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Catalog Archive / Fall 2022

The Best Weapon for Peace
Maria Montessori, Education, and Children's Rights

George L. Mosse Series in Modern European Cultural and Intellectual History
Steven E. Aschheim, Skye Doney, Mary Louise Roberts, and David J. Sorkin, Series Editors

Finalist, Laura Shannon Prize

Winner, American Association for Italian Studies First Book Award

Winner, International Standing Conference for the History of Education (ISCHE) First Book Award

“Innovative and extremely well-documented. This volume reframes the life and work of Maria Montessori within the context of international peace studies. She deserves recognition as a pioneer who faced gender barriers and nevertheless almost won the Nobel Peace Prize. Moretti gracefully weaves portraits of historical topics into this narrative of Montessori's intellectual life.”
—Mary Gibson, John Jay College and the Graduate Center–CUNY

The Italian educator and physician Maria Montessori (1870–1952) is best known for the teaching method that bears her name. She was also a lifelong pacifist, although historians tend to consider her writings on this topic as secondary to her pedagogy. In The Best Weapon for Peace, Erica Moretti reframes Montessori's pacifism as the foundation for her educational activism, emphasizing her vision of the classroom as a gateway to reshaping society. Montessori education offers a child-centered learning environment that cultivates students' development as peaceful, curious, and resilient adults opposed to war and invested in societal reform.

Using newly discovered primary sources, Moretti examines Montessori's lifelong pacifist work, including her ultimately unsuccessful push for the creation of the White Cross, a humanitarian organization for war-affected children. Moretti shows that Montessori's educational theories and practices would come to define children's rights once adopted by influential international organizations, including the United Nations. She uncovers the significance of Montessori's evolving philosophy of peace and early childhood education within broader conversations about internationalism and humanitarianism.


Erica Moretti is an associate professor of Italian at the Fashion Institute of Technology–SUNY and the Millicent Mercer Johnsen/National Endowment for the Humanities Rome Prize Fellow. She is the recipient of the SUNY Chancellor's Award in Scholarship and Creative Activities.




“More than just a fascinating account of the life and groundbreaking thought of Maria Montessori, this scrupulously researched book sheds new light on her humanitarianism, feminism, and environmentalism, all contextualized in a transnational framework. It will inspire readers from a variety of disciplines interested in education and peace.”
—Lorenzo Benadusi, author of The Enemy of the New Man: Homosexuality in Fascist Italy

“Combines intellectual history, biography, and political theory to alter our understanding of Maria Montessori’s life and legacy. Moretti draws on extensive archival research and on readings of the broad range of Montessori’s lectures, letters, lesson plans, and published writings to recast the celebrated educational reformer as a theorist of peace. In an era of catastrophic geopolitical conflict, teaching became a means to work toward peace on a global scale. For decades, Moretti argues, this vision sustained Montessori’s far-flung pedagogical projects. To ignore the central place of pacifism in these projects is to miss a crucial dimension of Montessori’s work.”
Annali d’Italianistica

“An impressively researched, exceptionally well written, and deftly presented biography.”
Midwest Book Review

“A landmark publication, bringing a new perspective to Montessorian historiography. It presents Montessori’s educational project as a means to promote peace. Consequently, this study of her lifetime contribution is not a biography but a transnational history of Montessori’s educational thinking and practice. . . . A valuable contribution.”
Paedagogica Historica

“This remarkable biography of three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee and one of the earliest women in Italy to receive a medical degree deserves everyone's attention. . . . Moretti's study is lively, robust, impressively documented, meticulously researched, and richly illustrated. . . . [This] groundbreaking work represents a substantial contribution to the field of peace history, peace studies, and, especially, peace education.”
—Peace & Change

“A monumental intellectual history of Montessori's pacifism [that] places Montessori as a central figure in 20th-century global humanitarianism, disaster relief, peace activism, and social reform. . . . Moretti's retelling shows us Montessori in action—engaging with Italian and global leaders, including the Pope, Mahatma Gandhi, Rukmini Devi, and Benito Mussolini, and existing in contradictory states of radical vision and political compromise.”
—Mira Debs, Montessori Life

“Brings a new perspective to Montessori’s educational thought as a contribution to the field of history of education and the history of human and children’s rights. . . . The book offers a rich analysis of Montessori’s work for anyone interested in the transnational history of peace education.”
Nordic Journal of Educational History

“The wealth of information and the meticulous use of sources are the strengths of Moretti’s work, through which she succeeds in offering a detailed perspective on the interconnections between Montessori’s education and her promotion of peace. The microhistorical approach is extremely effective in revealing the transnational distances crossed by Montessori and in providing a global perspective on her life, highlighting the social context within which Montessori’s ideas and pedagogical methods originated. . . . The book also stands out as a contribution of considerable interest to the wider history of peace.”
Modern Italy



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Best Weapon for Peace: A black and white photograph of Maria Montessori, a middle aged woman wearing a pearl necklace, looking intensely into the camera. Design by Nancy Zucker Design.

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October 2022
296 pp. 6 x 9
34 b/w illus.

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