Episode 8: Maria Montessori

The subject of Episode 8 is Maria Montessori, the Italian physician and educator best known for the philosophy of education that bears her name, and her writing on scientific pedagogy. The episode also focuses on educating creativity and self-mastery and how Italians made it into American schools.

Below I have provided additional content to help you dive deeper into Episode 8 and help with your "homework" assigned at the end of the episode!


Below is a 1000 lire bill featuring the Italian educator and theorist Maria Montessori. Before the introduction of Euro in 2002 (even though Euro already existed in financial transactions since 1999), the Italian currency was the lira.

The Italian Lira is no longer used in daily life, but it is still an existing currency. Below is a current Italian Lira-US Dollar exchange rate, established by the International Monetary Fund (last updated on March 22, 2019).

Italian lire are also a valuable collectible item. Below is a snapshot of Italy’s cash. The famous Italians featured on the bills include: the painter Raphael (500K), the painter Caravaggio (100K), the sculptor and architect Bernini (50K), the scientist and inventor Volta (10K), the opera composer Bellini (5K), the scientist Marconi (2K), and last but not least Maria Montessori (1K), who is also the only woman in the list.


Montessori was born near Milan in 1870 and died in 1952. She spent her youth in Florence and Rome, where she completed schooling, and in her professional life, she found some stable residence in Rome, Barcelona, India (during WWII), and the Netherlands, where the International Montessori Association is located. However, throughout her life Montessori travelled constantly to give lectures or found schools all over the world: in Switzerland, France, England, Spain, Argentina, Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Mexico, the U.S, and New Zealand.

Travelling was in her family genes. Her uncle, on her mother’s side, was the famous abbot Antonio Stoppani, founder of Italian geology, and author of the travel guide of Italy Il bel paese (the beautiful country). Il bel paese is still today one of the most common expressions used by Italians to define Italy itself. Travelling however became her privileged way to promote her educational ideas and participate in the international movement for the emancipation of women.

Below are two portraits of Maria Montessori in her young and in her old age.


Montessori graduated from the university of Rome in 1896 with a specialization in pediatrics and psychiatry. She is one of the first Italian women ever to receive a laurea (Bachelor’s degree).

Elena Lucrezia Corner Piscopia

The first woman ever to receive a university degree was Elena Lucrezia Corner Piscopia, who graduated from the University of Padua in 1678. In more modern times, in the late-19th century, the first Italian women who graduated from college were Giuseppina Cattani (medicine, 1884, University of Bologna); Teresa Labriola (law, 1894, University of Rome), and Emma Strada (engineering, 1908, Polytechnique of Turin).

The first Casa in Rome

After earning her university degree, Montessori started working on mental disabilities in children. In working with children who were deemed uneducable, she started developing observations and materials, which allowed some of her students to pass public tests for so-called “normal” kids. In 1907, Montessori opened in Rome the first Casa dei bambini (“children’s house”), which became the experimental laboratory for the evolution and theorization of her pedagogical method.

Based upon her experience at the Casa dei bambini, Montessori first published in 1909 her Metodo della pedagogia scientifica applicato all’educazione infantile (Scientific Pedagogy as Applied to Child Education), a book outlining the contents of her theory of education whose final version, released in 1950, appears now as La Scoperta del Bambino (The Discovery of the Child).


If you are interested in knowing more about the differences between Italian and American high schools, here is an interesting video for you to watch!

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 Contact Info:

Luca Cottini

Associate Professor of Italian Studies

Villanova University