Home > Library > ABC-CLIO Series

introduction | lecture | article | original synopsis | additional articles
The California Lectures of Maria Montessori, 1915 online is part of the Online Library at the Montessori Teachers Collective through the combined efforts of: Robert Buckenmeyer, Don & Cynthia Jennings, and ABC-CLIO Ltd. Excerpts are reproduced here with permission of the publishers. Additional articles appear courtesy of Mr. Buckenmeyer.


Although copies of some of the lectures which Maria Montessori delivered in California in 1915 survived for over eighty years, they have remained unpublished and forgotten. In this volume, we publish, for the first time, all of these lectures, together with several articles which she wrote for local newspapers. The lectures (which were delivered in Italian) and the articles are of historical interest and to some extent reflect contemporary viewpoints which have long been rejected. However, in other respects they represent an important, radical departure from contemporary opinion and discuss educational techniques and health issues concerning children which are only now being popularized by educators and 'discovered' by medical scientists. The lectures were simultaneously translated from Italian into English and recorded as Maria Montessori delivered them. Accordingly, they contain some typographical and grammatical errors and because they were designed to be heard rather than read, cannot be compared stylistically with her written prose. They are reproduced here as important historical documents.

This significant volume will be of value to all those interested in the history of education and the development of Montessori's educational theories and methods.

This online excerpt - - consisting of the Introduction, one lecture, and one newspaper article - - contains additional, exclusive content graciously contributed by Robert Buckenmeyer, including:

- the original 'lead synopsis' edited from the final edition

Also, previously unreleased articles by Mr. Buckenmeyer:

- Biology and Montessori's Cosmic View, Part 1
- Millennia, Children and Maria Montessori

- About Robert G. Buckenmeyer, Ph.d.



Maria Montessori (standing at the back, third from left, wearing a feathered hat) and children in the glass-walled demonstration classroom at the Palace of Education at the Panama Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, 1915. Reproduced from a photograph published in San Francisco Invites the World: Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915 (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1991) edited by Donna Ewald and Peter Clute. By courtesy of Donna Ewald.







Maria Montessori

Edited by Robert G. Buckenmeyer



© Copyright 1997 by ABC-CLIO Ltd.
Reprinted 2000

This edition has been reprinted with the agreement of Dr. Robert Buckenmeyer,
the Montessori-Pierson Estates and the Association Montessori internationale, Amsterdam.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in any retrieval system, or transmitted in any form
or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission in writing of the publishers.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Montessori, Maria 1870-1952
The California lectures of Maria Montessori, 1915:
collected speeches and writings. - (Clio Montessori series ; v. 15)
1. Montessori method of education
I. Title II. Buckenmeyer, Robert G.
ISBN 1-85109-296-X

Old Clarendon Ironworks,
35a Great Clarendon Street

Cover design and typesetting by Columns Design Ltd., Reading, England
Printed and bound in Great Britain by MPG Books Ltd, Bodmin, Cornwall



The Exposition

      In 1915 Maria traveled to California principally to attend the the world-renowned Panama Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) which was held in San Francisco between 20 February and 4 December 1915. The PPIE represented an international celebration of the construction of the wonder of the age, the Panama Canal, which was scheduled for completion that very year. The competition to determine where the Exposition was to be held had begun in 1909 and had been characterized by bitter fights at both national and state levels. As early as 19 December, 1909, the Philadelphia Press had published a major article outlining the fierce competition between Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco for the right to hold the exposition. Moreover, the Portland Telegram of 3 February 1910 had announced that San Diego had declared 'War Upon Frisco'. Some supporters of San Diego's bid to hold the event claimed that San Diego was the first 'senior' city in California and therefore should automatically be the venue for the exposition.*

      At the national level Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Louisiana, and San Francisco all vied for the right to stage the event. On 27 November 1910 Atlanta's Georgia Constitution published an article which defended the right of New Orleans rather than San Francisco to be the site of the international Exposition. The article included two maps, one showing New Orleans as being a hub city to some seventy other cities and to twenty million people throughout the South and East compared to San Francisco, a hub city to only eight cities and eight million people in an equal 900-mile radius. When it was announced that San Francisco was the winner, the Newark Daily Advocate of 4 November 1910 stated that San Francisco had bought the location at a cost of $50 million, compared to only $35 million offered by New Orleans (as reported in the Philadelphia Public Ledger).* The factor which probably tipped the balance in favor of San Francisco was, however, more than money, since California's Republican Senator Perkins chaired the Committee on Naval Affairs which had had jurisdiction over the Panama Canal. In any even, on 12 February 1911 the US Senate unanimously selected San Francisco as the 'Exposition City'. Delegations from all over the world showed a strong desire to set up fair sites but a threat of boycotts emerged because at this time the American Congress was debating new immigration legislation which would require all immigrants to pass an English literacy test as a condition of entrance into the United States.


Maria Montessori at the Panama Pacific International Exposition (PPIE)

      Maria Montessori's presence at the PPIE was widely reported in the contemporary California press. She located her demonstration school at the Exposition in San Francisco and gave several series of lectures in the city including those included as part of the Exposition, thirteen lectures at the San Francisco Civic Center (between 8 September and 21 October 1915) and twelve talks to parents at the Palace Hotel (between 21 October and 15 November). In addition, she made appearances at the San Diego PPIE Exposition (13 July), lectured in Los Angeles (between 27 May and 29 June) and gave a keynote address to the National Education Association held in Oakland on 16 August. Some kind of advance announcement of her visit to the PPIE must have been made because some 2,500 families applied for their children to attend her demonstration school in the Palace of Education. Unfortunately, however, the PPIE records available at the San Francisco Public Library History Center and at the Berkeley Bancroft, University of California Library do not indicate whether her invitation originated from Italy or the United States.

      Two San Francisco newspapers, in particular the Call-Post and L'Italia, gave her visit major coverage. Between 9 August and 1 October the Call-Post published 24 articles written by Maria Montessori and translated by Ettore Patrizi, editor of San Francisco's L'Italia newspaper. Moreover, between 9 and 28 August L'Italia itself published nine more articles written in Italian by Maria Montessori exclusively for its Italian-speaking readership. Other newspaper articles announced the dates and venues of her various lectures. 

      Although she understood English, Maria Montessori normally lectured in Italian and this was indeed the case when she she spoke in California. Her determination to speak Italian may well have been strengthened by the negative reception she received from American public educators. Certainly, none of the many educational conferences which were held at PPIE made any reference to her and she also appears to have been ignored by the contemporary American educational establishment which at this time was, of course, exclusively male. Nonetheless, her general popularity is clear from the favorable coverage she received in both Call-Post and L'Italia.

      It is interesting to note that two other speakers invited to the PPIE, Professori Charles H. Judd of the University of Chicago and Winifred Sackville Stoner, both Americans, spoke of the same need for the introduction of new teaching methods based on the observation of the child by the teacher.


Who Issued The Invitation?

      Eventually,I returned to the question of who had invited Maria Montessori to PPIE and for what reasons. My search naturally began in San Francisco. Initially I visited the California Academy of Science Library, where Karen Elsber, the reference librarian, referred me to the San Francisco History Center in the main San Francisco Library. Here I found very few items relating to Montessori's lectured but I did recover one photograph of her and the children within her 'glass-walled' demonstration classroom (see frontispiece). The History Center reference librarian, Susan Goldstein, then directed me to the Bancroft Library, located behind the Coe, or University of California, Berkeley main library.

      The Coe University Library offers an extensive library of California as well as other newspapers and here I made some fascinating discoveries in the form of the San Francisco Call-Post and L'Italia articles.

      Finally, I went to the Bancroft Library and, through the able assistance of two reference librarians, Baiba Strads and Ray Stokes, found that they had one hundred and ninety-one items of PPIE materials. An 'item' could be a box, ledger or a scrap-book of as many as two hundred pages each. None of the items was accompanied by a complete list of its contents but general references were provided, such as 'PPIE invitations', or 'PPIE newspaper articles'. These sources originated from all over the world and were written in several languages. although I found many interesting and relevant PPIE items, among which were articles about various educators, I could find no reference to any invitation to Maria Montessori. Nor did the ledgers which contained detailed reports, contracts and financial statements of the organizing committee yield any reference to the source of the invitation.

      It should be noted in passing that the Web Home Page of the North American Montessori Teachers' Association (NAMTA) state the 'The committee that brought her [Maria Montessori] to San Francisco included Margaret Wilson, the daughter of the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson'. The committee also included Dr. David Starr Jordan who was President of the National Education Association (NEA). It seems possible that the NEA may have been instrumental in issuing the invitation. Unfortunately, however, the Bancroft materials did not contain any documents which could confirm this.

      The PPIE papers at the Bancroft Library contained two small specific Montessori references: one in the day-to-day '1915-Calendar' cites August 21 as 'Mme. Montessori Day'. However, I have not been able to trace any San Francisco newspaper reports for that day which elaborate on this. A second reference turned up in Frank Morton Todd's The Story of the Exposition, a five-volume work published in 1921. This publication advertises itself as 'Being the Official History of the International Celebration Held at San Francisco in 1915 to Commemorate The Discovery of the Pacific Ocean and The Construction of the Panama Canal'. Within the chapter entitled "The Story of the Exposition' (pages 386-387), a reference notes that 'November 6, Helen Keller Day, was the occasion of a dinner in honor of Madame Montessori, Helen Keller, and Mrs. John Macey, whose remarkable methods were responsible for some of the famous blind, deaf, and dumb girl's attainments in the Massachusetts Building'. However, the PPIE documents concerning the Massachusetts Building do not provide any further details, and nor do the San Francisco newspapers shed any further light on these events.

      Thus the question of who invited Maria Montessori to PPIE and why she came to conduct a demonstration classroom remains a mystery, Only one newspaper article provides a clue as to her possible sponsor. The San Diego Sun published an article about a dedication dinner party for dignitaries from California, and from further afield, and listed those who were invited. The list mentioned only male guests but certainly their wives together with Maria Montessori attended. One of the guests was Ernesto Nathan, whom Maria had known as mayor of Rome, and who was not Italian Commissioner to the Exposition. It is conceivable that Nathan may have played some part in inviting Maria. Another of the sponsors listed was the founder and then president of the Bank of America, A.P. Gianini. A search of the Bank of America Archives Division in San Francisco revealed no evidence of Gianini's involvement. However, a student enrolled in one of my classed (a computer systems expert who was employed by t he Bank of America) was told by a Bank of America employee of long standing that Gianini had been very much involved in PPIE and had sponsored Maria Montessori's 'glass-walled' demonstration classroom.

      This oral testimony is of considerable interest, but in the absence of any authoritative, documentary evidence the mystery of who invited Maria Montessori must remain unresolved.


The Survival Of The Lectures

      The story of how these lectures were originally recorded, how they survived, how they reemerged and appeared in print is, in itself, truly remarkable. That story begins fifty-three years after Maria Montessori delivered these PPIE lectures in California. In September 1969, I was invited by Elisa Harrison, a member of staff at Notre Dame College, Belmont, California, to attend a graduation celebration at the AMI Teacher Training School located in Palo Alto, which was directed by Lena Wikramaratne. Mario Montessori was to preside and deliver a talk. Eugenia Andriano, who had been Maria Montessori's friend and companion was also to be present. In addition, Edna Andriano, Eugenia's daughter, was to attend. Edna was in fact one of those who had enrolled in Maria Montessori's PPIE lectures.

      After Mario Montessori's talk, Edna Andriano introduced me to him as 'a philosophy professor at the University of Santa Clara and an admirer of Maria Montessori'. When he asked me how I came to know his mother and her work, I informed him that one of my students had inquired whether I had ever heard of the Montessori method of teaching. At that state I know of it only by reputation, which she found hard to believe, claiming that I used aspects of the method in my philosophy course.

      I told Mario that the student has aroused my interest and that soon afterwards I heard of the Montessori Training Institute, directed by Sister Christine Marie at Notre Dame College, Belmont, California, and had decided to enroll. There, I had met Elisa Harrison, who was responsible both for teaching Montessori and Piaget courses and for directing the graduate students in working with Montessori materials during the daily classroom practice. Elisa, in turn, had introduced me to Edna and Eugenia Andriano and Elisa Harrison about Maria Montessori's educational beliefs and. as a result, Elisa had invited me to Palo Alto that day to hear Mario speak.

      We then all entered into a discussion about Maria and teaching method and Mario asked whether I would write an article for the AMI journal to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of his mother's death. I hesitated, because at that time I had only been enrolled at the Notre Dame Institute for a couple of months (although my article was eventually published). Later, Edna and Elisa Harrison remarked that this was the first time, to their knowledge, that Mario has asked an American scholar to write an article about his mother. They told me that this was probably because American 'male' educators had largely rejected Maria Montessori as a 'professional' teacher because she was an Italian, a Catholic, a medical doctor, and a woman.

      During the course of the conversation with Mario, Edna asked him if she might provide me with the copies of the lectures which his mother had delivered in California in 1915. These had been given to Edna by Adelia Pyle* , Maria Montessori's friend during PPIE. Mario agreed, and commented that not even he had copies, or had read them. Later that evening, Edna gave me the lectures which were carefully wrapped in a red ribbon and tied in a large bow. The copies had been typed in blue and the pages were frayed and crumbling at the edges. Edna and Elisa told me that Adelia Pyle had acted as a stenographer and had actually typed the lectures whilst they were being delivered.

      It was apparent that the tissue sheets on which the lectures were typed were desiccating, and arrangements were therefore made to photocopy them. Once this task had been completed I interviewed the Andrianos and Elisa Harrison (who later died of cancer), for I had many questions relating to the lectures. This taped interview was very useful in helping me to gain a fuller understanding of the lectures.


The Lectures: A Learner Taught By Children

      The popularity of Maria Montessori's method of education children through the free use of manipulative materials within a planned environment is well known, but equally fascinating is the unique insight which underpinned her beliefs, which is admirably illustrated in these lectures and articles. Montessori's method is entirely conditioned by her attitude towards children. Margot R. Waltuch quoted Montessori as saying:*

When I am in the midst of children, I do not think of myself as a scientist, an observer, of theorist. I am NOBODY-and the greatest privilege I have when I approach them is being able to forget that I even exist-for this has enabled me to see things that one would miss, if we were somebody-little things, simple, but very precious truths.

      As I edited these lectures and articles, I was impressed by their simplicity and originality. As Waltuch comments:*

Montessori's treatment of a theme was brilliant; her delivery faultless. She never wrote her oral presentation down; she never gave the same lecture twice...whenever Montessori spoke, she made it seem so simple, giving very little indication as to how complex her ideas really were.

      Recent scientific studies have suggested that there is an increased growth of the nerve pathways within the brains of newborn and young children whose environments have been characterized by oral and manipulative stimulation. Some contemporary psychologists have observed that children learn languages more easily at a young age, the ideal age being considered to be about eight years old. However, for decades children taught by the Montessori method have successfully begun to learn different languages as early as three years of age. Indeed, one of the L'Italia articles, reproduced here, illustrates this very point. None of these 'latest' scientific findings are new, as these 1915 California lectures and articles demonstrate. Moreover, it should be remembered that Maria Montessori, although she had degrees in medicine and psychology, did not have the advantage of the medical technology which is available today.

      In three of the San Francisco lectures Montessori warns newly pregnant to be careful about diet and not to drink alcohol or smoke in view of the damage this could cause to the fetus. In addition, Montessori stresses that pregnant women should be aware that sound also affects the fetus, and that they must therefore talk and sing to their unborn child. It is astounding that Maria Montessori made these discoveries almost a hundred years ago.

      In the sixth of the L'Italia articles, for example, Montessori outlines the chief cause of underachievement as being what she calls 'slavery'. This 'slavery', she maintains, manifests itself in two principal ways within the learning environment. The first is the child's desk, the second is the teacher. In 1915 such arguments were nothing short of revolutionary. In the L'Italia article she reiterated that the 'fundamental principle of my method is to leave to children the widest individual liberty in order not to impede in any way the spontaneous development of their actions'. For an American, predominantly Protestant, audience, to whom the phrase 'Do as I say not as I do' was axiomatic, such views challenged every tenet of their beliefs concerning the upbringing of children.

      The eighth L'Italia article continues this theme and provides a glimpse of what Montessori calls her 'new concept of discipline', i.e. not to teach children that immobility is good and activity is bad. This concept, which stands in sharp contrast to the almost universally held belief at this time that children were to be 'seen and not heard', is central to the Montessori method and one hundred years later, is of course widely accepted.

      Most teachers and parents approach the education of their students and children with he best of intentions, but unfortunately decide in advance not only how, but also what, their children should learn. Such an attitude, however, often prevents children from learning, and is, indeed, counterproductive, frequently frustrating parents, teachers and students alike. Children will usually resent forced instruction and, if this persists, will lose their intellectual curiosity altogether. In the lectures and articles reproduced here, Maria Montessori repeatedly challenges this method of forced education and invites teachers and parents to reconsider their attitude to children and the learning process.


      Maria Montessori was a unique teacher because she saw the children in her various Casa dei Bambini schools not as students to be taught but as sources of inspiration capable of teaching her. At the heart of her California lectures and articles is a call for a radical change in teacher' attitudes. 'The point', she states, 'is that the teacher must not learn a new method, but must acquire new attitudes' (see San Francisco lecture, 6 August).

      Montessori wastes no time making the attributes of her 'new type or teacher' clear to this American audience. she states that 'her virtue consists in never interrupting the world of the child [while] at the same time, giving help where she sees that help is necessary'. Elsewhere in this lecture, Maria Montessori emphasizes these points very succinctly:

The more the teacher has been able to lose or forget her old position the more able she will be to become a good teacher in this method. Another thing which she must learn is to quiet, because she must not give lessons and therefore, she must not give discourses. That is much more difficult than to learn to talk-one learns only after long practice. Another thing which the teacher must learn is to contain, to hold back the impulse to intervene, to counsel or to advise. This is a most difficult thing to learn. The greatest height of the ability of the teacher will be attained when she has reached that point where the children can work entirely alone, without her help in any way.

In the same lecture, Maria Montessori recounts a simple story to illustrate her concept of the new teacher:

One of the children who had learned to write and was at the height of his joy because of his ability to write went to the teacher and said to her, 'Signorina, do you know how to write too?' The teacher had succeeded in directing and developing and knew how to hide this to the greatest extent possible; such is the most important, the very greatest triumph of a method which has as its principle the liberty, toe development of the individual child.

      This story admirably conveys the essence of Maria Montessori's child-centered philosophy of education, which is clarified and expanded so expertly in this series of historically important lectures and articles.


This book would never have seen the light of day without the help and goodwill of Mario Montessori, who allowed the lectures to come into my possession, and the invaluable support of Edna and Andrea Andriano, and Elisa Harrison. In addition, of course, appropriate thanks are due to ABC-CLIO Limited and the patient encouragement of Dr. Robert G. Neville.

Several librarians were generous in providing me with source materials and helpful information. In San Francisco, I would particularly like to mention: Karen Elsber, California Academy of Sciences Library; Susan Goldstein and Pat Akre, San Francisco Archives and History Center; and Baiba Strads and Ray Stokes, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. Thanks also to Donna Ewald for the photograph of Maria Montessori with the children in the glass-walled classroom at PPIE and also to Robert F. Buckenmeyer, President, United Digital Color, San Francisco for his help in capturing this image on disk.

The encouragement of friends, Elena Heil and Olga McAdam and also the kind assistance of Fr. Aurelio Villa, O.F.M. in translating many of the articles all contributed in time of need.

Thanks also to my loving wife who met my fits of frustration with quiet suggestions.

Finally, I would like to dedicate this work to Maria Montessori, a woman so far ahead of her time. Would that all educators might share her passion for observation and her love of children.

1. The San Francisco Chronicle, 25 September 1913 and San Diego Herald, 9 July 1914.

2. Bearing in mind the fact that $100 in 1915 is equivalent in about to about $3000 in 1997, the costs of staging the PPIE were enormous.

3. Dorothy M. Gaudiose, author of the recently published Mary's House states that Adelia Pyle was born in Morristown, New Jersey, 17 April 1888, to James Tolman Pyle and Adelaide McAlpine Pyle and christened in the local Presbyterian church. After preparation and instruction under a Jesuit priest, in 1913 Adelia Pyle was baptized a Catholic and took the name of Mary. Thus, when she translated Maria Montessori's lectures in San Francisco, she was known as Mary Pyle. Edna Andriano also verified Adelia Pyle's name to be Mary Pyle in a letter dated 28 July 1997 to the editor.

4. Margot R. Waltuch, A Montessori Album (NAMTA, 1986), p.3.

5. Ibid., p.4.

Robert G. Buckenmeyer

Sonoma, California, May 1997


Creative Commons License