Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia
1646 - 1684

Elena Piscopia was born June 5, 1646 in Venice, Italy. Elena was of noble decent; maybe it was because of this that she was allowed to be 'educated'. You see, during the time that Elena was born women were not encouraged to go to school, it was a privileged for men, and not even for all men! Since Elena was a part of a prestigious family she was allowed more educational privileges than most.

Elena was tutored by her parish priest in philosophy and theology. Other priests tutored her in grammar, mathematics, music and science, she had been considered to have excellent reasoning skills. She fell in love with philosophy and theology. She mastered the languages of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, French and Arabic. She also composed music and played the harpsichord, clavichord, harp and violin, at this time that was almost all of the instruments known.

Elena was a very religious person, she took the habit of a nun with out having actually become a nun. At age eleven she took a vow of chastity, because of this vow she never married.

At age thirty-two Elena was the first woman in the world to receive a doctorate degree. She received a Doctorate of Philosophy after she had (earned, but had) been denied the degree of Doctor of Theology. However, if it had not been for her father's encouragement and persistence she would have never received that degree. What makes this degree unique is that the university did not offer another Ph.D. to a woman for seventy years.

After receiving her degree Elena spent the last seven years of her life focusing on learning and ministering to the poor while catering to the discussions that people from around the world came to have with her.

Elena died July 26, 1684 of tuberculosis. In memory of this remarkable woman, her likeness was created in a stained glass window at Vassar College. Her portrait can be found upon the wall of the Italian classroom at the University of Pittsburgh, and of course, she is immortalized in a statue at the university from which she received her degree.

Contributed by Angela Ceradsky


  1. Crocker and Howard, http://crux.astr.ua.edu/400WS/PISCOPIA.html
  2. Pace, E.A. "Cornaro." New Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4, 1967.
  3. Theiling, Sarah, "Elena Piscopia", http://scottlan.edu/Iriddle/women

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