America’s first female mapmaker

The Paris Review recently published an article on Emma Willard, America’s first female mapmaker and all-around badass.

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Emma Willard

From the article:

Willard is well-known to historians of the early republic as a pioneering educator, the founder of what is now called the Emma Willard School, in Troy, New York. But she was also a versatile writer, publisher and, yes, mapmaker. She used every tool available to teach young readers (and especially young women) how to see history in creative new ways. If the available textbooks were tedious (and they were), she would write better ones. If they lacked illustrations, she would provide them. If maps would help, so be it: she would fill in that gap as well. She worked with engravers and printers to get it done. She was finding her way forward in a male-dominated world, with no map to guide her. So she made one herself.

And yes, while still in her twenties, she opened a school for girls in her own home, so that young women could get an education comparable to that of their own brothers. From the school website (which is still in operation some 200 years later!):

She pioneered girls’ education, taking it from focusing on “the charms of youth and beauty” to intellectually stimulating and rigorous courses in mathematics, geography, history, science, and philosophy.

My favorite of her illustrations is this this “‘map of time’ [used] to convey to students the interdependence and totality of human history”:

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It feels like a 200-year precursor to Reebee Garofalo’s Genealogy of Pop/Rock Music chart, made recently famous (or recently re-famous?) by Edward Tufte:

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An excerpt of Genealogy of Pop/Rock music by Reebee Garofalo, seemingly an ode to Willard’s work.

The sheer depth of information she presents in her illustrations is astounding…

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There is nothing more satisfying and hopeful to me than someone striving for clarity and context and working hard to give it to those around her. And to help other women rise up with her along the way? What a lovely and inspiring life to lead.

– Jenna

 

 

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