25.06.

1678: Elena Cornaro Piscopia: First Woman in History to Receive a University Degree

1678: Elena Cornaro Piscopia: First Woman in History to Receive a University Degree
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons

Story Highlights

  • Historical event:
  • 25 June 1678
  • Elena Cornaro Piscopia was from a prominent noble family and she began to study Greek and Latin apparently already at the age of seven. Besides the classical languages - Greek and Latin - Elena also mastered Hebrew, French, Spanish, and Arabic. Thus, including her native Italian, she knew seven languages.

On this day in 1678, a woman received a university degree for the first time in history. Her name was Elena Cornaro Piscopia and she was originally from Venice.

Elena was from a prominent noble family and she began to study Greek and Latin apparently already at the age of seven, under distinguished instructors.

Besides the classical languages – Greek and Latin – Elena also mastered Hebrew, French, Spanish, and Arabic. Thus, including her native Italian, she knew seven languages.

Apart from languages, Elena studied mathematics, philosophy, and theology. She studied at the renowned University of Padua, the second-oldest in Italy after Bologna.

Notably, the University of Padua functioned as a key university of the Venetian Republic, as there were no universities in Venice (local rulers deliberately did not want a university in Venice, as such intellectual institutions were potentially centers of movements dangerous for the government, and perhaps even for public morality).

Elena received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Padua on this day. So, she was not only the first woman to graduate, but also formally the first woman with a doctorate.

Let us just note that, in her time, a doctorate meant the successful completion of university studies. The first Doctorate in terms of an advanced post-graduate degree received by a woman, was the one received by Pole Stefania Wolicka in 1875.

Unfortunately, Elena died quite young, at the age of only 38 years. In the era of her scientific career, she was a member of several academies.

By the year of birth (1646), Elena Cornaro Piscopia was the same age as the known scientist Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and the famous Isaac Newton also lived in her time.

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