Willard, Emma Hart

Willard, Emma Hart

(1787–1870) educator; born in Berlin, Conn. Raised by a father who, while a farmer, encouraged her to read and think for herself, she attended a local academy (1802–04) and then began to teach. In 1807 she went to Middlebury, Vt., to head a female academy there, marrying a local doctor in 1809. In 1814 she opened her own school, the Middlebury Female Seminary, to provide advanced education that young women were denied by colleges. Her Address… Proposing a Plan for Improving Female Education (1819) was a much admired and influential proposal to get public support for advanced education for young women. In 1821 she moved to Troy, N.Y., where she opened the Troy Female Seminary; with both boarding and day students, in some respects it was the first U.S. institution of serious learning for young women although even it recognized that most of its graduates would be housewives, not professionals, and most of its students came from families of means. The school actually made a profit and she also earned money from textbooks she wrote. (She also wrote poetry; only "Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep" remains known.) Her husband died in 1825 and she ran the school until 1838. Her second marriage proved disastrous and she separated within nine months. Her later years were spent in traveling to promote education for women. She returned to Troy in 1844. (The seminary was renamed the Emma Willard School in 1895.)
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.