Google celebrated the 373rd birthday of the first woman in the world to hold a Ph.D. degree, named Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia. She is also known as Helen Cornaro. Born on June 5, 1646, in the Palazzo Loredan, at Venice, Republic of Venice, Helen was one of the first women to receive an academic degree from a university.
She was considered an illegitimate child of Gianbattista Cornaro-Piscopia and therefore, wasn’t allowed to enjoy the privileges of being the child of a noble parent. Her mother, named Zanetta Boni, was the mistress Gianbattista. It is believed that Zanetta fled to Venice and became the mistress of a man who belonged to one of the most powerful noble dynasties in the Republic. However, she married Gianbattista in the year 1654.
Lady Elena, as she was later called, vowed of chastity at the age of eleven. Therefore, she refused everything that men offered in lieu of getting married to her. She also never gave in to her father’s efforts in arranging betrothals for her. In 1665, she took the habit of Benedictine Oblate but didn’t become a nun.
Elena had shown the signs of a brilliant mind from early childhood. It is believed that she was seen as a prodigy ever since she was very young. By the age of seven, Elena is said to have mastered six languages – Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Hebrew, and Arabic. She was given the title of Oraculum Septilingue for her achievement. She later studied mathematics, philosophy, and theology. The other subjects that she mastered in her career included music, physics, astronomy and linguistics.
She was refused to be granted the laurea (post-secondary academic degree in Italy) in theology by the bishop of Padua on the grounds of being a woman. However, she received the laurea in Philosophy later when she got a degree by performing prolifically during the course of study.
Elena spent most of her years studying and doing charity. She died in the year 1684 at Padua due to tuberculosis. She was buried at the church of Santa Giustina at Padua. The University of Padua still has her statue.