Dr. Maria Montessori

Dr. Maria Montessori, often considered the first female physician in Italy, innovated the Montessori approach to education. The Montessori method concentrates on the specific developmental needs of the child. Montessori believed that everyone learns differently, and at their own pace. She created a new type of classroom, a prepared environment, to accommodate and stimulate the individual interests of her students. The Montessori method has successfully been in existence for over a century.

Children are taught on a one-to-one basis in a prepared environment, specially designed to meet the requirements of Maria Montessori’s philosophy of education. The materials in an authentic Montessori classroom are specifically designed and engineered to increase and enhance the education of your child.

The History of Montessori in St. Louis



Montessori has a long history in St. Louis. As early as 1913, a small class of children was created in the home of McKittrick Jones in Westmoreland Place in what is now the Central West End. The children are working with classic Montessori materials: dressing frames, pink tower, stereognostic materials, etc. and the two adults seemingly were trained Montessori guides. On the wall there is a diploma with the iconic Roman emblem of Romulus and Remus. Dr. Maria Montessori’s very first international course for teachers was in Rome in 1913. Presumably one or both of the women in the picture had attended Montessori’s first class. In 1913, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and Helen Keller endorsed her method of education.

For reasons beyond the scope of this discussion, Montessori lost popularity in the U.S. from the time of this picture, before the first World War, until after the second.   But in the nineteen sixties, there was a revival of interest in the United States. In 1964, Mrs. R.E. Felling founded Countryside Montessori on Ladue Road as an AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) school and in 1967, she brought Pearl Vanderwall, a young woman who had trained with the dottoressa herself in 1944, to St. Louis.

Mrs. Vanderwall and her husband Will, were willing to leave their beloved Ceylon (Sri Lanka) because of the political unrest and civil war there. She worked for Mrs. Felling for several years but left to start her own school, which she named Villa di Maria. For many years, Villa di Maria was a struggling little school, surviving in church basements but it gained a reputation for the little miracles that happened with the children. Families and parents were absolutely loyal to Pearl. Over time the little school grew from one classroom to two, and so forth, as she moved from Incarnate Word on Olive Rd. to Des Peres Presbyterian on Clayton Rd. to Mercy Center. By that time the school included children from 2 ½ through the elementary.

Before coming to the United States, Mrs. Vanderwall had worked as a course assistant at the Good Shepherd Maria Montessori Training Centre St. Bridget’s Convent in Colombo, Ceylon. When Mario Montessori, Maria’s son, asked her to take on a second task, that of training teachers in the U. S., she balked. But always loyal to AMI and the Montessori ideals, she founded the AMI Montessori Training Center of St. Louis in 1971, which was recognized as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in 1972.

The little Montessori Training Center of St. Louis trained teachers and followed Villa di Maria as the school moved from the Olive address to the Clayton Road address to the Mercy Center facility and finally to the Kirkwood property where Villa di Maria is still an AMI Montessori School today.

In 1991, after 20 years of training teachers, Mrs. Vanderwall retired, leaving Annette Haines as the Director of Training. Annette, an AMI 3-6 teacher, had begun the AMI Training of Trainers Programme in 1982 and apprenticed under Vanderwall for the eight years it took her to become a fully qualified AMI Teacher Trainer. During that time, she earned an AMI Elementary diploma as well as a Masters and Doctorate in Education. From 1991 until 2000, The Montessori Training Center of St. Louis conducted courses at Villa di Maria in Kirkwood.

From 2000 until 2013, The Training Center rented space at what is now the Chesterfield Montessori School on Ladue Road. During this period, the training center also gave three AMI Primary satellite courses for Montessori teachers in Kansas City for the Kansas City Missouri School District.  In 2013 the training center purchased our current location in Grand Center.  The property was renovated and opened the Training Center in June 2014 and the Lab School that September.

Today, The Montessori Training Center of St. Louis continues to train teachers in Missouri and from around the world. Students come from all over the United States and from as far away as Taiwan, Romania, Sweden, Russian, China, Korea, Mexico, etc. to attend its AMI course, which offers the most in-depth, complete, and authentic course on Montessori education available anywhere. 

In 2016, MTC began training Assistants to Infancy and opened a Lab School for children ages 15 months to 3 years of age. 

In 2017, MTC purchased the building next door at 3858 Washington Blvd. and will open its doors in 2018 to offer Elementary Lab School class serving children ages 6-12.

Montessori education in St. Louis has a long history; it has a longer future ahead of it.