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Portrait of Emma Willard
Portrait of Emma Willard courtesy of the Emma Willard School

Emma Willard, a pioneer in early women’s education, arrived in Middlebury in 1807 at the age of 19.

Willard had accepted a summer job teaching at an all-girls’ school, located on the top floor of the local neighborhood school. (A boys-only school, of course.) It didn’t take long before she ruffled feathers. Middlebury College professors denied Emma’s requests to observe classes (the College wouldn’t admit women until 1883) and local Christian clergymen complained that her school was indecent, even unnatural.

Emma was not discouraged. Inspired by the Middlebury homework and textbooks her nephew, John Willard, Class of 1813, brought home, Emma aspired to teach girls the same subjects taught to boys, like mathematics, Classics, and geography. So, in 1814, seven years after arriving in Middlebury, Willard established her own school for girls, the Middlebury Female Seminary.

A working mother, Emma Willard launched her school in her own house, at 131 South Main Street. Today, her home (and her first girls’ school) is used by the Middlebury College Admissions Office. 

Emma Willard House
A cyanotype photographic print of the Emma Willard house, 1890
Emma Willard letterhttps://archive.org/details/a9ms_1808_rockwoodc_18141023https://archive.org/details/a9ms_1808_rockwoodc_18141023https://archive.org/details/a9ms_1808_rockwoodc_18141023https://archive.org/details/a9ms_1808_rockwoodc_18141023
Handwritten letter from Emma Willard to her friend, Louisa Foote, October 23, 1814. You’re not surprised that Emma Willard had incredible penmanship, are you? See the full letter at Archive.org.

Special Collections will continue to feature women writers and historical figures throughout March as we celebrate Women’s History Month.

Keep an eye on our Instagram for more.

Questions? Email specialcollections@middlebury.edu