Birth and family
Montessori was born on August 31, 1870 in Chiaravalle, Italy. Her father, Alessandro Montessori, 33 years old at the time, was an official of the Ministry of Finance working in the local state-run tobacco factory. Her mother, Renilde Stoppani, 25 years old, was well educated for the times and was the great-niece of Italian geologist and paleontologist Antonio Stoppani. While she did not have any particular mentor, she was very close to her mother who readily encouraged her. She also had a loving relationship with her father, although he disagreed with her choice to continue her education.
The Montessori family moved to Florence in 1873 and then to Rome in 1875 because of her father's work. Montessori entered a public elementary school at the age of 6 in 1876. Her early school record was "not particularly noteworthy", although she was awarded certificates for good behavior in the 1st grade and for "lavori donneschi", or "women's work", the next year.
In 1883 or 1884, at the age of 13, Montessori entered a secondary, technical school, Regia Scuola Tecnica Michelangelo Buonarroti, where she studied Italian, arithmetic, algebra, geometry, accounting, history, geography, and sciences. She graduated in 1886 with good grades and examination results. That year, at the age of 16, she continued at the technical institute Regio Istituto Tecnico Leonardo da Vinci, studying Italian, mathematics, history, geography, geometric and ornate drawing, physics, chemistry, botany, zoology, and two foreign languages. She did well in the sciences and especially in mathematics.
She initially intended to pursue the study of engineering upon graduation, an unusual aspiration for a woman in her time and place. However, by the time she graduated in 1890 at the age of 20, with a certificate in physics–mathematics, she had decided to study medicine instead, an even more unlikely pursuit given cultural norms at the time.
University of Rome—Medical school
Montessori moved forward with her intention to study medicine. She appealed to Guido Baccelli, the professor of clinical medicine at the University of Rome, but was strongly discouraged. Nonetheless, in 1890, she enrolled in the University of Rome in a degree course in natural sciences, passing examinations in botany, zoology, experimental physics, histology, anatomy, and general and organic chemistry, and earning her diploma di licenza in 1892. This degree, along with additional studies in Italian and Latin, qualified her for entrance into the medical program at the University in 1893.
She was met with hostility and harassment from some medical students and professors because of her gender. Because her attendance of classes with men in the presence of a naked body was deemed inappropriate, she was required to perform her dissections of cadavers alone, after hours. She resorted to smoking tobacco to mask the offensive odor of formaldehyde. Montessori won an academic prize in her first year, and in 1895 secured a position as a hospital assistant, gaining early clinical experience. In her last two years she studied pediatrics and psychiatry, and worked in the pediatric consulting room and emergency service, becoming an expert in pediatric medicine. Montessori graduated from the University of Rome in 1896 as a doctor of medicine. Her thesis was published in 1897 in the journal Policlinico. She found employment as an assistant at the University hospital and started a private practice.)
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