Maria Montessori was an Italian medical doctor, psychiatrist, anthropologist, socialist and feminist activist of the early 20th century. She was a pioneer in the observation and understanding of the child and in the conception of a science of education.
She was born in 1870 into a rich family. As an adult, she managed to enroll in the Faculty of Medicine in Rome, despite the fact that it was reserved for men, and at the age of 26 she became one of the first female doctors in Italy. She was a fervent activist for the political and social rights of women.
In 1897, Maria Montessori was hired in the psychiatric clinic of the University of Rome where she studied mentally ill children and adults, whose only therapy was medical and chemical, while she observed results through methods based on education.
She became director of the speech therapy school in Rome and continued her research based on that of Jean Itard and Edouard Seguin (French physician-educators of the early 19th century) from whom she borrowed the material created for the sensory impaired (rough letters, etc). Since these deficient children eventually learn to read and write like children without disabilities, Maria Montessori wondered why they should not surpass basic learning.
She therefore transposed her methods to children aged 3 to 6 in the first “Casa dei Bambini” that she opened in 1907 in a poor neighborhood of Rome (San Lorenzo). It was there that she developed the “Montessori pedagogy” as we know it today, with: prepared environment, attention phenomenon, free choice of activity, calibration of self-correcting material, etc.). She then analyzed that the child who chooses his activity, who manipulates and repeats, can fix his attention for a very long time.
During the First World War, Maria Montessori left Italy to live in the United States, and in the second, she went to Spain, then England, the Netherlands, and India.
Throughout her life she wrote books to support her research.
She died in 1952 in the Netherlands.