Willard, Emma

Willard, Emma

Willard, Emma, 1787-1870, American educator, pioneer in woman's education, b. Emma Hart in Berlin, Conn. She attended and later taught in the local academy and in 1807 took charge of the Female Academy at Middlebury, Vt. Two years later she married Dr. John Willard. In 1814 she opened a school in her home, where she taught subjects not then available to women. In 1818 she addressed to the New York legislature an appeal for support of her plan for improving female education, and Governor Clinton invited her to move to New York state. Her school was opened (1819) at Waterford but promised financial support was not forthcoming, and in 1821 the Troy Female Seminary was founded under her leadership. Troy became famous, offering collegiate education to women and new opportunity to women teachers. She wrote a number of textbooks, a journal of her trip abroad in 1830, and a volume of poems, including "Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep." In 1838 Willard retired from active management of the school, which was later renamed in her honor. She devoted the remainder of her life to the improvement of common schools and to the cause of woman's education.

See A. Lutz, Emma Willard, Daughter of Democracy (1929) and Emma Willard, Pioneer Educator of American Women (1964).

The Emma Willard School, originally called Troy Female Seminary and often referred to simply as "Emma," is an independent university-preparatory day and boarding school for young women, located in Troy, New York on the scenic Mount Ida, offering grades 9-12 and PG. It was founded by the women's advocate Emma Willard in 1814 and has an endowment of $115 million.


The Troy Female Seminary was founded by Emma (Hart) Willard in 1814 in Troy, New York. Prior to its founding women were generally excluded from being able to attend college. The schools that were open to them taught subjects that were deemed appropriate for the women of the time. Hart opened the Middlebury Female Seminary in her home in attempt to try to further the education of women. In 1818 she sent a plan titled Plan for Improving Female Education for a female seminary to Governor DeWitt Clinton of New York. The legislature rejected the proposal, but the city of Troy's Common Council raised $4,000 to purchase school buildings, and the Troy Female Seminary was created. The school was immediately successful. Willard remained the head of the seminary until 1838. In 1895, the school was renamed Emma Willard School. In 1910, a new campus was built for the school through the donations of Olivia Slocum Sage, an alumna: in 1916, the old campus became Russell Sage College.

Since 1814, Emma Willard School has been one of the nation's leading college preparatory boarding and day schools for young women. Known for its academic rigor, the school promotes intellectual curiosity and disciplined study habits through a challenging curriculum distinguished by a wide array of advanced placement courses and electives. It also promotes active involvement in the life of the campus and off-campus communities through a co-curricular program. The school's remarkable physical plant is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and provides a beautiful yet state-of-the-art setting for learning and living. Throughout its history, Emma Willard has been committed to enrolling a diverse student body from the Capital Region, across the country, and around the world. This commitment is honored by significant expenditures in financial aid to assist families who might not otherwise have the opportunity to provide an extraordinary secondary education for their daughters.

Academic Program

College preparatory with Advanced Placement preparation is offered in all disciplines. Students also may enroll in courses at neighboring Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Most students take five courses each semester. Classes meet four or five times each week for forty minutes, although lab sciences, seminars, and AP sections meet for varying lengths of time. An ESL program offered at the intermediate level and above supports a small number of international students for whom English is the second language. Core requirements for graduation include a minimum of four units of English; three of history, foreign language, mathematics; two of lab science (one each in biology and physics), two in the arts, and one-fourth in health. In the fall of 2005, Emma began its Physics First program for all incoming 9th grade students. All students must fulfill a community service requirement and take physical education or its equivalent each semester in the 9th, 10th, and 11th grades (seniors must take at least ten weeks). Class rank is not provided. The grading system uses letter grades with plus and minus notations and number grades with quotation marks. Emma Willard's extensive independent study program, Practicum, allows students to pursue classwork at area colleges, career internships, community service, and individualized athletic training and competition off campus for academic credit. Over one-third of the students participate in Practicum each year.

Student Body

309 (203 boarding, 106 day.) Current students come from 28 states and 13 foreign countries. Ninety-nine new students enrolled in fall 2007. Of the 309 students, 52 are students of color (according to guidelines established by the National Association of Independent Schools), 56 are international students, and 56 have an alumna or current sister relationship to the school. There are 92 students in the Class of 2008.


Emma Willard's campus on Mount Ida, above the City of Troy, NY, contains 30 buildings. The three oldest buildings, all of collegiate Tudor Gothic style, include a cathedral-like reading room, classrooms, offices, a main auditorium, a dance studio, a lab theater, three residence halls, two dining facilities, a student center, and a chapel. The art, music, and library complex opened in 1967. The library holds more than 32,000 volumes and 77 periodical subscriptions. Seven online databases with full text augment the journal collection. The collection also includes 196 CDs, a sizable art and architecture slide collection and the archives, which include 19th-century photographs and manuscripts and some medieval manuscripts. Athletic facilities include a gymnasium with two basketball/volleyball/ indoor tennis courts, full facilities for fitness training and aerobic dance, a weight room, an aquatics center housing a competition-size pool, three large playing fields, and an all-weather track. The three-story Hunter Science Center houses state of the art laboratories and teaching facilities for chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics. The campus is famous not only for its gothic beauty but for its system of interconnecting underground tunnels. Approximately 75 percent of the faculty reside on campus in houses and apartments provided by the school.

Athletics and Physical Education

Emma Willard has eleven interscholastic sports teams, and they are as follows: field hockey, soccer, volleyball, tennis, cross country, swimming, basketball, lacrosse, softball, crew, and track. There are currently (2007) 29 athletics coaches and personnel at Emma Willard. Among facilities are: a pool, weight room, aerobics studio, two athletics fields, a state of the art track, eight tennis courts, and woodlands running paths. Physical education at Emma Willard is a part of every student's curriculum, and sports count as part of this program.


Emma Willard School is a member of the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools, The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS), the New York State Association of Independent Schools, and the National Association of Independent Schools.


  • Of the 315 applicants for fall 2005, 177 (56%) were offered admission and 100 enrolled.
  • Emma Willard's annual operating budget in 2004–2005 was $13,591,500. Fifty-five percent of operating revenues came from tuition and fees and endowed scholarships, 20% came from the endowment ($91 million), 11% came from annual giving ($1.5 million), and 14% came from all other sources.
  • A financial aid budget of $2,114,542 enables 131 students (41%) to receive awards ranging from $1,000 to $33,750. The average grant is $16,880. The average award for boarding students is $21,900; the average for day students is $9,400. Eleven students received merit scholarships. Ninety-eight percent of grant dollars is awarded on the basis of need and 2% is given on the basis of academic merit or special talent.
  • There are 7,302 alumnae.


  • Senior Triangle - a large triangle of grass in inner campus where only seniors and alumnae are permitted to walk. Breaking this rule results in "carding."
  • Carding - a ceremony carried out by a group of seniors known as the "carding committee" in which underclasswomen who have stepped on the triangle are embarrassed in some silly way.
  • Eventide - a ceremony during which the choir sings and candles are placed all around the senior triangle.
  • Revels - an elaborate, highly anticipated play performed each year by the senior class. The cast list is confidential and the parts are unknown until you see the performance.
  • Revelizing - when the under informed guess which part each senior will be in the performance of Revels

Additional Items of Note

  • The School was used as a filming location for the films The Emperor's Club (as St. Benedict's Academy) and Scent of a Woman (as Baird School). In both of these films, the school is portrayed as an all-boys school.
  • EWS was "the first school in the country to provide girls the same educational opportunities given to boys" "Subjects included reading, writing, grammar, arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, geometry, astronomy, botany, natural philosophy, zoology, geology, mineralogy, chemistry, physiology, history, geography, maps, the globe, Greek and Higher mathematics as well as such women's finishing schools' staples as drawing, dancing, painting, French, Italian, Spanish, and German"
  • Emma Willard School served as the basis for a study of adolescent women conducted by Carol Gilligan. Gilligan's resulting book, Making Connections: The Relational Worlds of Adolescent Girls at Emma Willard School, was published in 1990 by Harvard University Press. Trudy Hanmer, the current Associate Head of School and former Interim Head of School, was one of the book's editors.

Notable Alumnae

See also

External links

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