A Life’s Work Begins
Trained in medicine, psychiatry and anthropology, Dr. Maria Montessori was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Peace in 1949, 1950 and 1951 for a lifetime of commitment to children’s education.
Establishing principles, methods and materials to foster every child’s unique talents, Montessori was a visionary who saw these as cornerstones to building a harmonious world community. She saw her role as a doctor to help provide care for all.
Montessori was determined to use scientific methods to discover ways to nurture the body as well as the spirit. Her work contributed to the widespread acceptance of the open classroom, reading readiness programs, self-paced learning and hands-on learning for children. Montessori was born in Chiaravalle, Italy, on Aug. 31, 1870. She was a bright student in primary school who found it painfully dull to be taught only through lectures. Her father, Alessandro, expected his daughter to marry rather than pursue studies. At most, he said she could become a teacher. Montessori was certain the last career she would choose was teaching, as her own teachers had been so uninspiring.
Montessori’s mother, Renilde Stoppani, encouraged her daughter to pursue math studies, even when no schools were set up for girls to study advanced math. Montessori attended a boys’ technical school during her teen years. She went on to study biology at the University of Rome. Then, with her mother’s support and against her father’s wishes, she became the first woman to enroll at the University’s School of Medicine.
Montessori’s attendance at the University of Rome’s School of Medicine was unprecedented. She was the school’s only female student and was treated rudely by male students. She could only enter classrooms after all the other students were seated and they often conspired to deprive her of a seat for the two-hour lectures.
She was not allowed to study a cadaver in the presence of men and had to perform her first dissection alone at night.
Determined to become a doctor, Montessori followed her coursework and specialized in pediatrics and psychiatry. At the age of 25, Montessori graduated, becoming Italy’s first female physician.