A Clear Voice for Montessori: Elisabeth Caspari

By Lombard, Marjorie Ann | Montessori Life, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

A Clear Voice for Montessori: Elisabeth Caspari


Lombard, Marjorie Ann, Montessori Life


As a teacher of teachers, Dr. Elisabeth Caspari (1899-2002) traveled extensively for 50 years, sharing the wisdom she had gleaned from her training under Dr. Maria Montessori in Adyar, India, and from 4 years of frequent association with Montessori and her son, Mario, in Kodaikanal. The threads of opportunity that led to that association and that Caspari carried forward into a new career in the United States after World War II weave the tale of a very active life lived with an inspired and inspiring focus - to be a clear voice for Montessori s vision of the child.

Like Maria Montessori and her son, Mario, Elisabeth and her husband Charles spent the World War II years in India, unable to leave the country after war had been declared in Europe. At that time, Montessori was training teachers in Adyar, a suburb of Madras, as a guest of the Theosophical Society. The Casparis were tourists with a group visiting various Buddhist monasteries in India and Tibet.

Before the Casparis' tour was interrupted by news of dire happenings in Europe, they had spent time as guests at the Theosophical Society in Adyar. Here, the organizer of their tour (who also happened to be an acquaintance of Montessori) introduced the two educators. Caspari, holding doctorates in music and pedagogy from the University of Lausanne, was on a year's leave of absence from her music school in Chateau d'Oex, Switzerland. There she had developed a successful method of teaching piano, not only working with young students, but also training teachers from many European countries in her unique and specialized method.

"You were a Montessorian before you met me!" exclaimed Montessori, after inquiring about Elisabeth's methods of teaching music (Caspari, 1994). Caspari later recalled her impressions of that first meeting.

I was a musician and I knew her name, but not at all what her work was. After looking at my music books, she explained that she, too, starts with very young beginners, isolating difficulties. It is a principle of her method: the mind of the little child is not complex, and you don't give him complexity. You isolate the difficulty. I felt very good and after we had some wonderful meetings, she said, "Why don't you stay with me?" (Caspari, 1994)

But Elisabeth had committed to go on to Tibet with her group and knew she couldn't stay. "It was a terrible thing for me to have such an invitation and to leave. However, I did not know, then, that war would be declared and that she and I would be stuck in India for so many years" (Caspari, 1994).

Leaving Madras and passing through Bombay and New Delhi, the Casparis' group went on to Srinagar, in Kashmir, where they spent a number of months preparing for their further trek into the Himalayas. Following ancient caravan roads, they were welcomed in villages and monasteries, completing a good portion of their itinerary before being interrupted by news from Europe. They hurried back to Kashmir, hoping to start back to Switzerland, but all planes and ships were requisitioned for the military. Transportation was no longer available. Their Swiss bank accounts were also frozen.

Wondering where to turn next, the Casparis received a letter from a friend Elisabeth had made during their brief stay in New Delhi. "Her name was Mrs. Hotz; she was Swiss and of course was very delighted to talk French with me when our group had stayed at her hotel. So in the evenings I had escaped from our party, and we had spent most of the nights in her office having glorious times together" (Caspari, 1994).

Mrs. Hotz's letter read, "Dear Caspari, War is declared. What are you going to do? You had better come and see me" (Caspari, 1994).

In the letter was a check with two railroad tickets.

The couple spent 3 weeks with their hostess, but she soon had them traveling again - this time back to Adyar. Mrs. Hotz had asked Elisabeth, "What would you most like to do?" Her immediate answer: "Take the course with Dr. …

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