Maria Montessori, 1870-1952


Early life and work

Maria Montessori, born in 1870 in Chiaravalle, Italy, was the first female graduate from La Sapienza Medical School (University of Rome; 1894) and Italy’s first woman doctor. Montessori’s early work was focused on women’s rights and social reform. A member of the University’s psychiatric clinic, Montessori became interested in the education of special-needs children. Following the work of French doctors Jean Itard and Edouard Seguin, Montessori began scientific study of mentally and physically disabled children. In 1896, Montessori lectured about working with the disabled. That lecture was heard by the Italian minister of education, who appointed her director of the Scuola Ortofrenica, a school for the mentally retarded.


In her new capacity at Ortofrenica, Montessori had several of her 8-year-old students take State examinations for reading and writing. Beyond simply passing the tests, the children received above-average scores.


Having accomplished such impressive results with mentally disabled students, Montessori then decided to focus her efforts on “normal” children. Her method was based on helping students learn at their own pace. She notably observed that children’s cognitive processes are distinctly different from those of adults. In 1907, she established the Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House), working with 50 children from the San Lorenzo slum in Rome.


Emulators and trips abroad

Montessori’s results were followed closely by educators in other countries. For instance, she spoke at Carnegie Hall in 1915, invited by such individuals as Alexander Graham Bell (who founded the Montessori Educational Association, headquartered in Washington D.C.), Helen Keller, and Thomas Edison. The Montessori name became attached to schools using her methods.


Because she refused to cooperate with Benito Mussolini’s wishes to mold students into soldiers, Montessori was exiled from Italy. She moved to Spain in 1936 and thereafter to the Netherlands in 1939 at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.


Montessori visited India in 1939, on an invitation by India’s Theosophical Society – and embarked on a close relationship with that country. With her only son, Mario Montessori, she made her home at Adyar, Chennai, the international headquarters of the Theosophical Society.


Over the next decade, the Montessoris conducted Indian Montessori Training Courses to train future educators. In 1949, Montessori left India for the Netherlands and turned over executive leadership to her successor, Albert Max Joosten, who continued the training courses along with S R Swamy.


Montessori, who was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, spent the rest of her years in the Netherlands, until her death in Noordwijk aan Zee in 1952. Her son Mario headed the Association Montessori Internationale (the Netherlands) until his death in 1982.


 -- from Wikipedia biography of Maria Montessori