Maria Montessori was the first woman to practice medicine in Italy. A scholar of biology, psychiatry, anthropology, and medicine, she graduated from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Rome in 1896. As a physician, Dr. Montessori was in touch with young children and became profoundly interested in their development. Through careful and exhaustive scrutiny, she realized that children construct their own personalities as they interact with their environment. She also observed the way they learned as they spontaneously chose and worked with the autodidactic materials she provided.
Her approach to education was based on her observations as well as her belief that the education of children was the means to create a better society. She observed children around the world and found that the laws of development she had recognized in Italy were universal and inherent in children of all races and cultures. She continued her observations throughout her life, widening and deepening her understanding until her death in 1952. Also a devoted humanitarian, she was three-times nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy efforts toward a more peaceful humanity. Her Montessori approach to education continues to be respected and practiced internationally today.
To be a woman actively practicing medicine in Italy 1896 was a remarkable enough achievement to bring public acclaim and notoriety. Yet it was her gift of truly seeing, understanding, and respecting children that led to her greatest accomplishment: the development of a unique approach to the education of children. Her approach remains as powerful, inventive and child-responsive today as it was in 1907 when she opened her first school. In fact, the Montessori Method mirrors the 21st Century Learning Skills that are heralded now as the critical skills every child must have to succeed in today’s world.