Maria Montessori was born in Ancona, Italy in 1870 and was the first woman to graduate from the University of Rome Medical School. She graduated in 1896 and began her work with the University’s Psychiatric Clinic. Her visits with children in insane asylums in Rome prompted her to study the works of Jean Itard and Edward Seguin, Pioneers in special education for the mentally deficient. Dr. Montessori became director of the State Orthophrenic School in 1898. She based her educational methods on the insights she had gained from Itard and Seguin. Dr. Montessori spent the following two years teaching the children, preparing materials, taking notes, and reflecting on her observations and work. As a result of this concentrated study, and her finding that these children could learn many things that seemed impossible, she devoted her energies to the field of education for the rest of her life.
Dr. Montessori returned to the University of Rome to study philosophy, psychology, and anthropology. The years to follow provided her with experiences in clinics, hospitals, a daycare center in a housing project, and in schools which she opened in San Lorenzo, Milan, and Rome. In studying the children in all conditions around the world, Dr. Montessori discovered universal principles underlying the development of all children.