Emma Willard School

Emma Willard School
Emma Willard School
Gaudet Patientia Duris
Patience Rejoices in Adversity
Troy, New York, United States
Type All girls' private school
Religious affiliation(s) nonsectarian
Established 1814
Head of School Trudy E. Hall
Faculty 59 teachers
Enrollment 319 students
(203 boarders, 116 day) (63% boarding, 37% day)
Average class size 12 students
Student to teacher ratio 6:1
Campus 137 acres (0.55 km2)
Color(s) black, red, and white
Athletics 11 interscholastic sports teams
Mascot Jester
Average SAT scores 1907 (620 M, 633 CR, 655 Writing)

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 YorkCoordinates: 42°42′43.85″N 73°39′49.49″W / 42.7121806°N 73.6637472°W / 42.7121806; -73.6637472 on Mount Ida, offering grades 9-12 and postgraduate coursework. It was founded by the women's advocate Emma Willard in 1814 and has an endowment of $83 million.[citation needed]



Emma Willard is an independent college-preparatory day and boarding school enrolling students in grades 9-12 and post-graduate studies. Class sizes at Emma are kept at a careful 16 student maximum to provide Emma students close attention and individually tailored instruction that public schools do not allow. The typical student to teacher ratio is 6 to 1. 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 fifty minutes, though lab sciences, seminars, and AP sections meet for varying lengths of time. An ESL program offers intermediate and advanced level curriculum for international students. Core requirements for graduation include a minimum of four units of English; three units of history, foreign language, mathematics; two units of lab science (one each in biology and physics), two units in the arts, and one-fourth unit in health. 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).

Emma Willard offers innovative, inquiry-based classes across all disciplines. In the fall of 2005, Emma began its Physics First program for all incoming 9th grade students, which has students take a basic physics course in the ninth grade rather than the biology course which is standard in most public schools. Relying on the basic math skills from pre-algebra and algebra I, the program follows the understanding that studying physics in a hands-on, inquiry-based fashion first will allow for better understanding of chemistry and later, biology.

Educational Philosophy: EMpowerment

Emma's guiding educational philosophy, known on campus as EMpowerment, teaches that every young woman who attends Emma Willard will be encouraged to develop fully in all areas of her life—as a strong intellectual in a variety of disciplines, as a practitioner of her chosen passions, as a social member of the Emma community, and as a responsible global citizen in her future.

In keeping with this philosophy of personal development providing its own benchmarks, class rank is not provided. The grading system uses letter grades with plus and minus notations and number grades. Emma Willard's extensive independent study program, Practicum, allows students to pursue coursework 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.

In an example of EMpowerment, Emma Willard students have worked to make Emma Willard School the first Fair Trade certified high school in the United States. Originating with the student group Slavery No More, this effort expanded into a large, widespread movement in the school with the involvement of the faculty, administration, and other student groups such as the Fair Trade group. Emma Willard received official certification as a Fair Trade school in 2010.

School History

In 1814, Emma Hart Willard opened the Middlebury Female Seminary in her home in Middlebury, Vermont to provide young women with the same higher education as their male peers. Prior to its founding, young women were excluded, from where they could learn subjects such as advanced mathematics and the sciences, that attendance at secondary or for that matter a college would facilitate. The schools that were open to women taught remedial subjects, which were deemed appropriate for the women of that period. Emma sought to change that normative; she sought to provide young women of means with educational options at the secondary school and college levels … She strove to avail to girls and women educational opportunities akin to those which were readily available to their male peers of means.

Prior to Emma's founding her academic institutions for girls and young women, females had been excluded from attending male-based institutions at both the secondary-school and college educational levels.

Indeed, young women had been systematically excluded from pursing the advanced curriculum offerings in mathematics and the sciences that were taught to their male counterparts. The schools open to academically driven girls and young women, merely deemed as appropriate courses in embroidery and penmanship, while the more advanced schools ventured to teach girls and young women of appititude the virtues of record keeping for the home.

Having had taught for a several years, Emma Willard perceived an egregious disparity in the curriculum offerings among equally capable young boys and girls as well as between that available to young men verses that opne to young women; perception of that inequity and the socially disparity that it fostered drove Emma to seek to change it “for the betterment of all of mankind!”

In 1819 she crafted a skillful proposal that promoted a comprehensive secondary and post secondary female educational institution, which would require funding by the State of New York.

As was then common, and aligned with the religious authority of the period, Emma prudently opted to refer to her proposed Academy for girls and young women as a “seminary”. Her terse and compelling proposal, which outlined her bid to “improve the social and moral fabric”, no less, was aptly entitled “Plan for Improving Female Education”. Her intelligent, engaging and passionate address to the office of New York’s “innovative” governor DeWitt Clinton (he himself would later sway the State of New York to move forward on plans to build the Erie Canal) met with initial success. However, the New State legislature at Albany, on hearing her request, responded with mixed sentiment, and ultimately rejected her proposal. Emma was filled with indignation.

When Emma Willard addressed the New York State legislature in 1819 on the subject of education for girls and young women, she was contradicting the statement made the previous year by Thomas Jefferson (in a letter) in which he suggested that girls and young women ought not read novels "as a mass of trash" with few exceptions. "For like reason, too, much poetry should not be indulged."

Emma Willard told the legislature that the education of girls and young women "has been too exclusively directed to fit them for displaying to advantage the charms of youth and beauty". The problem, she said, was that "the taste of men, whatever it might happen to be, has been made into a standard for the formation of the female character." Reason and religion teach us, she said, that "we too are primary existences ... not the satellites of men".

Her innovative ideas, embodied in her proposal to the Governor. and as had been less favorably received when aired to the State Legislature … had, nonetheless, garnered an awe struck audience among the many industrial and business leaders and their wives, reaching far into the Capital District's regional communities. Many of the wives of prominent men steadfastly supported and promoted Emma's educational agenda to their friends and associates. These were the same families who would propel the Empire State into its mercantile and industrial ascendancy, and by extension the nation, during its first industrial revolution … many from the comforts of their fashionable parlors in nearby Troy, New York. Their ranks included rapidly emergent, moneyed, erudite, and culturally sophisticated, often self-made and self-educated stalwarts of society. They were elites, both well-to-do and well-read families — a populace that admired the achievements witnessed in classical western European civilization. They expressed their admiration of classical civilizations' achievements such as those of Troy, Athens and Rome, and it was this sentiment that was abundantly reflected in Troy's ascendant architecture (much of it has survived the blight of 1960s Urban Renewal). It was also evidenced in their city's and children's namesakes, as well as in other matters of taste.

Thereafter, determinedly, the City of Troy's Common Council eventually raised $4,000 that would facilitate Emma’s purchase of a suitable flagship building “whose very structure would announce to all onlookers its serious endeavor and prestige”, for her proposed seminary for young women.

During that three year interim, from 1819 to 1823, Emma had remained undaunted by the several financial setbacks that had besieged her dreams. She had remained busy, fervent in her purpose and pursuits. Emma had taught locally both boys and girls (of all means); and, for what is an often forgotten chapter in her hard wrought academic legacy -- her indomitable spirit had been tested, and despite rejection by the New York State's legislature at Albany of her proposal back in 1819 (referenced above) she persevered -- withstanding the barrage of nay sayers who voiced their contempt of her ambition to provide girls and young women of means a formal educational opportunity on a par with that offered to their counterpart boys and young men of means -- Emma had already obtained inexpensive accommodation in a nearby, already in the 1800's, a historic Waterford, New York landmark farm. There she had come to rent two nondescript long and narrow stone structures -- a former pre-Colonial Dutch estate's outbuildings -- located in a picturesque setting along the mighty Mohawk River.

The property's border still abuts the Erie Canal’s first but long defunct stone lock, near a major point of the Mohawk's primary arterial confluence into the Hudson River. Emma located the site by happenstance, during a stroll along the rivers' edge, in the very area that some had recently proposed for the Erie Canal's first stone lock.

Through word-of-mouth among well-wishing local women to the property owner, the buildings spied by Emma were made available to her, owing to her good reputation (certain of her relatives had long resided and prospered in the greater Troy area, and their ranks included initially the merely industrious, then wealthy (and soon to be rich) Hart and Carr family lines (see: Hart-Cluett Mansion and Rensselaer County Historical Society). To those reputation advantages, Emma's forthright and dignified manner as well as reliable competence quickly earned her esteem throughout the area. Soon she enjoyed a unique popularity with the women of Waterford whom eagerly sought her out for advice and educational direction.

In short order, Emma had made many friends among Waterfordians, women, their husbands, brothers and the children: Emma was well-liked and repsected.

However, in early 1821, due to a critical funds shortage, owed to a brief economic downturn that had impacted the region, Emma Willard was compelled to close her Waterford Academy.

Today, one of the Waterford Academy stone shells remains. Its clay roof tiles crumbling where not already caved-in; it was designated as an historic landmark back in 1931 by the State of New York; a metal plaque on a pole, painted Empire blue, with yellow lettering designates its significance. The unique role those buildings played, for the short time that it lasted, served as an opportunity for Emma to try out many of her early education ideas, which fewer than two years later would manifest in much success.

The history of education in the United States for girls and women of means, Emma Willard’s dream, is detailed in cast iron, by the State of New York’s historic landmark plaque on a pole, commemorating her achievement and The Emma Willard School for Girls, its founding location.

Similarly, as early as 1905, Emma Willard's leadership contributions to girls' and young women's educational horizons had been acknowledged and celebrated. Afterall, Emma Willard had been inducted -- on the very first round of elections -- to the highly selective Hall of Fame for Great Americans, lauded for outstanding citizenship contribution(s), at New York University's, now former, resplendent Stanford White designed NYU's Morningside Heights campus, in uptown New York City.

Toward the close of 1821 she secured $4,000 in funding, provided by the good citizenry of the rapidly growing more prosperous City of Troy. Emma elected to refocus her teaching efforts, realigning her original vision, so that it would concentrate on the secondary and post secondary levels for girls and young women, of means, and not so much be limited for want of funds. With alacrity she relocated to the emergent and affluent City of Troy, downstream from Watertown along the Hudson River.

After all, it had been there, in Troy’s refined parlors and at meetings of all sorts that she had ardently voiced her ambitious educational ideas among polite company, and it is how her ideas had gained traction and a following over the course of the four preceding years. In fact, a cadre of bourgeoisie had begun to quickly accumulate great wealth at Troy at an astoundingly accelerated rate. Influence and prestige fared prominently among Troy's many industrious and wealthy citizens, and their households were determined to obtain the best possible educations for their sons ... and daughters ... locally, if tenable.

Emma Willard had appeared a hit early on the scene in 1821, on the cusp of Troy's meteoric rise as an economic and cultural powerhouse -- that of its four decades long preeminence, contemporaneously ranked fourth in the entire United States of American for the accumulated wealth, despite its not so populace size, and first for fifteen years for its celebrated relatively high per capita income -- shortly thereafter, owing to the Capital District (greater Albany, Schenectady and Troy) citizenry's myriad scientific innovations and manifest in tremendous industrial development and growth, Troy emerged as a pillar of wealth and prestige for the already culturally advanced pre-colonial established Capital District. Bear in mind, too, that of the extant and renowned already educational status championed by the area's prestigious The Albany Academy for Boys; it had been established in March 1813, just downstream from Waterford and Emma Willard’s temporary school;

And, for a time, The Albany Academy (for boys), itself, had retained a presence in nearby pre-colonial and the much established historically Dutch Lansingburg, New York (the next town over across the Hudson, facing Waterford), before fully relocating to Albany proper.

Concurrently, the nation’s first and oldest technology | science academic research institution for training young men “in meaningful education “was about to open its doors in the spirit of the times: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), 1824, thanks, in part, to the beneficence of the historic land grant rich bailiwick title holder Kiliaen van Rensselaer, Stephen Van Rensselaer III.

It was then, there, how and why that Emma was able to formally found the Troy Female Seminary … "for young ladies of means": time, place and circumstance suddenly matched her ambitious, fortuitously. Effectively, she had garnered the trust and faith of Troy’s leading men and women of means, many self-made, whom she had impressed with her own demonstrative determination to overcome adversity, coupled with her proven teacher’s qualifications. She had rightly convinced all onlookers that she could lead such an academic institution ... which was her undertaking that she led to success, even though she remained ... a woman.

Troy Female Seminary was "the first school in the country to provide girls the same educational opportunities given to boys" [1]. "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" [2]. The school was immediately successful, and it graduated many great thinkers, including noted social reformer and suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Willard remained the head of the seminary until 1838, and in 1895, the school was renamed The Emma Willard School for Girls. In 1910, a new campus was built for the school on Mount Ida -- which overlooks Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and below it the historic City of Troy and the mighty Hudson River -- through the donations of Olivia Slocum Sage, an alumna: in 1916, the old campus became Russell Sage College, in the center of Troy.

In its educational approach and practices, Emma Willard School continues to be at the forefront of independent all-girls' education. It served as the basis for a study of adolescent women conducted by Carol Gilligan, Nona Lyons and Trudy Hanmer. Their 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 Associate Head of School Emerita and former Interim Head of School, was a co-editor.

Co-curricular Pursuits

The firmly held educational belief that empowerment begins in and out of the classroom means that on average, Emma students participate in at least two co-curriculars to deepen their self-awareness and commitment to personal development. These co-curricular pursuits range from sports and art to additional academic pursuits including: student newspaper, art, model UN, speech and debate, quiz team, and literary magazine.

As a fair trade school, students from Slavery No More study global social justice issues and sell free trade goods to the Emma community. Students also sign petitions fighting human rights abuses worldwide. Each year, students and faculty take service trips to countries in the developing world so Emma's women can see the world and make the changes they discuss in their classrooms throughout the year. In 2009, students and faculty traveled to Africa and to Casa de los Angeles in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico to care for the children of poor working mothers.

Current Students

Emma girls currently hail from 20 states, and over 30 foreign countries. The fall of 2010 saw enrollment increase by 3% to bring the whole student population to 319 (203 boarding, 116 day).

Emma has a diverse population: of the 319 students, 55 are students of color (according to guidelines established by the National Association of Independent Schools), 88 are international students, and 45 have an alumna or current sister relationship to the school.

Emma maintains 13 Davis Scholarships, and 10 Capital District Scholarships.

Of the 440 applicants for fall 2010, 149 (34%) were offered admission and 102 enrolled.

Notable Alumnae


Emma Willard's 137-acre (0.55 km2) campus on Mount Ida, above the city of Troy, NY, contains 30 buildings. The three oldest buildings, all of collegiate 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. Visitors have compared the Gothic architecture and neatly manicured greens and playing fields to Hogwarts, and one can easily imagine Harry Potter playing a game of Quidditch in front of Slocum Hall.

The campus is enhanced by the sleek, modern art, music, and library complex which opened in 1967. The library holds more than 34,000 volumes and 77 print and online periodical subscriptions. Seven online databases with full text augment the journal collection. The collection also includes a sizable art and an 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. Approximately 75% of the faculty reside on campus in houses and apartments.

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.

Athletics and Physical Education

Emma Willard has eleven interscholastic sports teams: field hockey, soccer, volleyball, tennis, cross country, swimming, basketball, lacrosse, softball, crew, and track. In 2007 there were 29 athletic coaches and affiliated personnel at Emma Willard.

Facilities include: aerobics studio, pool, weight room, two athletics fields, an all-weather track, eight tennis courts, and woodlands with paths for biking or running.

Physical education at Emma Willard is a part of every student's curriculum, and participation in interscholastic sports can be included 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.


  • 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 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 the performance.
  • Revelizing - when the uninformed guess which part each senior will be in the performance of Revels.
  • Ring Week/Ring Sister - when juniors ask a senior to be her Ring Sister, and the Ring Sister (and sometimes other seniors the junior asks) selects a task for the junior each day for a week, such as to dress in drag and perform a Boy George song at lunch or to kneel before every senior she passes; this culminates in Ring Dinner, where the Ring Sister presents the ring to the junior, often in creative ways.

See also

External links

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