Essay: Emma Hart Willard

Emma Hart Willard was an American women’s rights activist who committed her life to education. She administered at various schools and established the first school for women’s higher education, the Troy Female Seminary in Troy, New York. With the success of her school, Willard was able to journey across the country and overseas, to advance education for women. The Troy Female Seminary was renamed the Emma Willard School in 1895 in her honor. Miss Willard was born on February 23, 1787, in Berlin, Connecticut (Lutz, 1990). She was the 16th of 17 children from her father, Samuel Hart, and his second wife Lydia Hinsdale Hart (Lutz, 1990). Her father was a farmer who inspired his children to read and think for themselves. At a young age, Willard’s father noticed her passion for learning. At that time women were only given basic education. However, Willard was involved in family discussions of various fields of education that were mainly male subjects (Lutz, 1990). At age 15, Willard was commissioned in her first school in 1802 in her hometown of Berlin. She advanced so quickly that just 2 years later she was teaching there at the age of 17. Willard eventually earned charge of the academy for a term in 1806 (Lutz, 1990).

In 1807, Willard left Berlin and briefly administered in Westfield, Massachusetts, before acquiring an employment opportunity at a female academy in Middlebury, Vermont. She had the position of principal at the Middlebury Female Seminary from 1807 to 1809 (Lutz, 1990). However, she was not satisfied by the curriculum taught there and started a boarding school for women in 1814, in her own home. She was influenced by the subjects her nephew, John Willard, were learning at Middlebury College and aimed to enhance the material that was taught at girls’ schools (Lutz, 1990). Willard affirmed that women could adept topics like mathematics and philosophy rather than just subjects taught at finishing schools. This eagerness for women’s education led her to battle for the first women’s school for higher education. Her success influenced her to share her ideas on education and to write ‘A Plan for Improving Female Education’ in 1819, a booklet that she showcased to the members of the New York Legislature. Her plan involved a outline for a women’s seminary to be publicly promoted just as men’s schools were (Lutz, 1990). Willard was not given feedback from the legislators, who accept women’s education to be contrary to God’s will. Willard was given feedback from New York Governor DeWitt Clinton, who encouraged her to start a school there (Lutz, 1990). Originally Willard started a school in Waterford, New York but she was not given the guaranteed economic assistance and therefore moved her school to Troy, New York, where she was given more assistance (Lutz, 1990). The Troy Female Seminary started in September 1821, for boarding and day students (Lutz, 1990). This was the first school in the United States to give higher education for women. When Emma Willard spoke to the New York State Legislature in 1819, “For like reason, too, much poetry should not be indulged.” Emma Willard told the legislature that the education of women “has been too exclusively geared to fit them for displaying to advantage the charms of youth and beauty” (Lutz, 1990). The problem, she explained, was that “the taste of men, whatever it might occur to be, has been made into a standard for the formation of the female character.” Reason and religion teaches us, she stated, that “we too are main existences… not the satellites of men” (Lutz, 1990).

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