Born Emma Hart on Feb. 23, 1787, in Berlin, Conn., Emma Willard is remembered for her trailblazing efforts on behalf of women’s education.
The sixteenth of seventeen children, she was fortunate to have a father who believed in educating his daughters as well as his sons. She attended local schools and then began teaching near her home in 1804.
In 1807, Emma Willard went to Middlebury, Vermont, to run a female academy there. Two years later she married a local doctor, John Willard. She retired from teaching, and then, in 1814, she opened a girls’ school in her home to help with family finances. A few years later, she wrote A Plan for Improving Female Education, a widely admired and influential proposal intended to win public support for girls’ schools. She advocated equal education for young women through the academy level.
In 1819, with the encouragement of Governor DeWitt Clinton, Emma Willard moved to New York and opened a school in Waterford. After two years there, she moved to Troy, where she opened the Troy Female Seminary. (The school was renamed in her honor in 1895.) Thousands of young women passed through the Troy school during her lifetime. Although most were wealthy and worked mostly as wives and mothers, many of her graduates became teachers, writers, and social activists. During her lifetime, the school was a for-profit institution. Emma Willard became financially successful, both from the profits of her school and from the best-selling textbooks that she authored.
Emma Willard left daily management of the school to her son and daughter-in-law in 1838, the year she made a disastrous second marriage. (She had been widowed in 1825.) She spent the last thirty years of her life traveling and writing, although the seminary and Troy remained her home base. She died in 1870.
To read more about Emma Willard, visit the National Women's History Museum. To learn more about the school in its present location, watch 100 Years on Mount Ida below:
Student letters and the Emma Hart Willard collection
A wealth of historical documents provides written and visual proof of the school’s rich history.
LEGACY OF LEADERSHIP »
Weird on the Heights of Ida
Delve into historical notes about Emma Willard School.
EMMA THEN »