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Emma Hart Willard

Born: February 23, 1787
Place: Berlin, Connecticut
Died: April 15, 1870
Place: Troy, New York

Emma Hart Willard Emma Hart Willard was born on February 23, 1787 in rural Berlin, Connecticut. Her family was large; she was one of 17 children born into the family whose farm south of Hartford was quite a prosperous operation. As a young girl, she showed an early interest in learning. She was inquisitive and self-reliant. It was not common at the time to encourage young women to seek anything but an ordinary basic education, but Emma's father could see that she was anything but ordinary, and he encouraged her in her desire to learn. She was included in family discussions that were at the time considered to be male areas of thought, such as politics, philosophy, world affairs, and mathematics. Emma entered Berlin Academy when she was 15, and flew through what the school had to offer. A few years later she was teaching there, while still studying for herself. She also taught for a short time in Westfield, Massachusetts, until she accepted a position as principal of the women's academy at Middlebury, Vermont in 1807. Emma at this time was only 20 years old, but she was quite successful as a teacher and administrator. Here she also met her husband, Dr. John Willard, a prominent citizen and freethinker. Like Emma's father, Dr. Willard encouraged Emma in her educational pursuits.

In 1814 Emma Hart Willard opened a boarding school for girls in her Middlebury home. Her purpose was to offer improvements in teaching methods and to offer subject areas to women that were missing from girls' schools of the day. Women's boarding schools at the time were usually "finishing schools", schools that offered young women (usually of wealth) skills of refinement, such as painting, singing, perhaps a bit of French, etc. Emma believed strongly that women could master other areas, such as political thought, mathematics, sciences, and philosophy, and she included these subjects in her curriculum. Emma Willard thought her ideas were important enough to influence a broader audience, so in 1818 she refined her ideas for improving women's education in a work titled A Plan for Improving Female Education. She presented the work to the New York legislature, but was not received whole-heartedly. Her plan included the proposal that a women's seminary be founded and supported publicly, as a number of men's institutions were run. She finally found an influential supporter in New York's Governor Clinton. The road was rocky, but the end result was the establishment of a seminary for women at Waterford, New York that received only meager support from the state. In 1823, Emma Hart Willard moved to Troy, New York, when the Troy town council established a fund to support a women's school. The Troy Female Seminary began a long tradition of educating women in fields such as mathematics, philosophy, geography, history, and sciences. She led the school to a position of success and influence as it became a model for the comprehensive education of women. Emma Hart Willard headed the institution until she stepped down in 1838 and left the school's leadership to her son.

Emma Hart Willard did not fade away in her later years. She traveled to Europe. She assisted in establishing a school for women in Athens, Greece. She published numerous articles on education. She traveled thousands of miles throughout America, and presented lectures to promote the cause of education. She wrote textbooks, prose, and poetry. Emma Hart Willard died in 1870, but we celebrate her life for her success in advancing the educational opportunities for women in a young nation whose founding principles encouraged its citizens to follow their convictions and pursue their ideals.

One of the books that Emma Hart Willard published, History of the Americas, is still in print. It is an amazing collection of her observations on U.S. historical events. This book may well go out of print, but for now it can be purchased through Amazon.com. If you are thinking of building up your historical reference shelf with important books that may become hard to find in a few years, you should grab this work now. Its scope is huge. Not only does it cover U.S. historical events from 1492 to 1826, but it also contains an appendix of important historical documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Articles of Confederation, and the U.S. Constitution. This is a very unique publication. Purchase Emma Hart Willard's History of the Americas by clicking here.


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