Maria Montessori died on May 6, 1952, but her legacy continues through the philosophy of education and the schools that bear her name. She was born in Italy in 1870 and was well-educated. This was largely due to her mother’s encouragement, who was also well-educated as the great-niece of Antonio Stoppani a noted geologist and paleontologist. Against her father’s wishes, she continued her education until she graduated from the Regio Istituto Tecnico Leonardo da Vinci with a certificate in physics/mathematics.
Initially planning to study engineering, Maria changed her mind and made a decision to study medicine at the University of Rome. She met discouragement, harassment and hostility from both students and professors, but she persisted and graduated in 1896, having received an academic prize that allowed her to gain clinical practice in a local hospital. Most of her clinical work was done in pediatrics and psychiatry.
After graduation, Maria continued volunteering in the hospital and began writing and speaking for women’s rights and as a advocate for mentally disabled children. Her work eventually evolved into teacher training programs for the mentally disabled including special methods of instruction. She became the co-director of the Orthophrenic School which was established for this purpose.
Maria returned to school in 1901, taking classes, but also using the time to study independently. She hoped to apply her methods, which she called “scientific pedagogy” to mainstream children. She got this opportunity in 1906 when she took on the oversight of children in an apartment for low-income families. The school was successful and a second one was opened in 1907. By 1909, she held her first training course and published her methods in a book.
It wasn’t long before Montessori education became known internationally. Over the next 10 years, she continued lecturing and publishing her methods. Eventually, she had to give up her medical practice and a teaching position to keep up. Her book “The Montessori Method” became a best seller in the United States with the first school opening there in 1911. This was quickly followed by schools in India, Spain, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, among other countries.
Maria Montessori continued an active lifestyle, traveling and speaking. She was awarded the French Legion of Honor, made an Officer of the Dutch Order of Orange Nassau, and was nominated several times for the Nobel Prize. On May 6, 1952, at the age of 81, she died of a cerebral hemorrhage in the Netherlands.
Find out what else happened on May 6 in Women’s History.