Celebrating Emma Willard Women’s History Month

For Women’s History Month, the Central Libraries Special Collections (CLSC) celebrates a pioneer in American education reform for women.

Emma Willard

Born in 1787 in Connecticut, she grew up on a farm as one of 17 children. Her father encouraged her to read, learn, and engage in conversation regardless of her gender. Carrying this support forward, she worked her way through school, teaching classes by age 17. In 1814, she established the Middlebury Female Seminary in her home, teaching subjects typically reserved for males including classics and the sciences. Frustrated with the existing curriculum, she began to address the state legislature with new plans for women’s education. In 1821, she opened the Troy Female Seminary in Troy, N.Y. Now known as the Emma Willard School, this school provided a stage for Emma Willard to explore and create new curriculum. She traveled, lectured, and published new textbooks in history and poetry to inspire new generations of educated women.
Emma Willard died in 1870 leaving a legacy of strong educational foundations for women.

The CLSC holds a few original copies of Mrs. Willard’s writings:

“Abridged history of the United States, or Republic of America” by Emma Willard, Selby & Dulany, 1860.
Call # : E178 .W555x 1860 (Hughes Collection)

“Woman and the higher education” ed. by Anna C. Brackett; Harper, 1893.
“A plan for improving female education / Willard, Mrs. E. (H.)
Call # : LC1756 .B8 1893

Excerpt from Willard’s “The fulfilment of a promise, by which poems, by Emma Willard are published: and affectionally inscribed to her past and present pupils.” New York, 1831

“For woman, too, the dream of prophecy
Darkly, there,
In days gone by, I brooded o’er her wrongs;
I looked o’er earth, nor saw one single nook,
Where she had justice. Governments ne’er sought
To train her youth to knowledge, bring her forth
By art perfected upon nature’s plan;
And while the state her coffers open’d wide
Her sons to elevate, her daughters groped
Through Error’s mazes;–seeing not, so thick
The darkness, that they needed light ; for fashion
They took for reason, show for worth. Such was
Woman’s condition in earth’s favour’d climes.
But seek in barbarous lands for man’s companion—
Companion! no! ah, no! man’s property!
See where she bears his game, a human beast
Of burden. Look again—a living doll,
Trick’d out for his amusement.”

Emma Willard, we salute you for all your work for women’s education rights! CLSC

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