Karin Johnson Salzmann

Date of Birth

October 10th, 1931

Date of Death

July 13th, 2013

Memorial Meeting

Santa Fe Monthly Meeting


Karin Johnson Salzmann was born in San Francisco on October 10, l931, the only child in a matriarchy of strong women of Irish and Spanish descent. She moved to New York City when she won a Glamour magazine contest, “Ten Girls with Taste,” in 1952 and became the buyer and editor for their catalog. She met her late husband, Richard Salzmann, in New York City, whose career was at the United Nations. Richard and Karin raised two children, Katharine and Michael.

Karin’s lifelong passion for Montessori education was kindled at Goddard College, where she earned her degree. The Association of Montessori International (AMI/USA) was founded with her coaxing, and Karin served as its first executive director for twelve years. As the current executive director, Virginia Goodwin, recounted in her tribute, “Karin built a sense of community and trust with an emphasis on the spiritual aspect of Montessori.” With with husband, Richard, she “. . . initiated a more open process, setting the stage for the many activities that AMI/USA performs today. . . She had an enormous understanding of what it meant to be an international movement and the fact that this validated the universal nature of the child and our hope for world peace. Our Montessori world has been enriched by virtue of her very being.“

Karin went on to be Director of two Montessori schools in Connecticut. Later in life, she traveled the world as a Montessori examiner at teacher training institutes all over the US and abroad – to Thailand, Japan, and China. She increasingly directed her deep understanding of Montessori pedagogy to the pre-and-post-natal environments, especially to children in the birth-to-three age group. She studied videography and produced three documentaries on infant development. Here is a link to one of the documentaries that Karin filmed and narrated: www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSQlPW988lI.

Karin’s gifts of generosity and her discernment were present in Santa Fe Friends Meeting for a decade of her life, during the l990s. She served on Ministry and Counsel, and was engaged in many peace activities. The door to her home was always open for gatherings, formal and informal. People for Peace, newly formed to resist the first Gulf War, and the Los Alamos Study Group met there. Draft counseling sessions were held there. There were parties.

Karin was an artist. She designed her home, and its large living room had south-facing French doors that looked across a desert meadow. A mermaid swam across the length of a long kitchen cabinet facing the living room. On its top, a round electric skillet simmered with a dish for potluck. People for Peace made their banners and posters for the next demonstration on her living-room floor. Posters, banners, and flyers benefited from her skills as a graphic artist. She was a published poet and writer. Envelopes sent in February to friends were exquisite collages of poems and drawings by her and others. Thin sheets of colored paper were laced with tiny glitter that escaped containment, just like her, glitter that showed up years later in couch seams.

Karin’s daughter Katharine says that she was foremost a peace activist. Her commitments in life were in the service of peace. This included her faith that early childhood education could change the world, her Zen Buddhist practice, her Quaker faith and practice, her war resistance and anti-nuclear work with People for Peace, an action group following Quaker process. She attended the 1996 Hague Conference on the legality and use of nuclear weapons.

Karin moved to Trinidad, California in 1999, fulfilling her longing to live by the sea. She was in her seventies when she became part of the Humboldt County Friends Meeting, and Friends were impressed by the breadth and depth of her spirituality. She stood in judgment of no one. She considered life's challenges as teachers. Her dedication to peace was enduring, and remains a legacy.

She continued her work on social justice issues in Humboldt. Two of those issues were outreach about torture, and more recently, work on an effort to pass Proposition 34 to end the Death Penalty in California.

Characteristic of Karin, after her first round with cancer, she didn't look much different without hair; she still sported her sparkle and wit; she just wore bigger earrings. Her brand of healthy irreverence remained undimmed, it was easy to shed petty concerns when in her presence. Her indomitable positive attitude in the face of severe health issues made any other concerns seem trivial.

After Karin recovered from her initial cancer, she continued her dedication to Montessori education, traveling the world, teaching and certifying teachers, and even continued her own higher education. During the years before her death, she was writing a book for new mothers about prenatal development.

Karin faced death with joy and curiosity – an embarkation, as she saw it, on the next journey. Karin's blessings will continue to flow through our memories and our hearts; we are grateful for her companionship and inspiration. She died in Portland, Oregon, in her home on July 13, 2013, surrounded by her children and their cousins.