Emma Hart Willard

Emma Willard
Emma Willard

Time Period


Notable Facts

Started one of the first higher education institutions for women, the Troy Female Seminary in 1821. Life long advocate of education for women. Writer of many scientific and educational textbooks.

Personal Information

Date of Birth


Date of Death


Primary Residence




Historical Significance

Emma Willard was a strong advocate for women's education and founded an early school of higher education for women in Middlebury. One of 17 children, she was encouraged by her father to pursue an education (an unusual pursuit for women at that time). She started teaching at 17, and, after teaching for several years in Massachusetts, she accepted an offer to teach in Middlebury, Vermont in 1807. There she met and married John Willard, a physician 28 years her senior.

Observing the dramatic difference in the quality of education her nephew received at Middlebury College, she began her life's work of making "classical" education available to young women.

Willard started the Middlebury Female Seminary in her home in 1814, teaching scientific and classical subjects previously thought only suited to men.

The success of the school prompted her to write "An Address to the Public...Proposing a Plan for Improving Female Education". Readers as prominent as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were impressed with her ideas.

The Governor of New York, DeWitt Clinton, invited Willard to open a school in his state.

This invitation led to the establishment of a school in Waterford, NY in 1819 and the Troy Female Seminary in 1821. Willard pioneered the teaching of science, mathematics, and social studies to young women. By 1831, the Troy Female Seminary had an enrollment of over 300. Willard was head of the school until 1838, at which time she left the school to pursue writing, traveling and lecturing. In 1895, the Troy Seminary was renamed the Emma Willard School.

Willard published many books in her lifetime, including several textbooks: "History of the United States, or Republic of America"(1828) and "A System of Universal History in Perspective" (1835). She also published a volume of verse titled "The Fulfillment of a Promise" (1831). Some of her later works include: "A Treatise on the Motive Powers Which Produce the Circulation of the Blood" (1846), "Guide to the Temple of Time and Universal History for Schools" (1849), "Last Leaves of American History" (1849), "Astronography; or Astronomical Geography" (1854), and "Morals for the Young" (1857).

In the mid-19th century, when many feminists advocated suffrage for women, Emma Willard, instead, argued that education was a more pressing need for women.

Organizations or Movements

  • Emma Willard School


  • Teacher
  • Writer
  • Administrator
  • Lecturer


  • High school

Additional Information (Bibliography)

  • Emma Willard School Link

  • Encyclopedia Brittanica Online Link

  • Duffy, John. "Emma Willard." In The Vermont Encyclopedia. University of New England Press, 2003.

  • Historic Vermont Markers Link