Willard's Pioneering the Education of Young
Pioneering the Education
of Young Women
Emma Hart Willard
Excerpted from an autobiographical sketch by E Willard (1787-
1870) which describes her first challenge at 17 as a teacher. No
training was required, no mandated taxes, she was unconstrained.
She began Troy Female Seminary in 1821 where she taught subjects
believed beyond girls grasp like science. In 1838, she turned
the school over to her daughter-in-law and son. She was a
superintendent for Henry Barnard in Hartford, CT.
None of my teachers so understood me as to awaken my powers
or gain much influence over me. THAT IS A HELL OF A STATEMENT!!
My father taught us by reading to us each eve. Village
library: Plutarch, Rollins, Gibbons, travel, Brit Lit.
At 15, new academy run by Thomas Miner was opened. From
mother's inheritance Emma's sister, Nancy, spent part to attend.
Emma chose to visit relatives instead after giving an eloquent
oration about "the folly of seeking to be educated above one's
means." Upon return after a fortnight she saw the books of her
sisters and heard of the lessons and decided to attend the next
day, Saturday. She worked and overtook her class. SHE IS A
DRIVEN COMPLETIVE WOMAN. She consumed Webster's Grammar and
Morse's Geography. She studied in difficult situations under
dire circumstances. "Lessons so learnt are not easily
forgotten." I never failed. She attended the academy for 2
years and couldn't have received a better education for girls.
She met a lady named Mrs Peck, 40, who treated Emma as an equal.
They shared dreams and secrets. In 1804, at 17, Emma was offered
the village children school.
Her first day started at 9 am. I seated myself among the
children to begin the profession that lasted 40 years. In
the longest morning of her life, she attempted to evaluate her
charges, who had gained bad habits from her predecessor.
Talking did no good, reasoning and pathetic appeals were useless.
At noon, she spoke to Mrs Peck who suggested the rod, "Oh no, I
would never use the rod," protested young Emma. The school was a
scene of confusion when she returned. Mrs Peck's son soon
appeared with 5 rods. She threatened, but used to threats, the
kids soon were acting up. She mildly flogged one and more
severely another and so on with increased severity until they
quieted down. I must and would have their obedience. The next
morning she had docile and orderly scholars. They had
recreation (recess), pleasant and interesting studies, constant
praise, good reports home. Soon the school was admired in
neighbourhood. Literati came to visit.
After teaching and studying, Emma joined Dr Miner. At 21
she took over a female seminary in Middlebury, VT. She married
Dr Willard 2 years later.
Her new boarding school in Middlebury (1814) was to relieve
husband of financial burden and to do better than other schools
about her. Within a couple of years she had a school better than
any. Middlebury reminded her of the disparity of education
between the sexes. She was going to correct the error. She wrote
a plan on "Improving Female Education" she proposed to give to a
legislature. She feared her vision, she would be called insane,
for the expectations she entertained on this matter. To achieve
this, she continued to educate herself, to gain fame as a teacher
and have personal influence, and be sought in other places, where
influential men would carry her project to some legislature for
the sake of making a good school.
Her exertions became intense as she spent 10-12 hours a day
teaching; started new courses each term which she learned
simultaneously as she taught; offered each course with a certain
expectation (an exam); labored to make each student
understand their subject; get warmed to it; to see the
beauties and advantages of it. It was a 3 step process: 1)
Lecture sprinkled with questions and short answer class
discussion, "if attention fails, teacher fails"; 2) scholars
recited to show understanding without mistake, they could
remember; and 3) scholar could communicate her
understanding via exam.
Reputation as teacher gains: drill and practice exercises;
pupils acquired character and confidence; scholars capable of
teaching; some aided in acquisition of new courses. She set out
to improve geography which resulted in Woodbridge and
Willard's Geographies. Professors from the college observed
her classes, but she did not observe theirs. CURIOUS!! She had
no model except her own faith of her own convictions of her mind.
A proposal to use some of the vacant dorms at Middlebury as a
seminary was proposed but eventually failed. She considered a
geographic point in NY convenient to the females (5) who
expressed a desire to attend such a seminary and wrote to Gov
Clinton asking for a "charter." The letter and "plan" she sent
to the Gov was received warmly and acted on quickly. The result
was creation of the Troy seminary, later named the Emma
Willard School, and was the first law whose sole object was to improve