Planning for the Future

In 1814, Emma Hart Willard established a boarding school in her home where she taught young women “ornamental” subjects such as music, dance and needlework. She soon emphasized a more advanced curriculum similar to those of a men’s college, which included subjects such as history, languages such as Greek and Latin, and mathematics. As she developed higher standards of female learning, she wrote “A Plan for Improving Female Education.” For fear of being “regarded as a visionary, almost to insanity”, she asked a friend to present her plan to governor De Witt Clinton of New York (Seller, 526-27). The plan beseeched legislature to endow a female seminary. In the opening of the address, she explained:

“I therefore hasten to observe, that the seminary here recommended, will be as different from those appropriated to the other sex, as the female character and duties are from the male.”

Furthermore, she described the motivations behind a firm, advanced education.

“To contemplate the principles which should regulate systems of instruction, and consider how little those principles have been regarded in educating our sex, will show the defects of female education in a still stronger point of light, and will also afford a standard, by which any plan for its improvement may be measured. Education should seek to bring its subjects to the perfection of their moral, intellectual and physical nature: in order, that they may be of the greatest possible use to themselves and others: or, to use a different expression, that they may be means of the greatest possible happiness of which they are capable, both as to what they enjoy, and what they communicate.” – Emma Hart Willard, “A Plan for Improving Female Education.” (

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Willard understood the public would not endow a college that served to become an equal with male colleges. Instead she addressed the benefits to which educated ladies would contribute as future wives of the new nation. Regardless of the reasons for which she worked towards an advanced female education, Willard was one of the first women to include legislature in the process of the improvement of female education.


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