History of woman's education

American education started just as quickly as the settlers came to their “new world” however, until fairly recently, education has been predominantly male. Females were denied almost every right as a citizen, they could not hold property, could not vote, could not receive an education. Females were confined to the house to serve their father or husband, who owned them. There have been many pioneers for women’s education. A few will be presented in this paper. They are: Emma Hart Willard, Olivia Slocum Sage, and Mary Lyon.

Emma Hart’s education started when she was a very small girl, it is possible that her father, Samuel Hart, could have squashed her inquizitiveness when it was just beginning to ripen. On the contrary, he encouraged it. He had a very libral frame of mind in his day, and he educated his little girl as much as he could. When Emma was twelve she started to teach herself geometry, a study previously thought incapable for a female mind. Her father helped her study and even engaged her in philosophical discussions. When Emma was in her late teens she first attended, then eventually taught at several “girls academies” which were finishing schools.

In 1809 at the age of twenty two, she married Dr. John Willard. It was at this time she stopped her teaching and focused on being a wife and mother to John’s children and her own baby. Soon Emma Hart Willard got her fire back. This occured when she began reading the books John’s eldest son brought home from college. Her feelings towards female education were rejuvinated. In 1812, the bank that John was the director of was robbed, leaving Emma and John in a bit of financial trouble. Partly to recieve additional income and partly to satisfy herself Emma asked John if she could open a school for young women in their own home.

John hesitated at first, but he then approved her plan. She began teaching girls “higher” subjects, mostly mathematics, which had not been introduced to women before this time. She formulated her ideas in to a draft called, “A Plan for Improving Female Education” which she revised many times. One of the most distinguished of Emma ideas was the institution she invisioned as not a private academy, which many of already had existed, however it was a public seminary supervised by a board of men just as the best men’s schools were governed.

She desired for her plan to get noticed by men in public office, and for this reason she turned her attention towards New York State. She sent her plan to some very important men seeking approval: Governor Clinton, President Monroe, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. They all approved her philosophy, although Emma never maintained that women were the political equals of men or should assume roles independent as men. In 1819 Emma moved her school from Vermont to Waterford, New York.

The Troy Common Council raised four thousand dollars by taxes for Emma’s expendatures, John Willard leased a building for Emma at a cost of four hundered dollars. In September, 1821 The Troy Female Seminary opened with ninety girls enrolled, twenty-nine from Troy, and some from as far away as North Carolina and Georgia. The schools popularity only grew, in 1830, as Troy’s population neared 15,000 Emma’s school was known throughout the country; daughters of goveners attended. For a few years the Troy Female Seminary was the sole source of reasonable education for women in the United States.

One of the more famous graduates was Olivia Solcum Sage, Russell Sage’s wife. She inhereted her husband’s fortune when he died and opened a college for women also in Troy, and attached her husband’s name to it, “Russell Sage College for Women”. The success of Emma’s school spawned a few other pioneers such as Mary Lyon who opened Mount Holyoke. Mount Holyoke opened even more doors for women’s education. Mary proved that women were as intellectually capable as men, and also that institutions for women offering a full college curriculum could survive financially.

Graduates from Mount Holyoke carried Mary’s words and teachings and opened their own schools all over America and abroad. Some schools were in tents, some women went as far as Japan and South Africa to spread Mary’s ideas. When Mount Holyoke opened in 1837 neither Mary Lyon, nor her students could have envisioned that one hundred and sixty years later the school would enroll more than two thousand women from forty-nine states and seventy-two countries, have an eight hundred acre campus, offer nearly one thousand courses, and thirty eight majors.

In conclusion, women’s education has improved tremendously in the last three hundred years. The fact that more women than men attend college today would have astounded these great pioneers, but would have delighted them, knowing that finally women’s education is just as widely known as men’s. Unfortunatly Polk County does not house any schools just for women.


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