Women in Medicine: Maria Montessori

The Google -doodle (I love that thing) informs me that today is would have been Maria Montessori’s 142nd birthday. I have visited some Montessori schools in South Africa, but I’m not well acquainted with the life of Ms Montessori.

Lo and behold, it turns out that Montessori was first and foremost a medical doctor, and only later took interest in education.

Born in 1870 into a well-educated Italian family, Montessori studied subjects like history, mathematics and the sciences in secondary school and continued her schooling at a technical institute with, among others,  zoology and botany.

She wanted desperately to study medicine, and although discouraged by others, she did so well in her initial diploma that she was granted entrance to the medical program of the University of Rome in 1893.

Not that it was smooth sailing from there. Apparently other students (all male) and professors (all male) were highly dissatisfied with her presence. She couldn’t even participate in the normal dissection class (and dissections form a major part of anatomy teaching) as it was deemed improper for her to be in the presence of a naked human body when men were around. So she had to perform her dissections alone and at night.

I got lost in our dissection building one night. It was not a fun experience.

She didn’t allow hostility to deter her, though. She won academic prizes and got a part-time hospital job in order to gain additional clinical experience. When she graduated in 1896, she became Italy’s first known female Medical Doctor.

She THEN went on to become an expert in paediatrics, where she became particularly interested in children with mental disabilities. Her work with these children piqued her interest in education. It was only in 1906 that Montessori started implementing her teaching methods for children without disabilities, and found that it was as successful.

Regular readers will by now know why this story resonates within me: not only am I a proponent for medical professionals looking beyond the boundaries of the hospital, but I once seriously considered  teaching as a profession.

I get disillusioned more regularly these days. Medical school is quenching my passion. Montessori’s story reminds me that there is hope.


  1. It amazes me that these early female physicians had the determination and tenacity to be successful in such a hostile field. I don’t think I would’ve ever taken on such a monumental task. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Solitary… it’s been an absolute inspiration reading more about her. I’m going to try to learn from her.

  2. I had no idea that she first studied and practiced medicine before she started her work in education. That is one incredible lady.

    1. Ditto! This is what makes the internet so wonderful. I love learning interesting new things about historical figures.

  3. Thanks for stopping by. This is a great post, and a great reminder that the women that paved the way for us today pushed down barriers that were considered rock solid.

    1. Too true. I’ll think twice before considering an obstacle to be insurmountable nowadays.

  4. Therese says:

    Wow. Thanks for sharing this. When I started, I have similar vision in mind. I also wanted to teach. I also want to be a developmental pediatrician and in my wildest dream, establish an institution children with disabilities. To big a dream but who knows… =)

    1. Never too big a dream! “Have big dreams, you will grow into them.”
      Pursue them, I would love to hear your story one day.

  5. tight shoes says:

    I’m going to say ditto on the comments above, I did not know she was doctor before!

    Will definitely be doing some further reading on her.

    1. If you find out anything else that’s interesting about her, be sure to share 🙂

  6. Erin says:

    I’m ashamed to say I had never heard of her before – so thank you for introducing her to me! (:

    1. You are always welcome 🙂

  7. tania says:

    thats so good to learn about her ….thanks ,thats really amazing ..plz share more info too.

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