“The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind.”
Margaret “Peg” Cox Smith (1929-2015)
Co-Founder of Amherst Montessori School
The Amherst Montessori School Community is saddened to share news that our founder and friend Margaret “Peg” Smith passed away peacefully on March 20, 2015.
Margaret (Cox) Smith of Amherst, who raised eight children, co-founded and directed the Amherst Montessori School, and earned a doctorate in early childhood education, died peacefully Wednesday, March 18, 2015, at home.
Peg Smith, as she was known to family and friends, was born in Brookline in 1929, daughter of Dr. Oscar F. Cox and Ethel M. (Ferguson) Cox, a native of Nova Scotia, Canada. She attended Radcliffe College, graduating in 1951.
In 1950, she married Francis D. Smith, a teacher and novelist and later the first dean of humanities and arts at Hampshire College. She trained at the Maria Montessori Institute in England, and in 1970 she and Marcia Matz (later Marcia Stein) co-founded the Amherst Montessori School. She served as the school's first director. After retiring from that position, she worked as an early childhood education consultant and counselor. In 1978, she earned an Ed.D. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Her volunteer activities included teaching religion classes for children with special needs at St. Brigid's Catholic Church in Amherst, leading Great Books discussion groups, and working on issues of hunger and environmental education through St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Mystic, Connecticut, and Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst.
Peg’s impetus for founding Amherst Montessori School was to create a learning environment that the children would find both enjoyable and exciting. She wanted the children to never be bored and encouraged independence and self-confidence.
When founding Amherst Montessori School she shared that the system “makes learning available to children through all their senses and leaves modes of investigation open to them.”
In an article posted in the Amherst Record on December 23, 1969 Margaret referenced her experience with her own eight children, “if you count the six pre-school years working with each of my own eight children as ‘empirical homework’…I began grad school with 48 years of intensive research.”
Peg believed in the Montessori method of learning to read and write at an earlier age that “changes the texture and quality of what comes later.” Peg firmly believed this early start eliminates what is called the lag time between a child’s readiness to learn and their formal education.
Shelley Poreda, Director of Amherst Montessori School, expresses heartfelt sympathy for the Smith family on behalf of the community; “we send our warmest condolences to Peg’s family. She was a true pioneer in education innovation and we can only hope to proudly continue to meet her standards, embrace her values, and sustain her vision for Amherst Montessori School.”
She is survived by her husband; son Christopher Smith O'Carroll and his wife Karen Manners Smith of Pelham; daughter Margaret Smith and her partner Raymond Kenyon Bradt, Jr., of Muncie, Indiana; son Samuel Smith and his wife Dorothea Valdez Smith of Branford, Connecticut; daughter Marian Black and her husband Richard Black of South Hackensack, New Jersey; daughter Kevyn Smith of Amherst; son David Smith and his wife L. Sue Szabo of Toledo, Ohio; son Sean Smith and his wife Marilyn Schwinn Smith of Amherst; son Brian Smith and his wife Teresa Dooley-Smith of Belchertown; 18 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
Peg donated her body to Tufts Medical School, alma mater of her son David and her paternal grandmother, Ann Caroline (Perrins) Cox.
The Smith family is working with the School to set up the fund and plan for a celebration of Peg’s co-founding of the School at a later date. Gifts may be made online to the Peg Smith Scholarship Fund at Amherst Montessori School (please indicate the Peg Smith Scholarship Fund), or call AMS at 413-253-3101 or checks may be sent to: Amherst Montessori School, Peg Smith Scholarship Fund, 27 Pomeroy Lane, Amherst, MA 01002.
*Sources: Amherst Record, December 23, 1969 by Nancy Frazier; Amherst Bulletin Obituaries, March 2015.