Maria Montessori was born in Italy, Chiaravalle, her father Alessandro Montessori who was an official of the Ministry of Finance, her mother Renilde Stoppani, well-educated and niece of paleontologist Antonio Stoppani.
Because of her father’s work, the family moved to Florence in 1873 and then to Rome in 1875, she was very determined to continue her studies so she attended a boys’ school studying mathematics and engineering, an unusual thing for a girl. After that she has decided to become a doctor so she applied for a place at the medical school of University of Rome. She was strongly discouraged but her determination and excellent results in her exams secured a place for her. She had to do her practice after school hours, as her presence in the classroom alongside her colleagues and naked corpse was seen as inappropriate. Maria gained an academic prize in the first year, which secured a place for her in a hospital to work as a hospital assistant. Maria Montessori graduated as a doctor of medicine.
At the Psychiatric Clinic she has worked with retarded children (term used back in the days for Children with learning difficulties) and after observing them she strongly believed that the medicine and physical treatment is not enough to help them. The children were kept in an empty room, without any things or activities for them to handle, they were using their hands to search for crumbs on the floor, this is the moment when Montessori’s idea of the hands being the path to the intellectual development, was born.
As she was convinced that these children could be helped she had travelled to London and Paris, to study the work of Jean Itard who made a study of deaf mutes, and Edouard Aveyron, who was attempting to humanize a boy found in the forest by educating him.
Montessori travelled to give lectures, study and publish nationally and internationally, she also was an advocate for women rights and education for mentally disable children.
She gave birth to a baby boy, Mario Montessori, from an affair with a doctor, Giuseppe Montessono. As she was expected to cease her professional life and get married, she has decided to give her son to a foster family and continue with her studies. She was known as his auntie for many years, until his teenage years, when he was reunited with her and helped her a lot as her Assistant to spread the word about the Montessori Method.
The National League opened a school to train teachers to educate mentally disabled children, during the two years she has spent there, Montessori developed methods and materials which she would later adapt to use it in the mainstream schools. The children educated by Montessori had great results, so great that she took them to take the same tests as normal children and they had similar or better results.
In 1901, she had left the Orthophrenis School and her private practice to study more, in 1902 has started to study philosophy, during this time she was considering to adapt her methods of educating mentally disable children to mainstream children.
In 1906, Montessori was invited to oversee the care and education of unprivileged children in San Lorenzo, Italy. She had 50 to 60 children aged between 2 and 7 years old. She has taken this chance to apply her methods of education, children had been taught to dress and un-dress, care of the environment, care of the garden and also had a lesson with the materials Montessori developed. Montessori began to see great results, children were concentrating, multiple repetition of activities, sensitive to order in the classroom, and children were surprisingly unmotivated by sweets or rewards. In the third school, Montessori looked after middle-class and privileged children, her methods proved that are superior to the traditional mainstream.
People from around the world came to visit her to convince themselves about the results, they were inspired and went back to their countries to open a similar school. Soon Montessori schools were opened in America, Japan, Russia, Germany and India.
Montessori travelled a lot to visit the newly open schools and to teach the educators there about her methods, she also gave lectures and wrote books which were published, she was honored by many countries with royal, civic and academic rewards and she was a member of UNESCO.
She was in India for several years with her son, Mario, where they have worked hard to spread the word about Montessori Method, as a result India is nowadays a center of Montessori enterprise. They have also established Association Montessori International (AMI).
She died on 6th of May 1952 in Holland, country that has been since then the home of AMI.