Maria Montessori lived from 1870 to 1952, a time of momentous change in world history. One of the first women in Italy to receive a medical school diploma, she was channeled into working with preschool children and built an extraordinarily successful method of education that built on the skills and initiative inherent in young children.
During her lifetime, women won more rights and more access to education, though women's rights were rolled back during the fascist Mussolini years that she lived through. She also experienced world changing events including World War I, World War II and the dropping of the atom bomb. She was born into a world of horse and buggy and died in a world of airplane and automobile travel.
When Montessori started her first preschool, she was charged with taking poor children as young as two off the streets, where they were often left while their mothers went to work for very long hours. At the time her first school began in early 1907, she had very little equipment beyond a blackboard and a stove to heat the room. The small furniture she had built for her children was an innovation. Today such preschool furniture is common, and schools have central heating.
When the Montessori schools were built there was no television, no cell phones, and no computers: today these technologies are still not part of a Montessori education that relies on hands-on experiences.