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American Women: Resources from the Geography and Map Collections

Women and Geographic Education

Emma Willard. Introductory Map: Locations and Wanderings of the Aboriginal Tribes. 1828. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

One of the best-known women in the field of geographic education is Emma Hart Willard, who was also an innovative geographer and cartographer. The sixteenth of seventeen children in her family, she was a precocious child who, when hardly out of her teens, became the head of Middlebury Female Academy, a boarding school for girls. In 1821 the school relocated to Troy, New York, and was renamed the Troy Female Seminary. The curriculum taught by Mrs. Willard used maps for lessons in both history and geography. Dissatisfied with the textbooks of the period, she wrote her own, illustrated by one of her students, Elizabeth Sherrill. Willard also collaborated with William Channing Woodbridge in A System of Universal Geography on the Principles of Comparison and Clarification, a text that revolutionized the study of geography. Many of her students themselves became geography educators, further disseminating her ideas and influence.

Willard was one of the first geographers to show on maps accurate information pertaining to the distribution and migration of Native Americans in the eastern United States. Rather than using the European concept of boundaries, she recognized and illustrated the mobility of tribes across large geographic areas, acknowledging Native American concepts of space. Her maps also reflect the loose affiliation between independent groups of Native Americans. The Library has many examples of her pioneering work, such as A series of maps to Willard's History of the United States, or, Republic of America which has been digitized18 Clearly women have long played a major role in the discipline of geography, paving the way for the recent work of feminist geographers.


  1. Williard's innovative map illustrating the wanderings of Native American tribes appears in Many Nations: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Indian and Alaska Native Peoples of the United States, edited by Patrick Frazier (Washington: Library of Congress, 1996; Z1209.2.U5L53 1996), 220. Back to text