Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was born in Chiaravalle, Italy. In the begining, she was interested in Mathematics and then in Medicine. She was the first woman to practice Medicine in Italy. She developed interest in education for children with mental retardation and studied Jean Itard and Edouard Séguin, two pioneers in this field.
In 1901, she was assigned as the director of a psychiatric clinic associated to the University of Rome that was dedicated to the care of children with mental retardation. There, she put into practice the idea of having a scietific approach in the field of education, a theory taken from her two references and based on observation and experimentation. In two years, she succeded in helping eight children from her institute to pass the official exam in reading and writing competences for normal children of the same age. This "miracle" that amazed the world made Maria Montessori reflect on the state of general education:
"While the whole world admired the progress of my disabled children, I searched the reasons why children at normal schools were kept at such a low level, that even my unfortunate students were able to equal them in exams that measure their intelligence! I started to convince myself that if similar methods were applied on normal children, they would develop or free their personality in a surprising and wonderful way".
With this conviction, and with the purpose of preparing helself for her new role as an educator, Montessori studied Filosophy, Psychology, Education and Antropology. In 1907, she had the opportunity to implement her ideas when she was offered to create a nursery for children between 2 and 6 years old in a housing development in San Lorenzo, an impoverished town in Rome where families with illiterate working parents lived. This nursery was called "Casa dei Bambini" (Children's House).
Maria Montessori prepared a clean, spacious, tidy and bright environment, and brought the materials she had used in her work with experimental psychology to observe the children's reaction. Based on these observations, she developed new materials. Gradually, she could observe a transformation in those children. Eventhough they suffered the daily situation of phsycal and emotional neglect in their lives, those children started to write and read without direct intervention of any adult, and they worked continuosly without being obliged or disciplined by anyone. This change in the children's behaviour also impacted their homes, where they wanted to reproduce the tidy and clean environment which made them so happy at the nursery. The success of this first "Montessori school" drew great interest for the Montessori Method all around the world.
In 1909, Maria Montessori published her first book and started a world tour, including a visit to Argentina in 1926. In 1929, she founded Association Montessori International (AMI) to preserve her legacy's integrity. During Mussolini's regime, Maria Montessori left to Spain to live in exile, and in 1936, before the Spanish Civil War, she moved to Holland. In 1939, she was invited to India, where she stayed until the end of the Second World War. In 1949, Dr. Montessori returned to Holland, where she passed away in 1952.