New York's Capital Region in 50 Objects

New York's Capital Region in 50 Objects


Each region of the nation has its own distinctive history and identity. The New York’s Capital Region—consisting of Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady, and Saratoga Counties—is no different. But what best identifies the region? What events, objects, people, and ideas have contributed to its character and uniqueness?

To learn the answers, we presented these questions to the numerous museums, historical organizations, libraries, and residents of the Capital Region. The fifty objects that were ultimately selected present an exciting history of the Capital Region, including well-known favorites but also unexpected surprises. Some of the fifty objects characterize very broad topics like the textile industry and the Hudson River School of art, while others embody large populations of people who shaped the character of the region, such as the Dutch and the Iroquois. Many objects represent specific people or events, such as writer William Kennedy and the Battle of Saratoga. In some instances, the objects represent themselves, like the GE Monitor Top refrigerator and Albany’s beloved Nipper statue. A complementary image accompanies each of the fifty objects, providing context and additional information.

Overall, the fifty objects clearly demonstrate that this narrowly circumscribed part of New York State has played an astonishing role in shaping the history of the nation and, in several instances, the world beyond the confines of our national borders.

Emma Willard and Female Education

Born on February 23, 1787, in Berlin, Connecticut, Emma Hart Willard is remembered for her trailblazing efforts on behalf of women’s education.The sixteenth of seventeen children, she attended local schools and then began teaching near her home in 1804. In 1807, Emma Hart went to Middlebury, Vermont, to run a female academy. Two years later she married town physician, John Willard, a widower with four young children. She retired from teaching and in 1814 opened a girls’ school in her home to help with family finances. Five years later, Willard wrote an address to the public, specifically to the members of the New York Legislature, proposing A Plan for Improving Female Education. She published the plan and sent copies to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams with the intension of winning public support for girls’ schools. Willard advocated equal education for young women through the academy level.

In September of 1819, with the encouragement of Governor DeWitt Clinton, Emma Willard moved to New York and opened a school in Waterford, but after two years she moved to Troy and opened the Troy Female Seminary, shown in a print from a drawing by Thirza Lee, instructor of drawing and painting and former student of the school. Thousands of young women passed through the Troy school during her lifetime. Willard became financially successful, both from the profits of her school and from the best-selling textbooks that she authored.

Willard left daily management of the school to her son and daughter-in-law in 1838, the year she remarried. She spent the last thirty years of her life traveling and writing, although the seminary and Troy remained her home base. Willard died in 1870 and the school was renamed in her honor in 1895.

Emma Willard’s Desk

c. 1800

Stained maple, poplar, mahogany, brass hardware

Courtesy of the Emma Willard School Archives

Troy Female Seminary

After Thirza Lee

c. 1830

Hand-colored engraving and etching on paper

Courtesy of the Rensselaer County Historical Society

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