Maria Montessori was an Italian physician, educator, philosopher, humanitarian and devout Catholic; she is best known for her philosophy and method of education of children from birth to adolescence. Her educational method is in use today in a number of public as well as private schools throughout the world.
Maria Montessori was born in Italy. Montessori was the first woman to graduate from the University of Rome La Sapienza Medical School
She was a member of the University’s Psychiatric Clinic and became intrigued with trying to educate the “mentally retarded” and the “uneducable” in Rome. In 1898, she gave a lecture at the Educational Congress in Torino about the training of the disabled.
The Italian Minister of Education was in attendance, and was impressed by her arguments sufficiently to appoint her the same year as director of the Scuola Ortofrenica, an institution devoted to the care and education of the mentally retarded. She accepted, in order to put her theories to proof.
Her first notable success was to have several of her 8 year old students apply to take the State examinations for reading and writing. The “defective” children not only passed, but had above-average scores, an achievement described as “the first Montessori miracle.”Because of her success with these children, she was asked to start a school for children in a housing project in Rome, which opened on January 6, 1907, and which she called “Casa dei Bambini” or Children’s House.
The success of this school sparked the opening of many more, and a worldwide interest in Montessori’s methods of education.
Her early work centred on women’s rights and social reform and evolved to encompass a totally innovative approach to education.Her success in Italy led to international recognition, and for over 40 years she travelled all over the world, lecturing, writing and establishing training programs. In later years, ‘Educate for Peace’ became a guiding principle, which underpinned her work.
After the 1907 establishment of Montessori’s first school in Rome, by 1913 there was an intense interest in her method in North America, which later waned. (Nancy McCormick Rambusch revived the method in America by establishing the American Montessori Society in 1960). Montessori was exiled by Mussolini mostly because she refused to compromise her principles and make the children into soldiers.
She moved to Spain and lived there until 1936 when the Spanish Civil War broke out. She then moved to The Netherlands until 1939. During a teachers conference in India she was interned by the authorities and lived there for the duration of the war.
Montessori lived out the remainder of her life in The Netherlands, which now hosts the headquarters of the AMI, or Association Montessori Internationale. She died in Noordwijk aan Zee.