Who was Maria Montessori?

Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was a medical doctor who became internationally renowned for her work in the education of young children. Born in Ancona, Italy, in 1896 she became the first woman graduate from the University of Rome Medical School. Her life’s work with children came as early as one year after taking her degree while carrying out research at the Rome University Psychiatric Clinic. One of her responsibilities involved visiting the Rome insane asylums to find subjects for treatment at the Clinic. It occurred to her, after observing and thinking about the mentally disabled children whom she came across in these asylums, that none of them had any hope of improvement in their environment, as the bare routine of their days starved them of any stimulation or experience. Their minds were not useless, but what capacities they had were totally unused. When Maria Montessori focused their attention and directed their activity, they responded positively. From these beginnings she developed her educational ideas and applied them to children of normal intelligence.

In 1907 she was invited to set up her first school in the slum area of San Lorenzo, Rome. Here she observed the children’s response to their environment and developed her philosophy to suit their needs. Her method was enormously successful, so much so that she gave up her medical practice and her two Chairs at the University in order to expand her ideas. She undertook further study and became an active educator. Her theories spread throughout Italy and to other parts of the world. By 1909, the Montessori method was established and she had become a public figure, spending her time lecturing, writing, travelling and setting up schools and training centres.

In 1934, after Mussolini forced her schools to close, she moved her headquarters to Barcelona in Spain. She later supervised training courses in Spain, England, the Netherlands and India where she was interned during the Second World War. She became a permanent resident of Amsterdam after the Spanish Civil War began in 1936. It was in the Netherlands that she established the Association Montessori Internationale, the objectives of which were to propagate, maintain and further the rights of the child in society. Maria Montessori died in Noerdwijk, the Netherlands, in 1952.