Emma Hart Willard had always shown an aptitude for academic work. Gender roles were strongly enforced in post-revolutionary America, but Samuel Hart encouraged his daughter to study, often interrupting her domestic duties to listen to different philosophical essays he’d written.
At the age of 13 she taught herself geometry and later enrolled in the Berlin Academy, which was essentially a finishing school where she attended for two years before teaching there. In 1807, at the age of 19, she was offered a summer teaching job at a girls’ school in Middlebury, Vermont. The conditions the girls experienced there, paired with family financial hardship, inspired Emma to open a boarding school in her home in Middlebury.