Who is Maria Montessori? A Brief History of Dr 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, she became the first woman graduate from the University of Rome Medical Children’s House in 1896.

Her life’s work with children began as early as one year after taking her degree in medicine, whilst 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 children whom she encountered in the asylums, that the bare routine of their days starved them of any stimulation or experiences. Their minds were not useless, but the capacities they each had were totally unused.

When Maria Montessori focused the children’s attention and directed their activity, they responded positively to this. 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 Children’s House in the slum area of San Lorenzo in 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 became a public figure, spending her time lecturing, writing, travelling and setting up Children’s Houses and training Children’s Houses.

In 1934, after Mussolini forced her Children’s Houses to close, she moved her headquarters to Barcelona in Spain. She continued to supervise training courses in Spain, England, the Netherlands and India, where she was interned during the Second World War. She resided in Amsterdam after the Spanish Civil War began in 1936. It was in the Netherlands that she established the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), the object of which was to propagate, maintain and further the rights of the child in society. Maria Montessori died in the Netherlands in 1952.

In 2007, the centenary year of the first Casa Dei Bambini (“Children’s House”, a 3-6 classroom) was celebrated across the world with 22,000 children in Montessori communities honouring her work.