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Emma Hart Willard
Founder of the First Women’s School of Higher Education
Emma Willard was a pioneer in women’s education and the founder of what is now known as The Emma Willard School, a private, independent school for girls located in Troy, New York.
Emma Willard was born in Berlin, Connecticut, the sixteenth of seventeen children. She attended local schools, and began teaching near her home in 1804. In 1807, she went to Middlebury, Vermont, to run a female academy. There, she married a local doctor, John Willard, and wrote A Plan for Improving Female Education, a widely admired and influential proposal intended to win public support for girls’ schools.
Willard believed that women could master topics like mathematics and philosophy rather than just subjects taught at finishing schools—a radical idea at the time. 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.
Willard published a history of the United States, as well as several geography books. She was a strong opponent of the Civil War and was one of the first women to appear before Congress. While not a suffragette herself, one of her students, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, went on to become a leader of the suffragette movement.