Maria Montessori was born in Chiaravalle, Italy, on August 31, 1870. She always seemed to be a girl ahead of her time. At age 13, against her father's wishes, Maria attended a boys' technical school. She studied engineering for seven years. Then she studied premed. She graduated with a degree in medicine from the University of Rome. She was the first woman in Italy to receive a medical degree. She officially became a physician in 1896.
Maria joined the medical staff at the university's psychiatric clinic. There she worked with special needs children. She became convinced that youngsters with mental disabilities could learn a lot more than even the experts thought.
In 1901, Maria Montessori became the director of the Orthophrenic School of Rome where children with mental disabilities stayed. There Maria provided special needs children with mental stimulation and meaningful activities. People began to recognize Maria's work when many of the children passed public school standardized tests meant for sixth graders.