Did you know that Elena Cornaro Piscopia was born today in 1646? She was one of the first women in the world to receive a Doctor of Philosophy degree from an academic university. Noticing her intelligence and curiosity, a friend of her father encouraged him to give Elena the opportunity to study and gain an education. She leaned how to speak, read, and write in Latin, Greek, Spanish, French, Hebrew, and Arabic. In addition, she studied mathematics, physics, astronomy, philosophy, and theology. Elena Cornaro Piscopia was also a master musician and could play the harpsicord, clavichord, harp, and violin.
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Elena was born in Venice to an influential nobleman. However, her mother was not married to the nobleman, Gianbattista Cornaro-Piscopia at the time. As a result, she was not officially part of the Cornaro family and was barred from noble privilege.
Elena was seven years old when she became proficient in Latin, Greek, French and Spanish.
Elena Cornaro Piscopia also composed music.
Elena Cornaro Piscopia’s accomplishments were acknowledged across Europe. She was invited to be part of or lead many scholarly societies including the Venetian Society Accademia dei Pacifici (Academy of the Peaceful).
When Elena Cornaro Piscopia’s tutor, Felice Rotondi, initially petitioned the University of Padua to grant Elena a Doctor of Theology. The Bishop of Padua, denied that request since Elena Cornaro Piscopia was a woman, but he did allow her to pursue a Doctorate of Philosophy degree.
When her degree was conferred on June 25, 1678, the ceremony was held at the Padua Cathedra instead of the University. Aside from University authorities, professors, and students, Venetian senators and guests from other Universities at Bologna, Perugia, Rome, and Naples also attended. When she passed away, memorial services were held in Venice, Pauda, Siena, and Rome.
After obtaining her Doctorate of Philosophy degree, Elena Cornaro Piscopia divided her time between further studies and tending to and caring for the poor.