Age of Montessori’s Inspiration
Dr Elisabeth Caspari was and is the inspiration for Age of Montessori. She came to our school, trained our entire faculty, and took me (Mary Ellen Maunz) under her wing to train as a master teacher trainer. It was no easy feat. I had to give seven courses with her and write a 100-page master’s thesis to gain my certificate. She was cheerful, loving beyond measure, and very strict in upholding the standard.
Caspari took the standard directly from Maria Montessori, who told her in India, “I want you to be part of my team.” I think it was impossible to know Elisabeth Caspari for longer than fifteen minutes and not learn at least a little bit about Montessori, her great teacher. Caspari constantly spoke about the message that was more than a method and that “education was never a pouring in, but a release from within.”
Twenty-three Years of Friendship
I loved her from the first moment I met her in the Los Angeles International Airport, where she had arrived from her home in Hilton Head, South Carolina, to visit our school. We recognized one another from across a room, and a deep and abiding friendship began that was to last twenty-three years. She was nearly eighty on that day, and who would guess that someone the age of eighty would become your mentor and best friend for more than twenty years!
Caspari, A Swiss Mountain Girl
Caspari was born in a little town in Switzerland, Chateau d’Oex, a lovely mountain village high in the Alps above Lake Lausanne. She always said that she was a mountain girl. It was only after I had visited her breathtakingly beautiful village that I truly understood her.
Born to a family of four children and the daughter of the local botanist/pharmacist, Elisabeth had a happy early childhood until she fell dangerously ill with tuberculosis of the foot. She spent the next fifteen years in bed. To help her cope, her father gave her piano lessons, something that did not require walking.
She refused to accept the fate of being an invalid all her life despite multiple surgeries that butchered her foot and caused her parents to try every possible cure. They finally found one that worked—the “Sun Doctor” in Switzerland. The treatments consisted of bathing her foot in the sun daily along with a good diet. Bones regrew and the determined young woman began to walk again.
Elisabeth married her beloved Charles Caspari, husband of nearly 50 years, in the Church of Chateau d’Oex.
Dr Caspari’s Education
She not only walked, she went to university all the way to the PhD level and opened her own school of music. Her degrees included:
Diplome de Perfectionnement from the Institute de Ribaupierre, Montreux, Switzerland
Diplome de Pedagogie I
Diplome de Pedagogie II, Summa cum Laude, Ecole Normale de Musique de Lausanne, Switzerland
She directed the school for fifteen years. It was so successful she had the children of the crowned heads of Europe sending their children to her. At this point in her life, she knew nothing of Montessori.
Meeting Maria Montessori – Life-changing Tibet Trip
Then she and Charles were invited by a wealthy friend to accompany her on a pilgrimage to Himis, a famous Buddhist monastery high in the Himalayas in a study of comparative world religions. The Casparis decided to go; their lives would change forever.
In the weeks leading up to their expedition, the Casparis visited Adyar, India, where they had the pleasure of meeting Maria Montessori. Elisabeth and Maria spent many hours talking and Montessori invited her to take her course. Caspari had commitments to the expedition and had to decline, but not before showing Montessori her systematic music books for young children. Caspari fondly recalled the day when Maria Montessori had one of Caspari’s music books on her knees and told her, “You were a Montessorian before you met me!”
The Casparis and their host headed off to the high Himalayas with more than 100 pack ponies. It was high in the Himalayas at Himis that they met a Buddhist monk who showed them an ancient scroll. He told them, “This scroll says your Jesus was here.” But that is a story in itself, better left for another day.
In 1939, Charles, who kept in touch with the outside world through his short wave radio, told the rest of the party that World War II had been declared. They turned around to head down the mountain and go home. The only problem was, there was no civilian transportation available. The Casparis had no money and no place to go.
They contacted a Swiss friend in Darjeeling who invited them to come and rest for a while. Then she offered them funds for whatever they wanted to do. Caspari said, “I would like to go study with Dr. Montessori.” And so it was: Caspari took the course with Maria Montessori in India from 1941 to 1942.
Teaching in India
After the course, they had to find a way to live and they both found employment at an American missionary high school in Kodaikanal, India. Of all the thousands of little hill towns of India, this was the same place Montessori—technically an enemy alien as an Italian—was sent. Montessori and Caspari visited and collaborated for the four year period of 1942-1945 and opened a Montessori school together in the Casparis’ home.
Finally, after eleven long years in India, the Casparis were ready to leave and they made a momentous decision. Rather than returning to the old world of Europe, they would go to the United States and start a new life here. Their families were shocked.
Taking Montessori Education to America
– Rekindling Montessori in the US
They ended up in Kansas City, where Charles found work as a translator for the Unity School of Christianity’s Daily Word. They settled in at Lee’s Summit, Missouri, with Charles translating and Elisabeth teaching piano. Elisabeth remained in correspondence with Montessori after the India years.
Myrtle Fillmore, the wife of Unity founder Charles Fillmore, urged Caspari to start a little school. So it happened that Elisabeth Caspari purchased the first set of Montessori materials in more than thirty years. Although Montessori had started with a bang in the US in 1912, it came under attack from establishment educators and all of the schools closed by the early 1920s. Elisabeth Caspari opened her school in the early 1950s, the first Montessori school since the 1920s. At right is a photo of children doing the thousand bead chain in her first school.
Elisabeth taught for many years, and then went to Italy in 1964 to study with Dr. Giuliana Sorge, one of the last presenters for Dr. Montessori at her international courses. The US demand was great and Caspari began to offer training as the original mobile course. She often spoke of herself and Charles as Montessori gypsies, traveling around with their U-Haul full of Montessori materials. She offered training in Missouri, Georgia, Kansas, Florida, South Carolina, California, Montana, Mexico, and back home in Europe.
Mary Ellen Maunz, Elisabeth Caspari & Age of Montessori
Elisabeth Caspari and Mary Ellen Maunz spent many years teaching Montessori together and collaborating on ideas for developing language materials. The great love and mutual respect between them led directly to today and the Age of Montessori.
Caspari’s Montessori Teacher Training Legacy
Elisabeth Caspari was articulate and erudite. She understood Montessori with her heart as well as with her head. Hundreds of teachers around the world have been trained by her. There are at least six master teachers trained by her, including Mary Ellen Maunz, founder and Program Director of Age of Montessori and Randall Klein, member of the Age of Montessori faculty. Beverly McGhee, founder of the Alexander Montessori Schools in Miami and trainer for many years with the American Montessori Society, Dr. Feland L. Meadows, co-founder of the Pan-American Montessori Society, and Anita Wolberd, founder of Caspari Montessori Institute, all studied with her.
Age of Montessori is blessed and fortunate to have more than 300 hours of footage in our video archives of Dr. Caspari teaching and lecturing. She worked with us to film the entire course several times over, and she gave many lectures and interviews as well. Some of this footage is contained in our Age of Montessori training course. Stay tuned as video excerpts will be added to our website and on YouTube.
Her words and her presence in the videos bring us great love and comfort. Her knowledge was both entirely practical and yet founded on a deep consideration of Montessori’s profound message. If Montessori were with us today, I am certain she would applaud Elisabeth Caspari as one of the truest carriers of her message.
The Montessori Family
Montessori wrote in The Formation of Man: “I feel as if I were addressing a strong family which must continue along this road we have opened up and which, young and vigorous though it be, has great need of faith and hope.” She goes on to say in the same little volume:
The question is not to deliver man from some bonds, but to reconstruct; and reconstruction requires the elaboration of a “science of the human spirit.” It is a patient work, and endeavor based on research, to which thousands of people, dedicated to this aim, must contribute.
We are that family. All of us who have been teaching and who will be teaching are part of that family. We welcome all who read this to join our family as we dedicate ourselves anew to this science of the human spirit.