Educator. Born Emma Hart on February 23, 1787, in Berlin, Connecticut.
Emma Willard is remembered for her trailblazing efforts on behalf of women’s education. Raised by a father who, while a farmer, encouraged her to read and think for herself, she attended a local academy from 1802 to 1804 and then began teaching.
In 1807 Emma Willard went to Middlebury, Vermont to head a female academy there. Two years later she married a local doctor named John Willard. She opened her own school, the Middlebury Female Seminary, in 1814 to provide advanced education that young women were denied by colleges. Her Address... Proposing a Plan for Improving Female Education (1819) was a much admired and influential proposal to get public support for advanced education for young women.
Emma Willard moved to Troy, New York, in 1821, where she opened the Troy Female Seminary. (It was renamed the Emma Willard School in 1895.) With both boarding and day students, in some respects it was the first U.S. institution of serious learning for young women, though even it recognized that most of its graduates would be housewives, not professionals, and most of its students came from families of means. The school actually made a profit, and she also earned money from the textbooks she wrote. (She also wrote poetry; only “Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep” remains known.)
After her husband died in 1825, Emma Willard remained at school until 1838. Her son and daughter-in-law took over management of the school for her. She had a disastrous second marriage and was separated within nine months. Her later years were spent in traveling to promote education for women, and she returned to Troy in 1844. She died in 1871.