The forgotten Franchettis

The Montessori school in Villa Montesca, 1909
  Seated on the couch of the acclaimed Italian writer and feminist, Sibilla Aleramo, was Dr. Maria Montessori and Alice Hallgarten. In this meet, their chat particularly revolved around social issues such as bettering the living conditions of farmers, women’s liberation and reforming education. Both Montessori and Hallgarten believed that the solution to the social problems they faced in Italy was in the reformation of the educational system. In fact, Montessori and Hallgarten had just started their own schools. Dr. Montessori, her famous Casa dei Bambini (a.k.a Children’s House) in Via dei Marsi 58, while, Hallgarten, a school on the second floor of her house. Inspired by Dr.Montessori and the mind-blowing outcomes of her school system, Hallgarten along with her husband baron Leopoldo Franchetti visited the Casa.
Baron Leopoldo Franchetti and Baroness Alice Hallgarten
 Leopoldo Franchetti, was an Italian politician and economist, whose work focused on agricultural economic reforms in Southern Italy. He was particularly concerned about the miserable living conditions of the farmers during his time. He wrote in his report La Sicilia nel 1876 that life of farmers ‘were the most miserable, and unhappiest of all Italy’1.  He, therefore, worked hard to improve the life and culture of farm workers. Hallgarten, on the other hand, was American and passionate about education. She set up an infant school for the farmers’ children in their grand residence Villa Montesca.

Corsa di Pedagogia Scientifica publication
Franchetti and Hallgarten were so impressed by Dr. Montessori’s work that Franchetti was quoted saying, ‘These words and this method must not wander from mouth to mouth, but must become a means of propaganda’2
 
They invited Dr. Montessori to Villa Montesca to stay with them for a short while so she could put her ‘method’ into writing and train their teachers in the new ‘method’. In twenty days the manuscripts for her book were ready, and immediately printed with the help from the Franchettis. Thus, Il Metodo della Pedagogia Scientifica applicato all’ educazione infantile nelle Case Dei Bambini (The Method of Scientific Pedagogy applied to the education of children in the Casa dei Bambini) was published in 1909, in Città di Castello. 
 
The book had these dedications written in front: ‘To the noblewoman Baroness Alice Franchetti Hallgarten and to Baron Leopoldo Franchetti, Senator of the Kingdom, I dedicate this book which they wanted and thanks to them comes out today to the life of thought, baptizing in scientific literature the ‘Children’s Houses’’

The participants of the first Montessori training
course in Villa Montesca, Città di Castello


Following this, on August 1909, Dr. Montessori gave her first ever training Corso di Pedagogia Scientifica (Scientific Pedagogy Course) which was attended by about seventy participants, including teachers and some local education authorities, with each of them receiving a copy of her book. In the inauguration, baron Franchetti said: “I have the honour to present Dr. Montessori who came among us to attend this course – the fruits of her studies have advanced education along the path that was opened by the great educators of the past centuries…” 3

With the success of the book and the first training course, interest grew, the following year two courses were held in Rome; one, under the patronage of Queen Margherita, at the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Via Giusti, and the other, promoted by the Italian National Council of Women, at the primary school ‘E. Foa Fusinato’.

Later Dr. Montessori writes: “I was left in the dark, without help, no one to lift me, to support me in this human labour… Many visited the Children’s

Dr. Maria Montessori, Alice Hallgarten and
a young child at Villa Montesca

House to restore themselves in the spiritual bath, but only the Baroness Franchetti understood that this water would invigorate humanity.” 4

Sadly, all of this ends very quickly when Alice Hallgarten experiences a sudden death on October 22, 1911, and following this, broken and unable to bear the pain, baron Franchetti commits suicide six years later.  

Later in 1913 when the first English edition of  Il Metodo della Pedagogia Scientifica applicato all’ educazione infantile nelle Case Dei Bambini was published under the shorter title of ‘The Montessori Method’, Dr. Montessori gives special recognition to Hallgarten saying ‘To the dear memory of Baroness Alice Franchetti’, since an English publication of the book was something Hallgarten had longed to see before she died.

In fact, the Italian writer Sofia Bisi Albini says ‘without the impulse given by Baroness Alice Franchetti, perhaps the ideas of Maria Montessori would have reached the world slower’.

 
Photo taken by Cavini of the Montessori didactic materials that were once used in Villa Montesca, Città di Castello

Sources:

1 Franchetti, L. & Sonnino, S. (1876) La Sicilia nel 1876 Firenze: Vallechi
2 Trabalzini, P. (2011) Maria Montessori through the seasons of the “method” Cleveland, OH: NAMTA Journal
3, 4 Cavini, D. (2013) Storia di Alice che fu la talent-scout di Maria Montessori Città di Castello: Pioniere dell’educazione


Sid Mohandas is a Montessori practitioner from the UK. He received his Montessori training at Montessori Centre International (MCI), London. Later he pursued qualifications in Early Childhood Education with London Metropolitan University. He is currently a Research Student at the Institute of Education, UCL