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Mario Montessori and UW

In January 1917, University President Charles Van Hise directly received a request to enroll at UW-Madison from an already notable name in the field of education: Montessori.

The young man wrote that his mother, famed teacher and educational innovator Maria Montessori, had been “so enthusiastic over the university,” that he wished to become a student there.  Mario had only just met his mother years before; she had kept her love affair with Guisseppe Montesano secret, leaving their son in the hands of family members and nurses until his adolescence.

In the intervening years, Montessori rose to prominence as a doctor after having been the first women to attend and graduate from medical school in Italy. She also developed a new theory of childhood education, founding various schools based on its principles. 


After their reunion, Mario and Maria quickly became close. In 1916, he traveled with her to the United States and studied for a time at Columbia University. Although he did not accompany his mother on her 1916 visit to Madison (during which time she presented her research on education at Music Hall), he was clearly impressed by the UW.

Nevertheless, Mario’s time in Wisconsin was remarkably short; by the end of 1917, he and his family had rejoined Maria in Europe. Eventually, Mario became his mother’s primary colleague and collaborator in her effort to spread the Montessori method across the world. But the mystery remains: why didn’t Mario remain in Madison? Did the cheese curds fail to live up to his mother’s rave reviews? The Archives yield few clues… 

For more information about this story or UW-Madison campus history, visit On, Wisconsin!

Posted by Jill Slaight for UW Archives.

Filed under Montessori UW-Madison campus history Guisseppe Montesano Van Hise education Italy WIhistory

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UW (Madison) Faculty Kids, c. 1890s

Imagine your kids are on the playground at school, engaged in a time-honored round of “my dad’s stronger than your dad” or “my mom’s smarter than your mom.”

And then, they run into THIS bunch. Here’s how I imagine it goes down:

  • "My dad can see stars!”
  • "Big deal, my dad’s the university president and some day, they’ll name a really odd-looking building after him!” 
  • "Oh yeah, my dad introduced microscopic slides to campus, will someday found the study of lakes, will be university president AND have a normal-looking building named after him.” 
  • "Sift this, Birgey, my dad’s a worldwide champion of academic freedom!” 

Who wins? I’d say it’s a toss up. But what a intriguing bunch of childhood playmates!


UW Archives image #S07183: Children of UW Faculty, c. early 1890s. From left to right: Helen Flint (later Ingersoll), Richard T. Ely Jr., Edward G. Birge, Anna G. Birge and Janet Van Hise. Posed with their teacher. 

Notes: Helen Flint was the daughter of Albert S. Flint, staff astronomer at the Washburn Observatory. She later married renowned UW physicist, L.R. Ingersoll. Edward G. and Anna G. Birge were the only two children of Edward Asahel Birge. Janet Van Hise was the daughter of Charles Van Hise. Richard T. Ely, Jr. was the son of Richard T. Ely, Sr. 

For more information about this photo or UW (Madison) campus history, visit or contact 

Filed under faculty kids 1890s Van Hise Ely Birge Ingersoll Flint UW-Madison university faculty history US history Wisconsin Madison