Dr. Maria Montessori, Italy’s first female doctor, was born in 1870 and made the decision to study medicine. As you might imagine given the cultural norms of 1890s Italy, her ambitions were met with a degree of resistance that is hard to truly appreciate when using Canada in the year 2019, as the point of reference. Her tenacity, however, was not to be denied.
Amidst what was not a welcoming environment, her commitment was further challenged as she found herself having to dissect cadavers alone at night when the other male students were done to avoid the perceived inappropriateness of a female being in attendance in a classroom with males in the presence of a naked cadaver. Nevertheless, through her determination and commitment, she graduated from medical school in 1896, having received academic awards and with a focus in pediatric medicine.
Early in her career, she was drawn to use her medical qualifications towards education for developmentally challenged children, where she established herself as an advocate for specialized classes and teacher training and by 1900 was the co-director of the Italian National League’s institute for teacher training in this area. Her two years here laid the foundation for many of the methods and materials she would more widely adapt to her mainstream educational approach.
In 1907, she was invited to run the education of approximately 50 children of working parents in a Roman neighborhood and this “Casa dei Bambini” or “Children’s House,” where she adapted and expanded her now mainstream educational philosophy, was very successful. More “Casas” were opened and the Montessori Method went on to gain International acclaim and acceptance based purely on the success of the philosophy with the children, and during a time when travelling to America involved a 2 month journey by sea.
Through to her death at the age of 81 in 1952, across a career that spanned three Nobel Peace Prize nominations, Dr. Maria Montessori continued to advance her teaching philosophy with the same tenacity and compassion that allowed her to break through cultural norms that would never have permitted her views to be heard in the first place.