As I expected, I have found David McCullough’s book The Greater Journey—Americans in Paris packed full of stories about interesting people.

But I was especially pleased to discover Emma Hart Willard because I have a niece named Emma, a wonderful 6-foot-one-inch college student who is playing basketball and studying to be a doctor.

Emma Willard, McCullough says, sailed from the United States to Europe “in spite of the common understanding that the rigors of a voyage at sea were unsuitable for a woman of refinement.”

Willard was a leader in women’s education, according to the National Women’s History Museum website. “She opened Troy Female Seminary, the first school for girls offering them an education equal to—and perhaps better than—that received by young men.”

She opened the school, today called the Emma Willard School, in 1821. Willard herself was self-taught because “no colleges anywhere in the world admitted women in the early 1800s.” Instead of going to school, she had studied a male relative’s college textbooks.

“Do your best and your best will be growing better,” Willard told her students.

“Reason and religion teach that we too are primary existences….the companions, not the satellites of men,” she once said.