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.


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 attending secondary or for that matter any college, where they could learn subjects such as advanced mathematics and the sciences. The schools that were open to them taught remedial subjects, which were deemed appropriate for the women of the time. Emma sought to provide young women of means with educational options at the secondary school and college levels … an education akin to that which was readily available to their male peers of means.

Prior to founding her academic institution for young women, females had been excluded from attending male-based institutions at both the secondary-school and college educational levels. Indeed, young women were systematically excluded from pursing the advanced curriculum offerings in mathematics and the sciences that were taught to their male counterparts of means. The schools open to such young women deemed appropriate embroidery and penmanship as meaningful subjects, while the more advanced schools ventured to teach some young women the virtues of record keeping for the home. Having taught for a few years, Emma Willard perceived an egregious disparity in the curriculum offerings among equally capable young men and women; perception of that inequity and the socially disparity among men and women that it reinforced 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, to be funded 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 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”. She addressed her proposal to the office of New York’s “innovative” governor Clinton DeWitt (he himself would later sway the State of New York to move forward on plans to build the Erie Canal). The New State legislature at Albany, however, rejected her proposal, and Emma was filled with indignation.

When Emma Willard addressed the New York State legislature in 1819 on the subject of education for women, she was contradicting the statement made the previous year by Thomas Jefferson (in a letter) in which he suggested women should 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 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 that had been in embodied her proposal to the Governor had been aired … and had gained an audience among many leaders and their wives of regional communities. Many of those wives it turned out were married to the men who would propel the Empire State in its ascendancy, and by extension the nation, during its first industrial revolution … from their fashionable seats in nearby Troy, New York. Their ranks included a rapidly emergent, moneyed, erudite and culturally sophisticated elite and general populace who admired the achievements witnessed in classical western European civilization. They expressed their admiration of classical civilizations' achievements, and this is abundantly reflected in Troy's ascendant architecture (much of it has survived the blight of 1960's Urban Renewal), as evidenced in their city's and children's namesakes 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 setbacks that had besieged her dreams. She had remained busy, fervent in her purpose and pursuits. She had taught locally both boys and girls (of all means); and, for what is an often forgotten chapter in her hard wrought legacy -- her indomitable spirit had been tested, and despite rejection by the New York State's legislature at Albany of her proposal in 1819 (referenced above) she persevered -- withstanding the barrage of nay sayers who voiced their contempt of her ambition to provide young women of means a formal educational opportunity on a par with that offered to young men of means -- Emma had already obtained inexpensive accommodation in the nearby historic Waterford, New York. There she had rented there two nondescript long and narrow stone structures -- a former pre-Colonial estate's outbuildings -- in a picturesque setting along the mighty Mohawk River, the property abuts of the Erie Canal’s first lock, near a major point of its confluence with the Hudson River, which were made by happenstance available to her, owing to her good reputation (her relatives in Troy included the industrious, then wealthy (soon to be rich) Hart and Carr families (see: Hart-Cluett Mansion and Rensslaer County Historical Society) and the esteem in which she herself came to be held locally in Waterford among the many friends that she made in a short period. However, in 1821, due to a lack of continued funding by its citizens and administration Emma Willard was compelled to close her Waterford Academy.

Today, one of those buildings Waterford Academy building's stone shell remains intact, and it was designated as an historic landmark in 1931 by the State of New York. The unique role it served in the history of education in the United States through its service to Emma Willard’s dream is detailed in cast iron, by the State of New York’s historic landmark plaque on a pole, commemorating its location.

Toward the close of 1821 she secured $4,000 in funding, provided by the good citizenry of the City of Troy. She elected to refocus her teaching efforts, realigned with her original vision, so that it would concentrate on the secondary and post secondary levels for young women of means. With alacrity she relocated to the emergent and affluent City of Troy, downstream 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 bit 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, itself, had retained a presence in nearby pre-colonial established historic Lansingburg, New York (the next town across the Hudson, facing Waterford), before fully relocating to Albany proper. Concurrently, the nation’s first and oldest technology | science 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 lead 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" . "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" . 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 Emma Willard School. In 1910, a new campus was built for the school on Mount Ida through the donations of Olivia Slocum Sage, an alumna: in 1916, the old campus became Russell Sage College.

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
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton : Early member of the suffrage movement.
  • Justine Johnstone: Broadway and silent movie star.
  • Sara Lee Schupf : Namesake of Sara Lee baked goods.
  • Jane Fonda : Academy Award-winning actress
  • Lydia Martin Smith : Hotelier
  • Kirsten Gillibrand : United States Senator from New York
  • Ruth Pine Furniss: Author of short stories and novels

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.

Building Activity

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