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Elena Lucrezia Corner
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The Italian Elena Lucrezia Corner was the first woman in the world to graduate

Born in Venice in 1646, Elena Lucrezia Corner Piscopia is considered the first woman in the world to obtain a university degree. She achieved this prestigious title at age 32 in 1678, distinguishing herself as a scholar of noble origins. Her success made her an inspirational figure for women, demonstrating an act of courage that was often suppressed in the courtly environments of the time. The year 1678 marked a crucial turning point, paving the way for female education and access to higher learning.

This is her story, and today I will tell you how we went from “it is absurd to grant a woman a doctorate” to even dedicating a crater on the planet Venus to her.

Denied access to theology, she turned to philosophy

Elena Lucrezia was always supported in matters of education and culture by the illustrious figures of her time. Her father, in fact, her great supporter, was also a visionary figure far ahead of his time. In such a context, she quickly mastered the study of various languages, such as Arabic, Aramaic, Spanish, and French. She also cultivated the development of a mindset antithetical to that of her time through the deepening of philosophy and Latin culture. The Corner family (often Italianized as Cornero) always sought to redeem the glory of their lineage, also leveraging the remarkable talents of their daughter Elena.

University of Padua
Elena graduated from the University of Padua in philosophy in 1678 | Credit

However, the fifth of seven children always showed a marked religious devotion, which was never accepted by the ecclesiastical court. Becoming an oblate at the age of 19, two years later she applied to pursue a theology degree, which was denied by the then Chancellor of the University of Padua, Cardinal Gregorio Barbarigo.

Nevertheless, against the trends and ideals of the time, she managed to enroll in a degree course, in philosophy. Studying a subject considered predominantly for men, as theology was, was indeed considered absurd.

After graduating, she moved from Venice, her birthplace, to Padua, where she died at a young age in 1684, at just 38 years old.

Despite its symbolic value, Elena Lucrezia’s life dedicated to study represented nothing more than a brief glimmer of light that immediately closed and never reopened for 50 years. Laura Bassi, another woman, would not graduate in philosophy until 1732, at the University of Bologna in Italy.

 Vassar College - Poughkeepsie
Stained glass window dedicated to Elena at the library Vassar College in Poughkeepsie | Credit

Elena Lucrezia Corner’s story is celebrated worldwide

Tributes and honors pour in from around the world for the courageous Italian scholar. Not only in Italy but even beyond this planet. The Piscopia crater on the planet Venus, with a diameter of 26 km, has been dedicated to her.

In addition to the dedication of various educational institutions in different locations, such as Trento, Jesolo, and Imperia. Elena Lucrezia Corner is also remembered in a stained glass window at the library of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, the county seat of Dutchess County in the state of New York.

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