Teachers through History: Emma Willard

Emma Hart Willard (1797-1870) is an American educator who dedicated her rights to women’s education. The daughter of a farmer, Emma was nevertheless encouraged to read, write and think independently. She was the trailblazer of women’s education and opened several important schools throughout her life at a time when education was seen as only the domain of men.   

Emma started school in 1802 at the local academy however after 2 years at the school, when she was just 17, she began teaching. After some years teaching, she quickly made a name for herself and rose to the post of principal of a female academy called Middlebury Female Seminary in Vermont. She quickly realised how different and unimpressive female education was and began to formulate her own ideas of what a female education should be. Not long after joining the academy she left to open a boarding school in her own home and started incorporating elements from the male curriculum.

Her success teaching girls traditionally male-only subjects like maths and philosophy inspired her to campaign for women’s higher education. This eventually led to her opening the first school to offer women the same higher education opportunities as men. This school, now called Emma Willard School - or more often simply as Emma - still exists to this day as an independent university-preparatory day and boarding school for young women in Troy, New York.  

Aside from this legacy, she is remembered for her writing and her development of the influential Plan of Female Education, which changed the face of teaching and education in America. Then, during the last part of her life, she travelled across Europe lecturing and promoting her cause. Emma is now inducted to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans and the Willard Memorial stands into Vermont, a small testament to the importance of this great figurehead of women’s education.

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