FARM AND INDUSTRIAL SCHOOL AT NEUHOF
Picture: Anna Schulthess, Pestalozzi’s wife
Heinrich Pestalozzi dreamed of how, together with Anna and living at the Neuhof, he would achieve the goals he had set for his life. With his wife he enthused, “How happy we will be, dear Anna! On our walks we’ll meet our neighbours. They will all be friendly towards us; women whom you have visited when they were ill; men who know that we will help them when in need; children whom we make happy with lots of small presents; labourers who are grateful that they can make a little money working on our farm.” Visualising this, Pestalozzi’s eyes gleamed with joy, “How wonderful our life will be, dear!”
However, things turned out quite differently. Pestalozzi wanted to run the farm in the way that he had learnt from his master Tschiffeli. He cultivated sainfoin, a new green fodder plant, and he started the cultivation of madder. It is possible to make a red dye used to colour clothes from the roots of the madder plant. Pestalozzi was confident that he would be able to make a good profit out of these things, with which he wanted to help the poor. But to the other farmers in the area, his methods looked unusual and funny. They did not trust this ‘city farmer’. They did not understand his new ideas. They trampled through his delicate cultivation as they were used to doing on their own meagre fields. They let their goats and sheep graze on his pastures. They said, “That’s what we have always done here. Every three years a field has to lie fallow.” If a field lies fallow, it means that, in order to allow the soil to recover, nothing can be grown in the field that year. “In this year of fallow, all the farmers may allow their animals to graze anywhere. That’s the way it has always been.” But Tschiffeli had taught Pestalozzi otherwise. He wanted to work the land every year. However the farmers felt that they were in the right. They did not care that the roots of the madder plant required four years to ripen. Pestalozzi wanted to explain it to them; this did not help. He put up fences; they were pulled down. In the end the matter went to court. The court ruled that the farmers had to stay away from Pestalozzi’s fields. Now they liked him even less.
It was especially hard for Pestalozzi that the farmers falsely denounced him to his Zurich banker. This was why the banker wanted his loan repaid sooner than originally planned. It was the early summer of 1770. How could Pestalozzi pay back five thousand guilders? He had not even once harvested his crops. The carpenter had not even put up the roof of the new house. Pestalozzi’s mother helped out with what was left of her small savings.
For the following two years the crops were poor throughout Europe. Pestalozzi’s plants did not do well either. He ran increasingly into debt. In 1774 he had to sell his cattle and lease a major part of the land. In spite of that, there were still heavy debts. Luckily, Anna’s parents had become reconciled with their daughter. They paid the remainder of the debts. Then Pestalozzi tried the cotton trade for some time, which, as a citizen of the City of Zurich, he was entitled to do. He bought cotton in Zurich and had it spun and woven by the families of farmers. However, he was not a good businessman. Having people work for his own profit gave him a bad conscience. So once again, he operated at a loss. Pestalozzi himself was now as poor as the country people.
Moreover, there was something else bothering the couple. Three months after their bank credit was cancelled, Anna gave birth to their only child. It was a boy. The parents christened him Jean-Jacques and tenderly called him Schaggeli. Schaggeli was a sickly child. He had epileptic fits. Anna and Heinrich were constantly worried about his health.
All the same, Pestalozzi did not become discouraged by their misfortunes. He was already making new plans as to how he could help the poor. “Thousands of children have to go begging in the streets,” he said. “Nobody takes care of them. What they need is a decent job. They should learn to read, to write and to do arithmetic. They need a home.” Pestalozzi’s relatives did not want to hear of any such plans. Pestalozzi, however, would not change his mind, “I want to take on as many neglected children as I can. They will help us in the house and garden. We will feed and clothe them. We’ll teach them to spin and to weave. Once they have mastered that, we will make enough money from their work to pay for our living expenses. Moreover, I can teach them to read, to write and to do arithmetic while they are working. Above all, they should feel comfortable and at home. In this way they’ll stay on the right path and become good people.”
Pestalozzi took the risk. Just at the point when he himself had nothing left, he welcomed neglected children into his home. He borrowed money from friends and acquaintances. When that was not enough, he called upon the public to support his industrial school with a loan. He promised the moneylenders to pay the money back. He was absolutely convinced that he would earn enough money from the work of the children. In 1774, the Neuhof gradually changed into a home and school for poor children. In 1776, there were twenty-two children living in Pestalozzi’s house and in 1778 there were thirty-seven. Pestalozzi and his wife fed and clothed them. They built a small factory and a children’s home. They hired skilled weavers and spinners, as well as people to work in the fields. These workers instructed the children. While the children were working at the spinning wheel or loom, Pestalozzi taught them to read and to do arithmetic. He wanted to be a loving father to them.
Then Pestalozzi experienced another disappointment. Of course, many children came. They were pleased to be fed and freshly clothed. But rather than work regularly, they soon preferred to go begging again. Certainly, most of them learnt to spin and weave but as soon as they mastered these skills, their parents came to the workhouse and fetched them home, so that they could earn money for the family.
As a result, Pestalozzi was the one who got cheated. He always employed a lot of beginners, but had few experienced workers. Of course, this was not profitable. Nevertheless, this did not curb his enthusiasm. He wrote detailed reports on every child. He also took on disabled children. He allowed a mentally disabled child, called Fridolin Mind, to draw to his heart’s content. Friedli, as they called him, always wanted to draw cats, always cats and nothing but cats. People later called him “Cat-Raphael” (after Raphael who was one of the most famous painters and lived five hundred years ago). Later on Fridolin Mind was at times even better known than his foster-father Pestalozzi! Pestalozzi saw a brother or sister in every human being. For him, man was the image of God.
With the Neuhof, however, things went from bad to worse. Already, two years later, it was again heavily in debt. The fabrics from the children’s workshop were, more often than not, badly woven. The buyers at the market laughed at Pestalozzi when he offered them his goods. He had to sell them at ridiculously low prices.
Unfortunately, in 1776 and 1777, there were again crop failures, owing to bad weather. To pay the debts, Anna had to use up her inheritance. Two years later Pestalozzi had to sell a third of his land. He entrusted his brother, Baptiste, with the sale of the land. However, when Baptiste had the money in his hands, he could not resist the temptation; he made off with the money and many months later wrote a letter to a friend in Amsterdam informing him of his whereabouts! He then joined a foreign war service and was killed. So Pestalozzi had to sell a lot more of his land and lease out the remainder. After that he had one of his worst experiences – maybe the worst of his life; he had to liquidate his industrial school. He had to send his beloved children back onto the streets. We can hardly imagine how this man felt at this moment. It broke his heart. The dream of his life was destroyed. He was close to losing his mind and could have ended up in a mental asylum; practically everybody deserted him. His neighbours made fun of him. His relatives did not want to see him any more; they did not want to be reminded of the money they had lost. His wife Anna was in poor health, due to the hard work she was required to do. She recuperated with a friend of hers, the young Countess Franziska in the Castle of Hallwil and was away for many months.
Heinrich Pestalozzi was now alone. He could hardly afford food and firewood. All the same, his optimism did not altogether die. Not quite everyone deserted him.
The following pages are based on documents by Adolf Haller and Arthur Brühlmeier, rewritten in German by Heinrich Rubi and transalated in English by Anne-Marie Widmer. The content was arranged and edited by Dr Joanna Nair with examples of Pestalozzi's Fables from 'Pestalozzi, His Life and Work' by Roger de Guimps.
These pages have been produced by Pestalozzi World Children's Trust to further the understanding of the Pestalozzi Legacy and are for non-commercial, educational purposes.
All photographs have been provided by Arthur Brühlmeier and the details and other excellent resources are available from his web site at