Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia
(1646 - 1684)
She was the daughter of Giovanni Battista Cornaro, Procurator of St.Marks. Her family was from the Venetian nobility, and produced 4 Doges, 3 Popes, 8 Cardinals and 1 Queen of Cyprus.
Elena began her classical education aged 7yo - she studied Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, French, Mathematics, Philosophy and Astronomy. Theology was her favourite subject, and her later disputations in Latin and Greek at Padua drew scholars from all over Europe.
The University of Padua's rector approved Elena's application for the Doctorate of Theology - however, the Church raised objections to the granting of this particular degree (Theology) to a woman. Instead, Elena was obliged to apply for a Doctorate in Philosophy.
Elena's examinations drew such a crowd of academic, religious and political luminaries that the ceremony had to be moved to the Cathedral of Padua for lack of space at the Univeristy.
Aged 32yo, Elena was awarded a Doctorate of Philosphy (25/6/1678) - it is the first university degree ever received by a woman.
Elena spent the last 6 years of her life ministering to the poor while continuing her studies and devoting herself to religious observerances.
Elena died aged 38yo (1684), most likely of tuberculosis. She was buried in the Church of Sanat Giustina, Padua. The citizens of both Venice and Padua mourn her death.
A fuller account of Elena - written by Sarah Thieling (1995).