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Elena Lucrezia Corner Piscopia: the first woman to graduate in the world

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Elena Lucrezia Corner Piscopia: the first woman to graduate in the world

Women in Venice are often distinguished by their courage and their unconventional choices and an excellent example is Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, the first woman to graduate in the world. 

Elena was born in 1646 and was the fifth of seven children of the noble John the Baptist Cornaro and Zanetta Boni from a lower-class. The father was a man of great culture and when he saw the abilities of his daughter, he encouraged her cultural growth in every way. Elena was taught by the best teachers of Greek, Latin, science, philosophy and theology, and she also learned Hebrew and Spanish from a rabbi. Well known among Italian scholars for her intellectualism, Cornaro was received in several Italian academies, and her fame also spread abroad.

After Elena held a public debate of philosophy in Greek and Latin in Venice, her father John the Baptist demanded that the University of Padua should award his daughter with a degree in theology. This was strongly opposed the bishop of Padua, claiming it was ‘a big mistake to allow a woman to obtain a Theological Title' and that ‘it would make fools of ourselves to the world'. This created a conflict between the bishop and Cornaro, which resulted in the compromise to allow Elena to graduate in philosophy. On 25 June 1678 Cornaro submitted her dissertation and was accepted into the College of Physicians and philosophers od the Study at Padua, although as a woman she could not exercise teaching. After having taken seriously ill she died in Padua, at just thirty-eight years.

Imagine that as well as there being a statue of her in Padua University (the ‘Bo') and a small plaque on a wall of the building where she was born on the Grand Canal (now the town hall of Venice), a crater of 26 km in diameter on the planet Venus has been dedicated to her and also in the Library of Vassar University in Poughkeepsie (NY) a stained glass window has been made to commemorate her.

By Insidecom Editorial Staff

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