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Emma Hart Willard, Christian Woman

Posted By Connie Moody, Thursday, March 14, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 12, 2013

March is designated National Women’s History Month. Now, we know that every month—every moment—is Christ, His-story, but we’ll use this opportunity to share a bit about a woman who contributed to the telling of His-story, Emma Hart Willard.

Emma Hart inherited from her parents a passion for learning, a broad Christian benevolence, and a deep sense of patriotism. As a young girl in Connecticut she used her "vigorous mind” and "her opportunities well, and in her desire and ability to acquire knowledge she far exceeded her years.” (Emma Willard and Her Pupils, Mrs. Russell Sage, publisher, New York, 1898, 10) Emma early applied her passion for learning to teaching and eventually founded the Troy Female Seminary in New York. Her original designs were to increase the learning of women and, in turn, to increase their influence as wives and mothers—as the superintendents of the home and hearth, the nursery of Christian character and self-government—and thus to secure the footings of the new Republic.

Applying her character as a diligent and self-directed scholar, "It is easy to evolve the fair picture of the enthusiastic young wife [of Dr. John Willard] studying to qualify herself to be the companion of the wise and good man who had enthroned her in his affections. She delves into his medical library, she unravels the mysteries of Physiology, she takes up the study of Geometry, and comes by successive steps to Locke’s "Essay Concerning Human Understanding.” (Emma, 12)

Having opened a boarding school in her home to help with family finances, Emma is described as an individual of "persevering industry.” "A model wife and mother, she still finds opportunity to supplement her routine of school duties by her own researches in science and literature, that she may unfold their mysteries to her classes.” (Emma, 13)

Absent during Willard’s early career are Webster’s Dictionary, grammars, readers, and his essential blue-backed Speller. His histories complete with catechisms on constitutional republicanism are yet unpublished. "She had no models from which to copy.” (Emma, 15) She had only the fruit of her own studies, her plans, and her reflective observations on learning to guide her instruction. Emma Willard was a pioneer in education in the young American Republic. "Finding herself still restricted by adequate text-books, she resolved to make her own.” (Emma, 16) Among her contributions are History of the United States or Republic of America (1828) and Universal History (1835). In addition, being a teacher of teachers, Emma Willard designed and documented guides, graphics, and map series so that the "student will then view the plan of universal history, with ‘its two eyes, chronology and geography.’” Daniel Webster wrote of her History of the…Republic…, "I keep it near me as a book of reference, accurate in facts and dates.”

The prefaces to her books contain exhortations and instructions to the teacher illuminating methods and applying principles of teaching and learning. In her History of the United States she points out, "Moral improvement is the true end of intellectual. Hence, the propriety of sometimes turning aside in the relations of history, to make such moral reflections as they may suggest; and if it is proper for the historian to make them, it is proper for the student to notice them.” (History of the United States or the Republic of America, Emma Willard, N. J. White: New York, 1835, ix)

In a later abridged edition of the History, she adds, "We have, indeed, been desirous to cultivate the memory, the intellect, and the taste. But much more anxious have we been to sow the seeds of virtue, by showing the good in such amiable lights, that the youthful heart shall kindle into desires of imitation….There are those, who rashly speak, as if in despair of the fortunes of our republic; because, say they, political virtue has declined. If so, then there the more need to infuse patriotism into the breasts of the coming generation. And what is so likely to effect this national self-preservation, as to give our children, for their daily reading and study, such a record of the sublime virtues of the worthies of our earliest day… what our country, and our liberties have cost? And what but the History of our peculiar, and complicated fabric of government, by which, it may be examined, as piece by piece the structure was built up, can impart such knowledge of the powers it gives, and the duties it enjoins, as shall enable our future citizens, to become its enlightened and judicious supporters?” (History, abridged, 1850, V-VI) The appendix of the unabridged History includes the Declaration of Independence, Washington’s Farewell Address, and the Constitution of the United States. Willard insisted that these "should be studied by the youth of our country, as their political scriptures.” (History, ix)

JOIN US in celebrating Christ, His-story through the life of a Christian woman, wife, mother, teacher, and lifelong student: Emma Hart Willard.

Tags:  education  Emma Willard  history  self-education 

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Gina Glenn says...
Posted Saturday, April 13, 2013
This so inspires me! "If so, then there the more need to infuse patriotism into the breasts of the coming generation. And what is so likely to effect this national self-preservation, as to give our children, for their daily reading and study, such a record of the sublime virtues of the worthies of our earliest day… what our country, and our liberties have cost? "
Permalink to this Comment }

Theresa Bryant says...
Posted Thursday, May 09, 2013
As a Christian woman, wife, mother and homeschooler. I look forward to learning, as I teach these Christian Principles to my Children.
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