Maria Montessori – Mother of All Education & Peace

Day 116 of Colourisation Project – August 31

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Born this day, August 31 in 1870, Maria Montessori, was a math prodigy, a physicist and an anthropologist. At 24 she was the first woman to graduate from University of Rome School of Medicine.  A pragmatist and a humanitarian, she is best known for her pioneering spirit in the realm of learning theories in early childhood development. In the early 19th century, her name gave birth to a world-wide movement based on these theories, which came to be known as ‘the Montessori Method’.

She travelled the world and wrote extensively about her approach to education, attracting many devotees. Observing young children in controlled experiments she discovered that they construct their own personalities as they interact with their environment and that the foundation of the whole personality is laid during the early years of life. This discovery is now universally accepted in scientific circles. There are now more than 22,000 Montessori schools in at least 110 countries worldwide.

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori c 1925 – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

In 1896, having personally smashed through sexist barriers constraining women’s careers, Montessori became the first woman to qualify as a doctor in Italy. As a public figure, she became a staunch advocate for women’s rights and campaigned vigorously for greater opportunities for women achieving recognition in Italy and beyond as a leading feminist voice.

In 1896 she represented Italy at the International Congress for Women’s Rights in Berlin, and in her speech to the Congress she developed a thesis for social reform, arguing that women should be entitled to equal wages with men. When a reporter covering the event asked her how her patients responded to a female doctor, she replied, “… they know intuitively when someone really cares about them.… It is only the upper classes that have a prejudice against women leading a useful existence.”

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In 1898, Montessori  gave birth to a son, Mario, who was the result of a love affair with Giuseppe Montesano, a fellow doctor and co-director with her of the Orthophrenic School of Rome. Montessori chose not to get married because at the time women had limited opportunities and great expectations placed on them.

In Montessori’s case it was either get married and raise her son or continue working as an independent woman but she could not have both. Montessori decided to continue her work and studies. Furthermore Montessori wanted to keep the relationship with her child’s father secret under the condition that neither of them would marry anyone else. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out that way for Montessori.

Montesano would eventually fall in love and marry someone else. Feeling betrayed,  Montessori left the university hospital and placed her son into the care of a family living in the countryside. This meant that the woman whose whole life revolved around the development of young children’s minds would miss out on the first few formative years of her own son’s life. Whilst Mario’s father paid for his school education,  Montessori visited her son often, it was not until he was older that he came to realise that she was his mother.

A strong bond was nevertheless created and when her son reached his teenage years, they were reunited.  He became involved in her work and acted as her research assistant. In later years he collaborated and travelled with his mother and continued her work after her death.

Montessori dedicated herself to advancing her child-centered approach to education and to the establishment of a worldwide Montessori network. She lectured widely, wrote articles and books, and developed a program to prepare teachers in the Montessori Method. Through her efforts and the work of her followers, the Montessori movement flourished worldwide. In 1914 Montessori went to the USA, where an American Montessori Society had been formed with Alexander Graham Bell as its president.

In 1909 she published her first book in Italy, The Montessori Method. It reached second place on the American nonfiction bestseller list. Soon afterwards it was translated into 20 different languages. In 1949 her research findings about the child’s most crucial developmental stage: the first six years, make up the book, The Absorbent Mind, a classic textbook for educators. Her lectures, training materials and books still to this day are a major influence in the field of education.

In 1947 Montessori at the age of 76, addressed UNESCO on the theme ‘Education and Peace’, where she she received an ovation. In 1949, 1950 and in 1951, Montessori was three times nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, for her advocacy efforts toward a more peaceful humanity. Her last public engagement was in London in 1951 when she attended the 9th International Montessori Congress.

On 6th May 1952, at the age of 82, she died in the company of her son, Mario, to whom she bequeathed the legacy of her work.

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“The child’s development follows a path of successive stages of independence, and our knowledge of this must guide us in our behaviour towards him. We have to help the child to act, will and think for himself. This is the art of serving the spirit, an art which can be practised to perfection only when working among children.”   Maria Montessori – The Absorbent Mind

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