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 manner in which they learned as they spontaneously chose and worked with the auto didactic materials she provided. She studied children of all races and cultures in many countries around the world, soon seeing the universality of the laws of human development. 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.
Maria Montessori was a scientist, and as a good scientist, she was earth-bound and highly spiritual in her pursuit of truth. Through her studies of educational methods, she declared two principles as the foundation of Montessori pedagogy: the universal characteristics of the human child, and the child as a unique, unrepeatable, respectable, and admirable individual to be unconditionally accepted as one of life's most marvelous expressions.
The Montessori method has since spread to nearly every country throughout the world. The movement reached the United States in 1963. Although it initially spread slowly throughout the U.S., the number of Montessori schools has doubled over the past ten years. Currently, there are over 1,500 accredited Montessori schools nationwide educating over 85,000 students annually. The Montessori approach has also been implemented as a magnet program in nearly 250 public schools to date.