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AMS & the Montessori Movement

Interest in Montessori first swept the country in the early 1900s, but the frenzy was short-lived. Though more than 100 schools sprang up in the space of 5 years, by the 1920s Montessori had virtually vanished from the education scene.

By 1960, however, a distinctly American version began to take shape. In the decades to follow, Montessori schools in the U. S. would grow steadily in number, and today the country is a worldwide leader in Montessori education.

The American Revival

The leader of the resurgence was Nancy McCormick Rambusch. Like Maria Montessori, the founder of the Montessori Movement, Dr. Rambusch was charismatic, well educated, and a tireless advocate.

In 1953 Rambusch was a young teacher in search of alternatives to traditional American schooling. Her quest took her to Paris for the Tenth International Montessori Congress, where she met Mario Montessori, Maria’s son and successor (as leader) of the Montessori Movement.

Mario urged her to take coursework in Montessori education and to bring the Montessori Method to the U.S.

Rambusch embraced the idea, and within a few years she was conducting Montessori classes for her own children, and others, in her New York City apartment. In September 1958, in collaboration with a group of prominent Catholic families, she opened Whitby School in Greenwich, CT.

The following year, Mario Montessori appointed Dr. Rambusch to serve as the U.S. representative of the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI). Six months later, in 1960, the American Montessori Society (AMS) was born. The goals of AMS mirrored those of AMI: to support efforts to create schools, develop teacher education programs, and publicize the value of Montessori education.

The last goal was clinched in 1961 when Time magazine featured Dr. Rambusch, Whitby school, and the American Montessori revival in its May 12 issue. The article galvanized the American public, and parents turned to AMS in large numbers for advice on starting schools and study groups. Additional publicity in the popular media, including Newsweek, The New York Times, and The Saturday Evening Post, and the publication in 1962 of Dr. Rambusch’s book, Learning How to Learn, led to dramatic growth in the number of Montessori schools and students.

A New Emphasis

From the beginning, Dr. Rambusch and AMS advanced Montessori education into mid-20th century American culture. AMS insisted that all teacher educators have a college degree so that the coursework could, potentially, be recognized by state education departments. AMS also broadened the curriculum for teachers and sought to forge inroads into mainstream education by offering Montessori coursework in traditional teacher preparation programs.

Mario Montessori disagreed with these changes, and in 1963 AMI and AMS parted ways. The two organizations have since reconciled their differences, and now enjoy a collegial relationship of mutual support and respect.

Today, AMS is the largest Montessori organization in the world, with more than 1,300 member schools, over 13,000 individual members, and close to 100 AMS-affiliated teacher education programs. Timothy J. Purnell, EdD, serves as executive director.

In recent years, both AMS and AMI have made it a priority to extend Montessori education to greater numbers of children in the public sector. Today there are Montessori programs in more than 400 public schools, many of which are charter schools. Among the states with bragging rights for the most Montessori public programs are Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, and Texas.


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