Pestalozzi - educator of the poor

After giving up his agricultural business Pestalozzi tied to trade with cotton for a short time. He bought the rough cotton bales from relatives of the Schulthess family and processed it in the nearby spinning and weaving mills. But he was not made to make enough profit out of the work of poor people and his financial backers had to accept heavy losses again.

Although Pestalozzi's cotton business was not at all successful it initiated the change of the Neuhof estate into a house for the poor. Pestalozzi saw hundreds of children that lived in misery, were neglected and forced to beg and he realized that he was only able to help them, when they learned to work, when they were educated and when they learned spinning, weaving or intensive agriculture during the social situation at that time. Assumable this social intend was connected to the prospect of assuring his own and his family's life and his enterprise in investing in the developing textile industry. So he started to bring poor children to his house about the year 1773. He fed them, he gave clothes to them, showed them how to work, taught and educated them. And so during the year 1774 his farm changed step by step into a house for the poor. He wanted to create a practical environment in connecting agriculture and developing industrial work to prepare poor children for a life, where they were able to overcome their poverty by their own forces. In 1776 twenty-two children lived in Pestalozzi's house, two years later there were already 37. He built two new buildings- a factory room and a children's house- and employed learned weavers, spinners and farm lasses for the work in the fields who should supervise the children during their work. While the children were working at the spinning-wheel or at the loom Pestalozzi taught them reading or arithmetic. The whole life at the Neuhof was filled by Pestalozzi's intention to warm the children's hearts for a decent life in truth and love.

It's characteristic of Pestalozzi that he didn't get stuck in the practical part of education of the poor but he also considered the theoretical side of poverty and education of the poor based on the social situation at that time. His thoughts concerning this subject can be read in the so called early Armenschriften and especially clearly in three letters to Niklaus Emanuel Tscharner. He, Pestalozzi's patron, belonged to the most high-ranking families of Bern and was reeve in the time from 1767 till 1773 in the area where Pestalozzi lived and that belonged to Bern. In the years 1776/77 Tscharner published his ideas of education of the poor in a journal for political ethics called "Ephemeriden der Menschheit" edited by the writer of the counsel of the City of Basel Isaak Iselin. Pestalozzi, who had contrarily to Tscharner practical experience with the education of the poor and lived as a poor man among poor people was provoked by Tscharner's far too idealistic point of view to write three letters, which Tscharner also published in the "Ephemeriden" later.

As is known also Pestalozzi's house for the poor was a financial fiasco. First he borrowed money from friends and relatives. When he realized that this money was not enough he started an appeal to the public to support his house for the poor by loans. He promised to return the money because he was convinced that the children would be able to finance the house for the poor automatically on their own as soon as they had learnt how to work. But Pestalozzi was wrong because as soon as the children had new clothes, were well-fed and had learnt how to spin or to weave their parents asked them to come back and they worked at home for their own profit. Furthermore the fabrics produced by the children could not fulfil the demands of the spoiled customers used to high quality. So Pestalozzi had to sell his products for a too low price. 1776 and 1777 were years of famine caused by crop failures. The expected profits failed to appear. In 1777 Pestalozzi's crop was nearly completely destroyed by a thunderstorm so he had to buy stocks for the winter. In 1778 Anna felt compelled to renounce her heritage to pay their depths. And already one year later Pestalozzi saw no other way than to sell one third of his land. He entrusted his brother Baptist with this business. But as soon as Baptist saw this much money in his hands he could not resist the temptation: Instead of paying the creditors he disappeared with the money and wrote a shattering letter from Amsterdam month later (at 17th February 1780). The letter was full of remorse and despair. His soul was tortured by the thought that he had disappointed his loving mother and that he would never see her again. In the following time nobody ever heard of him again and it is believed that he died either in war or during emigration to America.

In his "Schwanengesang", a review to his life, Pestalozzi wrote:

"Our misery was decided. I was poor now." (PSW 28, p.234)

Nearly all his friends had left him, the neighbours avoided to meet him and scoffed at him. His relatives did not want to see him anymore because they did not want to be reminded to their lost money. His wife got ill because of all the work and recovered for weeks and month abroad, especially with Gräfin Franziska Romana von Hallwil, who became a widow already in the age of 19 and to whom Pestalozzi felt spiritually connected. In fact there were only two people left who stood by him unconditionally. About 1780 (exact date is unknown) the farm lass Elisabeth Näf, called "Lisabeth" (1762-1836), came to the Neuhof. She had heard about Pestalozzi's misery and did now the housework and tended the garden. She was treated as a friend by Misses Pestalozzi and served the family until 1825.

But also Isaak Iselin, writer of the counsel of the City of Basel, believed in Pestalozzi and the Neuhof during these hours of dark despair and showed Pestalozzi his love and deep respect. Iselin was an important advocate of the philanthropists (friends of the human), a political reform movement that tried to use Rousseau's theoretical ideas in all parts of life practically. In a shattering obituary Anmerkung to Isaak Iselin Pestalozzi tells his readers that Iselin saved him from his despair and –reading between the lines- even from suicide.

So managing a house for the poor always stayed one big yearning in Pestalozzi's life. In 1799 he could come up with this longing for a few months in Stans. Although his institutes for education and his schools in Burgdorf and Yverdon were very important and successful, they were never what he really wanted. When he got a considerable profit from his works in the year 1818 he immediately opened up a house for the poor in Yverdon. But also this one had to give up after a short time and it was merged with his school in Yverdon. And when Pestalozzi finally returned to the Neuhof at the age of nearly 80, he seriously thought about a reopening of his house for the poor. He even lent a hand with building a new house. Only his death could finally release him from his yearning to be the father-figure among his poor children.