We’ve been watching the Murdoch Mysteries for some time and more and more I can’t help seeing a massive contrast between the fictional character of Julia Ogden and the real woman, Maria Montessori.The Murdoch story line is set around the end of the 19th Century in Toronto. Maria Montessori lived In Italy, mainly in Rome.
Both women trained as doctors. Julia makes a big deal of this showing off that she managed this as a woman. Maria trains and as far as I can find never made a big deal of herself about this. A minor difference between the two characters but one that I just like is that Julia simply does her post mortems whereas Maria employed a man to smoke cigars while she did hers because she hated the smell of dead people.
Both women have affairs and become pregnant (although I believe Maria’s affair was more serious than Julia’s). Maria puts the life of her son first and gives birth naming him Mario. Her family help to take care of him. Julia puts her career first and has her baby aborted.
Maria and Julia work with sick children; Maria with mentally ill and with
developmentally delayed children. Julia flits between her work, Maria dedicates her life to these children.
Maria Montessori sees the problems of poverty and puts all her efforts into providing a good education for poor children to help alleviate that poverty.
Julia (who by last night’s episode has one enormous god-complex) sees the poor and joins with the eugenicist thinkers in trying to eradicate the poor, rather than poverty. She tries to push poor women to buy contraception with the money they are barely making last for food. She also assumes that poor women are being beaten by their poor husbands because of course, as many eugenists taught, the poor are wicked. She also pathologises pregnancy; something many many women today are fighting against, because of the damage it has done to women and babies.
The legacy of eugenics has been and continues to be truly ugly. The contraceptive revolution has destroyed families and seriously damaged the health of women. But the legacy of Montessori is an education system that deeply respects the soul of the child and the children’s relationship with their parents. So thankfully Maria Montessori is the real deal, and Julia Ogden is fictional.
I don’t know much about the history of Canada, but here in the UK at this point, the work of Florence Nightingale was being seen as important and there was great work being done by Catholics (since emancipation) Quakers and the fairly newly formed Salvation Army. These people weren’t try to eradicate the poor, they tried to clean things up to eradicate diseases, especially things like chlorea. They worked for better housing, better justice for the poor and genuine care. It takes a great deal of humility to do that kind of work.