Dr. Elisabeth Vreede (1879-1943) biography

Elisabeth Vreede was born in The Hague, Holland on 16 July 1879. She was the second child of her father, who was a lawyer and her mother, who was devoted to charitable work. She was a sensitive person and later on in her life she played an important part in the Anthroposophical life in Holland.

Dr. Elisabeth VreedeElisabeth Vreede came into contact with Theosophy in her home growing up. She was interested early on in the starry sky, and while learning French, she read the works of Camille Flammarion, a French astronomer and author. Because of his scientific background, he approached spiritism and reincarnation from the viewpoint of the scientific method, writing, “It is by the scientific method alone that we may make progress in the search for truth. Religious belief must not take the place of impartial analysis. We must be constantly on our guard against illusions.” Other than his books of fiction, his writing about other worlds adhered fairly closely to then current ideas in evolutionary theory and astronomy.

At the University of Leyden she studied mathematics, astronomy, Sanskrit, and philosophy (especially Hegel). She was also actively involved in student life, founding a boat club and was a council member of the students’ union. She cultivated this more social life as well as her academics during this period.

The first meeting with Rudolf Steiner took place early on at the Theosophical Congress in London in 1903. Her parents were theosophists and she as well was a member of the Theosophical Society. Rudolf Steiner at the congress straightaway made a huge impression on her. A year later at the Congress of the Federation of European Sections of the Theosophical Society at Amsterdam in 1904, she heard a lecture on ‘Mathematics and Occultism’ that Steiner gave. The next European Congress was in 1906 where Steiner held a cycle of 18 lectures there.

After receiving her diploma in 1906, she gave instruction at a higher girl’s school in mathematics until 1910. From 1910, she lived in Berlin, worked on her dissertation, and occasionally worked as a secretary for Rudolf Steiner. In April 1914, she moved to Dornach to help in the building of the first Goetheanum and was often found there carving wood.

During the War years (1916/17) Elisabeth Vreede broke off from her residence in Dornach in order to work in Berlin as a coworker of Elisabeth Rotten (15 February 1882, Berlin – 2 May 1964, London, who was a Quaker, peace activist and educational progressive), looking after prisoners of war. She was very much aware of the life and sufferings of her contemporaries.

After the War, Rudolf Steiner developed his idea of the threefold social order and she too had an intense interest in this initiative and work. She was the first to bring this idea of a threefold social order to England. Around 1918, Dr. Vreede began to construct the library and archive at the Goetheanum. Using her own means, she purchased the expensive lecture transcripts as soon as they were typed from notes. In 1920 she moved to Arlesheim, Switzerland, where she had built a little house for herself. It was the second house for which Steiner had given the model in 1919. In 1924, Steiner appointed her to head the Mathematical-Astronomical Section of the School of Spiritual Science of the recently reestablished Anthroposophical Society, and she belonged to the board of directors of the general Anthroposophical Society from 1925 to 1935. In 1935 the separation within the Anthroposophical Society took place and she was expelled from the executive council, while her section was passed to other leadership. After internal discussions in the Anthroposophical Society, she was excluded along with her long-time friend and co-member, Dr. Ita Wegman from the board of directors. She was also cut off from the observatory and archives that she herself helped assemble. Rudolf Steiner is reputed to have said that Dr. Vreede understood his work more deeply than anyone else.

Dr. Vreede gave a lecture on 3 January 1926, which was first publish in the Anthroposophical Movement in Vol. 6, Nos. 42 to 46, called The World of the Stars and Human Destiny. In it she addressed the appropriate use of Astrology in our time:

“You will now understand to what purpose we have a horoscope, and that it is not there in the first instance for our own sake. You will understand that when a horoscope is made for a person’s satisfaction, there is always a certain amount of egoism connected with it; for he does not possess it for this purpose! And if you take the passages in our literature where Dr. Steiner speaks about Astrology (there are passages in many of the cycles and lectures) you will find how he emphasizes again and again that Astrology must be something social, which pays no attention to the individual but has social aims. In a true Astrology only what is universally human is considered and not the satisfaction of the egoism of the human being. By considering it egoistically, that deed of Michael is undone whereby other beings ought to be saved from plunging into the abyss.

When Dr. Steiner asked the position of the stars at the moment of a birth, it was always with reference to children who lacked one or other of the forces just described. It was then possible to learn from it which of these forces was not there in the right sense; thus it could be gathered what this human soul lacked before birth. And then it might be possible under certain circumstances to find a cure. Here we see how the matter is carried away from what is egoistic and into the social, when such abnormal children may in this way find a cure, which otherwise might perhaps not be possible. But in those children in whom certain forces were not brought in at birth these influences remain present. …Thus we see how Astrology can be used when it is kept in Michael’s sense, and not in the sense in which it is so often practiced today.”

In 1928 she invited Willi Sucher to come to Dornach and collaborated with him in working out the death asterograms of historical personalities, which was part of his substantial historic research, and which he further worked out in the late 30’s and 40’s, doing the charts and therapeutic research of special needs children in England and Scotland.

In 1935 the separation within the Anthroposophical Society took place and she was expelled from the Vorstand and her Section passed into other hands. After internal discussions in the Anthroposophical Society, she was excluded along with her long-time friend and co-member, Ita Wegman from the board of directors. Rudolf Steiner is reputed to have said that Dr. Vreede understood his work more deeply than anyone else.

On the anniversary of Rudolf Steiner’s death she once again spoke to the circle of friends and co-workers in the clinic. They wanted to commemorate not just Rudolf Steiner but the many who were leading Anthroposophists but to most were no longer known. She spoke in a devoted way about Edith Maryon, who also died in 1924, and with a fine characterization of her being about Alice Sauerwein. She portrayed for us Count Keyserlingk and Louis Werbeck. Finally she told about Caroline von Heydebrand and Eugen Kolisko.

At the beginning of May she spoke once more on the 400th anniversary of the death of Copernicus. At the lecture it was noticed that only by exceptional exertion could she keep herself upright. Just a few days later on 6 May, she had to take to her bed. She had never been ill nor depended on people until that point. Thanks to the devoted care of Frl. Schunemann, she was treated at home until her passing on 31 August 1943 in Ascona.