Dr Maria Montessori - Biography

Who is Dr Maria Montessori ?

                      Dr Maria Montessori ( 31st Aug, 1870 to 6th May, 1952 ), is the founder of the Montessori system of education which was named after her. Basically she was a brilliant physician who transformed herself into an admirable, praiseworthy educationalist  I feel really honoured to furnish below her life history, which is definitely a strong inspiration to Montessori teachers like me.

Birth and Early life :

                  Maria Montessori was born in Chiravalle, Ancona in Eastern Italy on 31st August, 1870. Her father was Alexandro Montessori employed in Italian Military Department. Her mother was Renilde Montessori, a cultured and highly educated woman. Though Maria’s father was very strict and had traditional notions, her mother was broad-minded in her opinion, expressions and manners, which encouraged Maria to take up a challenge-able career.
          Maria as a girl had radiant intelligence and bursting with energy. At the age of 17, when she expressed her aspiration of taking up Mathematics and science in technical college, her father strongly objected to this. Maria never gave up and fought for several years. Finally, she pursued a medical course, with paediatrics in her final two years of study. Thus, Maria became the first woman in Italy to earn a Medical degree. She graduated in 1896 as Doctor of Medicine and Surgery, with distinction. 

Maria - As a Feminist :

      In olden days, in Italy, girls were not allowed to study with boys. Men dominated woman nastily and this attitude was taken up against Maria also. She was harassed and ill treated by fellow male students. She had horrible nightmares and almost had a nervous breakdown. She silently took in all the hardships and at once decided fight for the rights of women, her entire lifetime. So, when she was offered to represent a Feminist Congress in Berlin in 1896, she will-fully accepted and lectured on the equality of working women against men. Also in 1900, she lectured against child labour in the mines of Sicily, in a Congress in London. 

Maria - researching as a Pychiatrist :

      Immediately after graduation, Maria’s first assignment was at the psychiatric clinic in the University of Rome, where she was appointed to treat mentally retarded children locked up in lunatic asylums. There she witnessed these children being treated with scorn and hatred. She came to a conclusion that if a special kind of education is given, the mental conditions of these children can be improved. So, she started her research, by reading the books and works of Jean Itard, Edouard Seguin and few other psychologists, who were specialists in the education of mentally deficient children.

          In 1899, Maria addressed a pedagogical congress on retarded children in Turin, where she expressed that “ Mentally handicapped children should be offered good education equal to normal children “. Her speech was so impressive that she was requested to deliver a sequence of sermons in Rome and finally she joined the National League for Education on mentally retarded children. 

Maria - Director at an Orthoprenic School :

      Following this, she was offered the position of Director of the State Orthophrenic School, Italy. She began working with the mentally deficient children, observing them, studying them and teaching them. After two years, when the children were taken for an examination along with the normal children, the success was astonishing. But, Dr Montessori was worried, as the normal children had gone backward in their education. So, she decided that normal children should also be offered similar type of educational principles.

                   In 1901, she resigned her job and started thinking about education for normal children. In order to equip herself to support the indefinite assignment, she took up courses in the University of Rome on Philosophy, Psychology and also studied on the nervous diseases of children. In 1904, she was appointed as the Professor of Anthropology and published her very First book ‘ Pedagogical Anthropology ‘. 

Her First Casa :

              Dr Montessori was waiting for an opportunity to experiment on the behaviour of normal children. Her wish came true in 1906, when she was offered the job to direct a school of children living in low-grade housing societies. Since their parents were poor, uneducated and were almost away from home on day labours,  these children were left uncared instigating annoyance to the neighbourhood.  Maria with the help of her only assistant Candida ( Best known as Signorina Nuscitelli ), organized and prepared an environment for the children to explore freely and safely.

                   This is how the first Casa Dei Bambini ( The House of Children ) was inaugurated in San Lorenzo in 6th Jan, 1907. Here, Dr Montessori experimented and discovered a lot of superior qualities that the children possess. She quoted that “The intention of true education for very young children should be to fundamentally assist the development of physical, mental and spiritual growth”.

Recognitin of Montessori Schools :

                        Montessori Method of education was considered a very innovative system among the other educational systems of the world, which was publicized extensively in papers and magazines. Following this, many more Houses of children were opened in Rome and Milan.

                   After intense contemplation, Maria resigned her job as lecturer and gave up medical practice as well. She wanted to dedicate her full time for the education of children. She set up her own methods for teaching and learning. Though her earnings became inadequate, she launched a number of Houses of Children as per her own stipulations. Since, there existed lot of vacancies for trained Montessori teachers in these schools, she gave her first Montessori Teacher Training Course in 1909. Her lectures were published in a US Magazine in 1910 and translated in more than 20 languages as ‘ Montessori Method ‘.

                   In 1911, Italy and Switzerland approved and followed Montessori method of teaching in their schools. The teachers, who underwent training, started Houses of Children in Europe, Britain, Canada and US. Within two years, more that 100 schools were opened. Montessori Societies were Opened and Association Montessori Internationale ( AMI ) was set up in Berlin and then shifted to Amsterdam which offered proper Montessori Method of teacher training to interested students worldwide.

Life and her works :

                   Dr Montessori was a genius and a woman of innovative cleverness. Her students loved her, admired her and called her ‘Mammolina‘, which means ‘Darling Mamma‘. Not only she is a Doctor, an earnest teacher, but also an author. She has written a number of books, which exhibit the outcome of her devoted research. We ought to read all her books to understand her concept and system of Montessori Education. Among her books, The Absorbent Mind, The Secret of Childhood and The Discovery of the Child are A-Must-Read ones.

                   Though Maria’s academic career was a fruitful one, her personal life was a painstaking one. Her love life was a failure and she was in deep sorrow as she was not able to acknowledge her own son in the community. We need to leave this as it is because she never mixed her personal life with work.

Impact of World Wars :
                   The two world wars were also disturbing her career. She faced a lot of stern criticism and her method of education was discussed commonly. Her name and methods were openly abused.

                   In 1922, Maria was appointed as Chief Inspector of Schools in Italy and Mussolini’s government agreed to support her in 1924. Later in 1934, she broke up with him due to the difference of opinion. All Montessori Schools were closed in Italy and she was deported to Spain and so AMI also moved to Spain following her. Civil War broke out in Spain in 1936 and Maria had to go to Holland. She resided there from 1937 to 1939. Before the invasion of Holland in 1940 , Maria left for India in 1939 itself accepting the humble invitation of Dr Arundale, the 3rd President of Theosophical Society of Adyar, Chennai.

                   As there were Montessori Schools and teachers already in India, trained by Maria in Europe, she was welcomed enthusiastically. She stayed on for 7 long years in Adyar, Chennai conducting training courses and delivering lectures. She enjoyed her stay in India very much as Indians adored her, respected her and had a high regard for her philosophies and methods.

                   When the world war ended in 1945, she returned to Holland and came back to India again in 1947. She travelled around Pakistan in 1949 conducting training courses. She went to Austria in 1951 and had plans to tour Africa to spread Montessori educational systems. But, to our dismay, on 6th May 1952, she  breathed her last ( due to cerebral haemorrhage ) at Noordwijk-on-sea, Holland.

Practise montessori system :

                   Thus, Dr Maria Montessori had toiled all her life for the enrichment on the educational methods for young children. Teachers undergoing Montessori courses have to read her books and adopt her methods on modern philosophy with utmost dedication. We are really privileged to have a great person like Dr Montessori who had given us notions to bring up well-educated children for the brilliant future of mankind. The best way to thank her hard work is that we need to first understand the spirit of the Montessori method. We need to inculcate this and practice meticulously to form a progressive society thus sowing universal harmony.


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