Emma Hart Willard

Emma Hart Willard

Emma Hart Willard, born shortly after the Revolutionary War in 1787, surpassed intellectual expectations of her generation early on. She entered school in 1802 at the age of fifteen. Willard belonged to the generation of the first free, American born citizens; therefore the female members obtained their education centered around the ideals of republican motherhood. Unlike others of her age, she came from a family of seventeen children and lacked the same access to resources as upper class young ladies. Willard obtained a job as a teacher soon after she enrolled in school and rose through the ranks of her female academy in Berlin, Connecticut. Both necessity and a “self-supporting [attitude]” motivated young Emma to become a teacher (Solomon, 18). By nineteen, she gained the head position of her school (Britannica). Willard wrote to a friend that her “leading motive was to relieve…[her] husband from financial difficulties…[and] the further object of keeping a better school than those about me” (Seller, 526).

Willard not only surpassed expectations of a young woman in her early twenties, but maintained momentum early in her career. Despite the fact that she taught in order to support her husband, a failing doctor, she used her affection for learning to capitalize on the opportunity to hold a job outside of the home. Primarily men obtained teaching jobs for most of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Not only did Emma Hart Willard step out of her domestic sphere, but she employed lessons in her school that would encourage her students to do the same. The “Willard Plan” for educating young women “rested on the cogent argument that the well-being of the republic demanded educated mothers,” yet her demand for a more liberal education would later empower her students and future generations (Seller, 526).

 

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