Influential Women in Montessori
Celebrated on March 8th, International Women’s Day is a global day dedicated to honoring the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also serves as a reminder of the importance of equality for women and a call to action for this crucial purpose.
As proponents of a philosophy and methodology founded by an inspirational woman who was a true pioneer of her time, it seems only right that we take some time to recognize other women who have been influential in the progression and development of the Montessori Method.
We couldn’t possibly discuss influential women in Montessori without starting with its namesake, right? Dr. Montessori was one of the first female doctors in Italy. She laid the path for future Montessori guides, using her medical background to help her closely observe children with disabilities from lower socioeconomic communities. The knowledge she gained through her observations and experiences helped build her philosophy and pedagogy and empowered her to create a classroom environment that fostered children’s natural desire to learn filled with carefully designed learning materials, many of which are still being used today. Dr. Montessori opened the first Casa dei Bambini (Italian for “Children’s House”) on January 6, 1907 in San Lorenzo, Italy. Over the course of the next 50 years, she expanded the method’s influence, writing books, giving lectures, and helping establish organizations including the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI).
Nancy McCormick Rambusch
Nancy McCormick Rambusch first discovered Dr. Montessori’s writings during her undergraduate coursework at the University of Toronto in the late 1940s. After having her first child, she became more interested in Montessori education and attended the tenth International Montessori Congress in Paris where she met Mario Montessori, the son of Dr. Maria Montessori and the leader of the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and learned she would need to undergo authorized teacher training in order to organize a Montessori school in the United States.
She attended the teacher training course offered by the Maria Montessori Teacher Training Center in London just a year later. Completing the Montessori Primary Course with Distinction in Spring 1955, she immediately enrolled in the Montessori Elementary Course.
After completing the course, she initially set up a small Montessori playgroup consisting of her own two children and several other preschoolers from the neighborhood. Only two years later, she and a small group of interested parents in her new home of Greenwich, Connecticut established the Whitby School, the first Montessori school in the United States where Rambusch served as the headmistress.
The school continued growing over the next few years and garnered the attention of Time magazine and The Saturday Evening Post, both publishing articles on its success. The growing interest in Montessori education led to a demand for Montessori trained teachers in the United States. Rambusch joined with AMI to establish a training center in the US, using the Whitby classes as a model.
In June 1959, Rambusch was appointed the representative of AMI in the US. The very next year, she founded the American Montessori Society (AMS). In 1962, with Nancy McCormick Rambusch serving as president, AMS took over the role of sole representative of AMI in the US.
Even after resigning as president in June 1963, Rambusch continued to be a prominent voice in the American Montessori movement. In “A Long Letter to Montessorians in America,” Mario Montessori speaks of Rambusch with admiration, crediting her with the revival of the Montessori movement in the US.
Aline D. Wolf
Aline D. Wolf is the author of 27 books that are staples in Montessori classrooms and homes around the world. Wolf is highly regarded as a modern interpreter of Montessori philosophy as her writings share messages of parenting, peace, and spirituality. She is the founder of Parent Child Press and co-founder of Penn-Mont Academy, the third Montessori school in the US. Wolf learned about Montessori reading Rambusch’s articles in Jubilee magazine and sought out to meet her in person. Working together, Rambusch helped Wolf start a school based out of her own home that has grown to now house more than 300 students. Aline is a sought-after and acclaimed presenter who has spoken about Montessori education all over the world.
Martha Urioste, known as Denver's "Godmother of Montessori," was the first and only principal to pioneer a Montessori elementary school. She established Montessori education in the Denver Public School System. Her work served as a model for public schools across the US. Urioste once said, "...my greatest joy and happiness was to know that I had the honor and privilege to be with Montessorians, pants, and children as well as the entire community launching Education and Peace as Dr. Maria Montessori's most important vision and mission in the world."
Paula Polk Lillard
Paula Polk Lillard is an internationally respected authority on Montessori theory and practice. She has written several books and countless articles on the topic of Montessori education including “Montessori: A Modern Approach” and “Montessori from the Start.” She co-founded Forest Bluff School in 1982 and served as a Primary teacher and Head of School for many years.
Angeline Stoll Lillard
Angeline Stoll Lillard is an author, speaker, and educator who has been studying the Montessori Method for more than two decades. She’s well-known for her best-selling book, “Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius” which presents Montessori theory and implementation and the scientific research that backs this unique pedagogy.
Paula Lillard Preschlack
Paula Lillard Preschlack is a writer and a speaker with 25 years of experience as a Montessori teacher and administrator. She recently released her first book, “The Montessori Potential.” Preschlack has given over 100 talks at schools, teacher training courses, and conferences.
Susan Mayclin Stephenson
Susan Mayclin Stephenson is an artist and a Montessori author, speaker, and consultant. Stephenson discovered Montessori as a parent in 1968 and spent the next several decades earning teaching diplomas for birth to 12, working as a Montessori teacher and Head of School. She has traveled in over 70 countries and shared Montessori ideas in more than half of them. Stephenson has written nine books that inspire Montessorians around the world including “The Joyful Child: Montessori, Global Wisdom for Birth to Three,” “Child of the World: Montessori, Global Education for Age 3-12+,” and “Please Help Me Do It Myself: Observations and Recordkeeping for the Montessori Primary and Elementary Class.”
Simone Davies is an AMI certified Montessori teacher and consultant who runs her own school, Jacaranda Tree Montessori, in Amsterdam. She has been working with children and families for more than 15 years. As part of her consultation work, she meets with families one-on-one, helping them bring Montessori into their homes. She’s the co-author of the practical Montessori parenting guide, “The Montessori Baby,” author of its predecessor, “The Montessori Toddler,” and the founder of The Montessori Notebook.
Famous Montessori Alumni
More than 100 years have now passed, and Dr. Montessori’s influence remains. From her beginnings in a single schoolroom in a poor, inner-city district of Rome, Dr. Montessori developed a pedagogy that is now practiced in thousands of schools around the world.
It would be remiss to not also note the powerful women who are Montessori alumni that serve as models of innovation, independence, and success. From Taylor Swift to Anne Frank, there are so many strong, capable women throughout history who inspire us. Some other examples include:
- Julia Child, chef, author, TV personality
- Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former U.S. President, Bill Clinton, and former U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton
- Helen Hunt, Emmy Award winning actress
- Morgan Saylor, actress
- Beyoncé Knowles, vocalist, performer, and GRAMMY Award winner
- Katharine Graham, journalist and publisher
- Dakota Fanning, actress
- Cher Bono, vocalist
- Katharine Graham, Pulitzer-prize winning author and former owner and editor of the Washington Post
- Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, editor and former First Lady
As Dr. Montessori’s legacy continues over 100 years later, women all over the world continue her meaningful work, united with a common purpose of establishing lasting peace through the only path that can truly lead us there, children.
About the Author
Heather White, EdS, is a Montessori Coach & Consultant, a Montessori teacher trainer, and a blog writer and content creator. Formerly, she was a Montessori teacher, Lower Elementary coordinator, associate head of school, and a Montessori nanny/in-home teacher. She also has experience as a School Psychologist intern. She is AMS credentialed (Early Childhood, Elementary I) and is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.