[Editor's note: This article appeared in part in the March 2004 issue of Public School Montessorian and is reprinted with permission of the editor.]
This coming fall will mark the 12th anniversary of Nancy McCormick Rambusch's death. As the founder of the American Montessori Society and as its first president, Nancy reintroduced Maria Montessori to America at a time-1960-when education for the young was floundering, and a second look at the Montessori method, which had changed the early childhood landscape for the better in the early 20th century, was sorely needed. Nancy was unique among educators. In this article, I will discuss some of her influences.
Much of Nancy's private life was just that: private. Thanks to Ginny Cusack and Marcia Stencel, I have been able to view some taped lectures that Nancy presented at Princeton to a group of parents about a year before her death. These tapes are part of a small collection of materials housed at Princeton Montessori School. In these tapes Nancy talked about some of her early experiences with her own parents, and told a number of stories about them in order to make one point or another to the parents she was addressing.
To demonstrate the need to stay tuned in to children and utilize their experiences to assist them in their growth and development, Nancy recalled a time when she came home from school and told her father that the nun (her teacher) had said the "funniest thing." Her father asked what that was. Nancy said she should have anticipated her father's response from his tone of voice but went right on, saying that the teacher had called the mountains between France and Spain "PYARIENS" (instead of the correct "Pyrenees"). Without any hesitation, her father responded, "That was Sister's best information." On the tape, Nancy concluded, "That was a good answer. I really admired that. He was saying, 'She is not an object of derision for you, a 9-year-old with a smart mouth.' " This was a lesson that Nancy learned early in life and was passing on to these parents. It was also the way she conducted her own affairs throughout her life. She learned to listen to others and share her best information.
Adults who came in contact with Nancy over her active career were enriched in a multitude of ways. She was a mentor and an enabler to many women, helping to stretch their vision in ways they could not have imagined. Cusack characterizes her special relationship with Nancy this way:
Nancy became a mentor to me in all aspects of both school and personal life. She had thoughts, experiences, and opinions on most issues, whether it was administration, training, parenting, staff development, teaching, family life, or even sports! She openly shared her ideas . . . She read books the way some people eat chocolate bars! We had so many conversations and talks about so many different topics that I often told her she was the source of my PhD in life. …