Walter Vrooman was a socialist philanthropist born in Macon, Missouri, in 1869, one of six sons of Judge H. P. Vrooman. A Christian Socialist, he ran away from home at 13 and travelled extensively over the Western States, keeping up with his studies so that he could enter Harvard University in 1888. In 1895 he married Anne L Grafflin, a Baltimore heiress, and they settled in Missouri.
In 1898 they travelled to England, where Walter studied at Oxford University and met fellow student and socialist Charles Beard. Both men held unorthodox views on class and gender politics and decided that they wanted to do something about improving working-class education. In February 1899, Walter and Charles Beard established Ruskin.
Walter would later return to America with a view to opening other colleges in the same mould across the USA.