was then sent to a secondary school in her native country of the Netherlands. As a result, Ita Wegman was already used to travelling from one world to another at a young age. On one of her trips between school and home, she met a young officer to whom she soon became engaged. But their young love did not last long: her fiancé succumbed to a lung disease before they even got married. This stroke of fate sparked Ita Wegman’s search for spiritual internalisation and she began to occupy herself with Theosophy. 

A medical pioneer

In 1899, the Wegman family returned to the Netherlands, where Ita completed her training in medical gymnastics and massage. She first met Rudolf Steiner in Berlin in 1902. Ita Wegman decided to become an adherent of anthroposophy, and on Steiner’s advice, she began to study medicine. This is what made her a pioneer: at the time, there was still a long way to go before all universities would accept women. Switzerland was a forerunner in this respect, and so Ita Wegman enrolled at Zurich in 1906. She successfully completed her studies, and also earned a degree as a specialist in gynaecology. She opened her first practice in Zurich – and, as it was so close to Dornach, the new centre for anthroposophy, she was now once again able to attend Rudolf Steiner’s lectures on a regular basis.

At the heart of anthroposophic medicine

In 1921, the courageous doctor opened the Clinical Therapeutic Institute (today the Arlesheim Clinic), where anthroposophic medicine was developed under her medical direction and Steiner’s supervision. There, they developed new healing methods and remedies, trained doctors and nursing staff in these new techniques and carried out fundamental research on a wide range of topics. The doctor Margarethe Stavenhagen was amongst the many contributors at Arlesheim and worked with Wegman there from 1927. The chemist Rudolf Hauschka, who joined the team in 1929, was also involved in this venture.

Ita Wegman aged 52 in Breslau, 1928. Seven years prior, she opened the Clinical Therapeutic Institute (today the Arlesheim Clinic).
Photo: WALA Heilmittel GmbH’s historical company archive

Ita Wegman and WALA

At the time, Hauschka was commissioned by the institute’s director, Wegman, to address Rudolf Steiner’s concerns and find a way to preserve plant extracts without alcohol. It was this work that led first to new formulas and eventually to the company WALA in 1935, but even as early as 1921, Ita Wegman had also been instrumental in founding International Laboratories (now called Weleda). In addition, Wegman set up a home for children with disabilities as a therapeutic facility in Arlesheim. The curative education movement emerged out of Rudolf Steiner’s ideas from 1924 onwards, with more than twenty other homes founded all over the world up until the Second World War.

A wide-ranging legacy

In the last years of Rudolf Steiner’s life, Ita Wegman became his closest colleague and also, eventually, a founding member of the General Anthroposophical Society (AAG). Together they managed the School of Spiritual Science and published the fundamental work ‘Essentials for the Enhancement of the Art of Healing according to the Knowledge of Spiritual Science’. 
After Steiner’s death in 1925, however, conflict broke out amongst the board members of the AAG, which led to Wegman’s expulsion from the society in 1935. This expulsion was not lifted until 1948, five years after her death.

Regardless of disputes on interpersonal matters and the movement’s beliefs, Ita Wegman continued to practise, teach and promote anthroposophic medicine, pharmacy and curative education to the best of her ability. When she died in Ascona in 1943, she left behind a wide-ranging legacy. Even now, her work and influence are kept alive at the numerous medical and curative education institutions and associations around the world that stem from her establishments, and, of course, at the pharmaceutical companies that are still building on Ita Wegman’s foundations today.