Susanna Rowson

Early American Educator, Novelist and Actress Susanna Rowson’s novel Charlotte Temple became the first bestseller in America when it was published in 1794 by Matthew Carey of Philadelphia. Rowson (1762–1824) was a British-American novelist, poet, textbook author, playwright and actress. She was also a pioneer in female education, opening the Academy for Young Ladies in Boston in 1797, offering an advanced curriculum to young ladies, and operating the school until her retirement in 1822. Childhood and Early Years Susanna Haswell was born in 1762 in Portsmouth, England to Royal Navy Lieutenant William Haswell and Susanna Musgrave Haswell, who soon died from complications of childbirth, an event that surely influenced Rowson’s fiction. Her father left Susanna in England in the care…

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Emma Willard

Writer and Educator of Young Women Emma Hart Willard (1787-1870) was an educator and writer who dedicated her life to women’s education. She worked in several schools and founded the first school for women’s higher education, the Troy Female Seminary in Troy, New York. With the success of her school, she was able to travel across the country and abroad, to promote education for women. Willard pioneered the teaching of science, mathematics and social studies to young women. Childhood and Early Years Emma Hart was born on February 23, 1787 in rural Berlin, Connecticut. She was the sixteenth of seventeen children from her father, Samuel Hart, and his second wife Lydia Hinsdale Hart. Her father was a farmer who encouraged…

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Sophia Smith

Women in Education: Founder of Smith College Sophia Smith (1796-1870) founded Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1870 with the substantial estate she inherited from her father and siblings. The first woman in America to endow a college for women, Sophia Smith was not a social crusader, but she did believe that women’s power for good would “be incalculably enlarged” by higher education. Born on August 27, 1796 in Hatfield, Massachusetts, Sophia Smith was the fourth of seven children – and the first daughter – of prosperous farmers Joseph Smith and Lois White Smith. Of the seven Smith offspring, three died young and only Joseph Jr. married, producing no heirs. Sophia lived with her sister Harriet and brother Austin at…

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Mary Lyon

Women’s History Month Biography Women in Education: Founder of Mount Holyoke College Mary Lyon (1797-1849) taught and managed schools in Massachusetts and New Hampshire before establishing Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College) in 1837, the first college for women in the United States. Within two years, she raised $15,000 to establish the school that became the model for institutions of higher education for women. Lyon firmly believed that women must be well educated to contribute significantly to society’s greater good, and endeavored to make her school affordable for students of modest means. Childhood and Early Years Mary Lyon was born February 28, 1797 on a farm near Buckland, Massachusetts. Her father Aaron Lyon, a veteran of the Revolutionary…

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Caroline Lee Hentz

Educator and Novelist in Antebellum America Caroline Lee Hentz (1800–1856) was a nineteenth century novelist and one of the most popular women writers in antebellum America, most noted for her opposition to the abolitionist movement. Her best known novel, The Planter’s Northern Bride, was written in response to the enormously popular anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Early Life Caroline Lee Whiting was born June 1, 1800 in Lancaster, Massachusetts, the youngest of John and Orpah Whiting’s eight children. She was very intelligent and had written a poem, a novel and a tragedy by the age of 12. At age 17, she began teaching at the Lancaster Common School.

Sarah Pierce

Founder of Litchfield Female Academy Sarah Pierce was the founder of one the earliest schools for girls, the Litchfield Female Academy in her home in Litchfield, Connecticut. This was one of a small group of early schools that played a critical role in shaping educational and economic opportunities for women in the United States. Through her innovative curriculum, Pierce transformed the lives of the more than 3,000 women who attended the school. Childhood Sarah Pierce was born June 26, 1767, the fifth child and fourth daughter of Litchfield farmer and potter John Pierce and Mary Paterson Pierce. Sarah’s mother died in 1770 and two years later her father remarried and had three more children.

Ann Wager

Tutor and Mistress of the Bray School in Williamsburg Ann Wager’s origins are unknown, except that she was born by 1716. Ann was educated by her father, despite her mother’s wishes – it wasn’t considered ‘proper’ for a young woman to learn or support herself. Her mother discouraged her education, but her father persevered. Ann married William Wager of Williamsburg, Virginia, and they had two children. Their son, also named William, was born by 1733; by 1760 he was a justice of the peace in Elizabeth City County, and by 1756 he represented that county in the House of Burgesses.