June 5, 2019
Elena Cornaro Piscopia's 373rd Birthday
Today’s Doodle celebrates the distinguished Italian philosopher and theologian Elena Cornaro Piscopia. Born in Venice on this day in 1646, Elena was also the first woman to earn a Ph.D.
By the time Elena was seven, her parents had recognized her giftedness. A family friend encouraged them to give her lessons in Greek and Latin. She also mastered Hebrew, Spanish, French, and Arabic, while studying the harpsichord, clavichord, harp, and violin. Elena’s later studies also included mathematics and astronomy, but her greatest interest was in philosophy and theology. After becoming president of the Venetian society Accademia dei Pacifici, she enrolled at the University of Padua in 1672.
Although she was allowed to study there, Elena’s application for a Doctorate of Theology was rejected, because church officials would not bestow the title on a woman. With her father's support, she applied for a Doctorate of Philosophy. Her oral examination in 1678 attracted so much interest that the ceremony had to be moved from the university to Padua Cathedral to accommodate an audience that included professors, students, senators, and invited guests from Universities all over Italy.
Elena spoke in Latin, explaining difficult passages randomly selected from Aristotle’s writings. Her eloquence so impressed the committee that they expressed their approval viva voce rather than by secret ballot. A wreath of laurel was placed on her head, a gold ring on her finger, a book of philosophy in her hand, and an ermine cape upon her shoulders.
At the age of thirty-two, Elena became the first woman with a university doctorate, blazing a trail for generations of women to follow in her footsteps into the highest levels of academia.
Early draft by artist Alyssa Winans
Today's Doodle was created by California-based Doodler Alyssa Winans, who shares her thoughts on Elena Cornaro Piscopia below:
Q: What part of Elena Cornaro Piscopia’s story do you personally find most inspiring?
A: I personally was inspired not only by Elena’s single-minded dedication to her studies but also by the sheer enjoyment she felt at the prospect of quiet study. Although she received many accolades in her life, it was clear that they were never what she was after; she simply loved knowledge.
Q: Which aspect of her life and/or work did you seek to express in this Google Doodle?
A: From my research, it sounds like Elena was at her happiest when she was able to study undisturbed, whether at home or at many of the libraries she would frequent in her life.
Q: What medium do you prefer to use in your illustrations? Did you do anything different on this one from a technical standpoint?
A: I created this one entirely on the computer; the art itself was fairly straightforward, although I did take some creative liberties on the portrait, as we only have paintings left from her time.
Q: How important do you think it is to highlight the accomplishments of women in academic fields?
A: I think it’s vital, not only to inspire students of today to recognize what they can accomplish but also to paint an accurate portrait of women’s contributions throughout history.