On this Day: First Casa dei Bambini

Wednesday 6th January 2021

In 1942, on 6 January Maria Montessori shared the story of San Lorenzo and the first Casa dei Bambini with her students:
“Today is the anniversary of the opening of the first Casa dei Bambini. Quite often people ask if this method is suitable for poor children, so let me share the miraculous way in which all of this came about.

Many years ago Rome was a capital that was rapidly developing, which manifested itself in frenzied building activities. Every small bit of space that could be found was built up for the growing population. One of the few spaces left was bordered on one side by old Roman walls and on the other side by a cemetery. This plot was the last to be built up, possibly because of the superstitions surrounding the dead, for fear of ghosts and also hygienic reasons. One building society decided to take the plunge and they built 5 apartment blocks. It turned out to have been too ambitious a project and the scheme fell through. So what stood were walls, a kind of skeleton buildings without plumbing. It became a hiding place for homeless people; and those who wished to hide found shelter within those walls; even the police was not keen to go into this area as the place became a breeding place for crime and infectious diseases. 

This San Lorenzo Quarter was talked of with abhorrence and seen as the shame of Italy. At some stage, another bold building society took on the challenge to renovate the buildings and allocated the flats to married couples. There were some 50 young children who lived unsupervised in these buildings, prone to mischief. The solution found was to gather them all in a room during the day and they looked for a gutsy person who would be willing to take on the social problems and work with the children.  

I was approached as a medical officer of hygiene to take an interest in this work. Before I could agree I stipulated that certain conditions needed to be met in the way of hygiene, food and sanitation. It was quite fashionable among ladies in society to take an interest in efforts to elevate the people and some of these were prepared to support the project. 

Although the lot of the poor was taken seriously, the children had been overlooked. There were no provisions for them, no toys, no teacher, nothing. I managed to find a woman of forty years whose help I asked, and who was willing to take charge of the children. 

It was on the 6th January 1907 that this room was inaugurated.”

First Casa dei Bambini