Emma Willard and her effect on educational opportunities.

Essay by kaboppleHigh School, 11th gradeA, April 2003

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Emma Willard was the first American woman publicly to support higher education for women. Her efforts advanced that movement in the United States. She also wrote a volume of poems that included Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep (1830).

Willard was born in Berlin, Conn., and started teaching school there at the age of 16. In 1809, she married John Willard. In 1814 Emma Hart Willard opened a boarding school for girls in her Middlebury home. Her purpose was to offer improvements in teaching methods and to offer subject areas to women that were missing from girls' schools of the day. Women's boarding schools at the time were usually "finishing schools", schools that offered young women (usually of wealth) skills of refinement, such as painting, singing, perhaps a bit of French, etc. Emma believed strongly that women could master other areas, such as political thought, mathematics, sciences, and philosophy, and she included these subjects in her curriculum.

Emma Willard thought her ideas were important enough to influence a broader audience, so in 1818 she refined her ideas for improving women's education in a work titled A Plan for Improving Female Education. She presented the work to the New York legislature, but was not received whole-heartedly. Her plan included the proposal that a women's seminary be founded and supported publicly. She finally found an influential supporter in New York's Governor Clinton. She established a seminary for women at Waterford, New York that received only meager support from the state. In 1823, Emma Hart Willard moved to Troy, New York, when the town council established a fund to support a women's school. The Troy Female Seminary began a long tradition of educating women in fields such as mathematics, philosophy, geography, history, and sciences. She led the school to a position of...