On August 31st 1870, Maria Montessori was born in Chiaravalle in the province of Alcona, Italy to father Alessandro Montessori and mother Renilde Stoppani Montessori. Her father, being a soldier, had old-fashioned ideas, conservative manners and apparent military habits. Her mother, Renilde Stoppani, was a bright well-educated woman. Being a well-read person, she also encouraged Maria to do the same. For Renilde it was important for girls to have a good education. With Renilde’s influence, Maria started to enjoy her studies and showed interest in mathematics. Renilde was always a friend and confidante who understood her daughter’s passion for education. She always supported her decisions and ambition. Between them was a special relationship, until her death in 1912.
By the time Maria was twelve, her family moved to Rome for better education than what was offered in Ancona. Soon, she would be graduating from primary school and she was thinking more and more about her future. For most girls in Italy in the 1800’s primary school was as far as their education went, but Maria wanted to continue her studies. She entered a technical school for boys with the intention of becoming an engineer. This was unusual at the time as most girls who pursued secondary education studied the classics rather than going to technical school.
Maria’s plans were always rejected by her father, being a conservative man who followed the norms of the society at that time. After a while, Maria had some change of heart regarding her studies and finally decided to become a doctor instead. She believed that her calling was medicine. Alessandro was appalled and confused by his daughter’s decision. He wanted Maria to be a teacher just like the other young women. At that time, a woman doctor was shocking and unheard of in society. Strong-willed as she was, she opposed the decision of her parents and joined the University of Rome. Once again, Renilde sided with Maria. Although Alessandro did not forbid Maria to study medicine, he never approved of it. Maria defied her father and the conservative Italian society and studied science. She knew she would be facing the biggest challenge of her life. Being the only woman in school, earning the respect of the other students was difficult but she was not about to let these men get in her way. One winter, she braved the snowstorm to attend a lecture only to find out that she was the only student there. The professor, impressed by her determination, gave the lecture anyway. Once, another student behind her kept on kicking the back of her chair, Maria gave him an angry look and said, “I must be immortal or a look like that would have killed me.” Maria was motivated most of the time but there were times when she felt discouraged by the taunting and teasing, among other things. She faced many obstacles that sometimes she wondered if it was worth it. Maria’s ordeal of dissecting human bodies made it worse for her when she had to do it alone at night. It was improper back then for a woman to study a body and it’s organs in the company of men. In 1896, after six years at the university, Maria was nearing the end of her studies. Like all medical students, Maria delivered her lecture and at the end was applauded by the entire senior class. This was the day Maria would not forget as she saw her father who stood in the audience, clapping with them. At the age of 25, Maria earned her medical degree and the title of ‘dottoressa ‘ at the University of Rome. She was the first female doctor in Italy. Dr. Maria Montessori's first appointment was as an assistant doctor in the psychiatric clinic of the University of Rome, where she worked with mentally challenged children. Dr. Montessori, with her kind heart and pity for these children, became very much involved with them. During one visit to the asylums, Maria saw that children would crawl around the floor looking for crumbs of food that had fallen there. She...
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