Montessori’s Place in the Gallery: Celebrating International Women’s Day
By Barbara Isaacs, President, Montessori Europe
This piece was inspired by Sid Mohandas’ contribution to Roots of Montessori MOOC of 2020. We thank Sid and Montistory for their kind permission to use this material including the archive images.
“I say that children are in a state of oppression. You will say ‘But we love children, how can children be in a state of oppression when they are the object of our most tender care?’ But having some knowledge of social phenomena, you know that love alone cannot solve the problems of the society. Women, too, are beloved subjects, and yet there is a social question that concerns the oppression of women…I will argue that today’s children in today’s society live in a state of oppression; similarly when we speak of the ‘women question’, we do not refer to a question that concerns individual women, but one that concerns all women” (Montessori, 2013, p.26).
In her youth Montessori fought for the right of girls and women to be what who they wanted to be – human beings contributing to society – not defined by their gender. She demonstrated her aspirations and determination when she achieved her medical certification from the University of Rome, despite protests not only from her father but also from the academic community and her fellow students. In her early medical career Montessori was a strong advocate for women’s rights, fighting for gender equality irrespective of political allegiance. This commitment is documented in both Trabalzine’s and Kramer’s biographies of Montessori.
Her “voice” was acknowledged when she was nominated to represent the Women’s Association of Rome at the International Women’s Congress in Berlin in 1896. At this congress, Montessori addressed the issues of unequal pay for men and women and illiteracy. Two years later, she was one of the founders of a campaign promoting women’s teacher training with a focus on children with special education needs. This initiative was supported by a group of Roman noblewomen who selected her to represent Italian women at the International Congress of Women in London.
In 1908 Montessori spoke at the First National Congress of Italian Women, where she addressed sexual morality in education in which she dealt with ‘women’s sexual slavery’, demanding freedom for women from being prohibited to meddle with questions of sex in any way. She said ‘It is this false purity that creates a moral slavery.’
At the opening of the 2nd Children’s House in 1907 she declared it was her wish to create a place where “Working mothers may safely leave their little children in the Children’s House, which is exclusively reserved for those who are not yet old enough for school. This is a great boom for them since it frees their minds of a heavy burden” (Montessori 2007:335).
With the success of the first Children’s Houses and the phenomenal speed with which awareness and popularity of the Montessori approach spread through the world between 1907 and 1913, Montessori’s advocacy turned towards the role of education in improving the plight of children and global peace. However, deeply embedded in all her writing is a commitment to social justice based on her deep sense of injustice against women, children and marginalised communities. It is important that we continue to nurture children’s awareness of today’s social and environmental issues, and that we contribute and develop Montessori’s vision of Peace Education as demonstrated by the Manifesto for Peace Education by Trisha Moquino, Seemi Abdullah, Britt Hawthorne and Simone Davies. It is not only Montessori’s early campaign work for women’s rights, but also her ongoing commitment to peace education which should lead Montessorians to ask themselves what activism means and what we do to promote it in the our classrooms, particularly as our pupils grow older. How do we address principles of social justice, solidarity and peace education with our students and student teachers?
Are we bold enough? Do we have the courage, like Montessori, to challenge ourselves and the status quo on these issues?
Report of Dr. Montessori’s speech at the National Congress of Italian Women in 1908
Kramer R. (1976/1992) Maria Montessori London: International Montessori Publishing
Montessori, M. (2013) The 1913 Rome Lectures, Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson Publishing
Trabalzini P. (2011) Maria Montessori Through the Seasons of the “Method”. The NAMTA Journal No 36. No. 2 Spring 2011