Maria Montessori (1870 -1952) was born in Chiaravalle (Ancona), Italy. Montessori was the first female to graduate from the University of Rome Medical School. She was a member of the University's Psychiatric Clinic and became intrigued with trying to educate the "mentally retarded" and the "uneducable" in Rome. She opened her first school, in a housing project in Rome, on January 6, 1907.
Maria Montessori is sometimes referred to as the one who discovered and revealed the qualities of children different from and higher than those usually attributed to them. When she began her work, large groups of children were supposed to do the same thing at the same time and in the same way. She knew there was a better way to teach children. She based most of her approach to teaching on truths about human nature. O'Brien wrote that Montessori considered the child often at a disadvantage because adults fail to realize that children possess knowing and willing faculties, which are greater than their ability to express themselves; therefore, she emphasizes the importance of trying to understand the child (O'Brien, 1998, p.3). From the hands to the mind is an expression often used in Montessori training. "The materials used by the senses are a doorway to the mind." (O'Brien, 1998, p.5).
Her ideas aroused world-wide interest because her methods proved successful with children of varying abilities from varied social backgrounds. Despite much criticism in the early 1930s-1940s, her method of education has flourished and has undergone a revival. It can now be found on six continents and throughout the United States.