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Elena Cornaro Piscopia: Five things to know about the first woman to receive a PhD

Roman Catholic Church forbade her from obtaining a doctorate degree in theology 

Chelsea Ritschel
Wednesday 05 June 2019 15:48 BST
Google Doodle celebrates Italian scholar Elena Cornaro Piscopia

Google is remembering the impressive life of academic Elena Cornaro Piscopia with a Google Doodle on what would have been her 373rd birthday.

Piscopia was born into a noble family on 5 June 1646 in Venice, Italy, and recognised as a prodigy at just seven years old.

By her early 30s, Piscopia had obtained her doctorate degree, the first woman in the world to do so.

These are five interesting things you should know about the scholar.

1. She spoke seven languages fluently

At the age of seven, Piscopia began receiving tutoring in Latin and Greek. She proved to be a natural linguistic, and soon became fluent in the classics.

After mastering Greek and Latin, Piscopia also learned to speak Hebrew, Spanish, French, and Arabic, in addition to her native Italian.

2. She took a vow of celibacy at the age of 11

Although she did not tell anyone of her vow, Piscopia remained celibate throughout her lifetime, turning down various marriage proposals.

She later became a Benedictine oblate and devoted the last seven years of her life to charity and working with the poor.

3. By the age of 19, Piscopia was widely acknowledged to be the most learned woman in Italy

In addition to her skills in languages, and her vast knowledge of philosophy, theology, grammar, mathematics, science, and astronomy, Piscopia was also an accomplished musician, having mastered the harpsichord, clavichord, harp and violin. She was also a singer.

4. She was the first woman in the world receive a PhD

After making a name for herself as a brilliant academic, Piscopia was sent to the University of Padua to study at her father’s insistence.

There, Piscopia excelled in theology, however, the Roman Catholic Church forbade her from receiving a degree in theology, despite having fulfilled all the necessary credits.

As a solution, Piscopia was instead granted a PhD in philosophy at the age of 32, the first woman in the world to receive a doctorate degree.

5. She died at the age of 38

Piscopia died on 26 July 1684 of tuberculosis.

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She was buried in the Church of Santa Giustina at Padua. To honour the scholar, the University of Padua had a statue of Piscopia created.

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