"An Acquaintance with that Dear Country: "Emma Willard on American History, Womanhood, and Nationalism

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Haverford College. Department of History
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Emma Willard published the first two editions of her bestselling textbook History of the United States in 1828 and 1829. Willard had already gained fame as an educational reformer and advocate for female education. She was the headmistress and founder of Troy Female Seminary, one of the earliest secondary schools for women in the United States. It offered an education similar to that received by men at secondary institutions. History of the United States was one of Willard's first attempts to educate the broader public. History education was popular in the 1820s, as Americans became more interested in a national identity following the War of1812. Education and literacy rates for both genders steadily rose throughout the antebellum period. Advocates for female education in the republican and antebellum period argued that women were the moral guardians of the nation and needed knowledge and mental exercise to fulfill this role. Willard was familiar with these arguments, and she advanced them many times herself as she sought support for her school and other endeavors. Education was also important for all citizens because it could protect from corrupting influences. Willard's position as an educated woman granted her the authority to moral pronouncements about United States history. She intended to be a moral guardian on a national scale and shape the next generation of Americans. Willard wrote History so that her readers would grow to love the United States as she did. She knew her readers could be the future political and military leaders of the country. She hoped they would model themselves off of the virtuous men and women she presented in the text. In order to convince her readers of the lovability of the United States, she had to iron out many complexities. Willard attempted to explain and justify the abhorrent treatment of Native Americans by generations of settlers. She blamed the worst atrocities on European monarchies and claimed Native Americans were congenitally incompatible with Anglo-American civilization. Willard considered it the duty of all citizens, including moral guardians like herself, to try and find peaceful solutions for the nation's problems. She proposed creating a Native American nation in the northwest of the continent, where they could form their own society. Willard's arguments rested on the conviction that the existence of the United States was ordained by Providence. She took the smallpox plague which wiped out so many people as proof that God prepared the continent for the establishment of British, and eventually American, settlement. Therefore, Willard was part of a holy plan. She had an obligation to educate the next generation of American leaders and convince them of the virtue of their nation.