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.