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Elena Cornaro: the first woman graduate in the world is from Veneto


That's right, Veneto boasts the first woman graduate in the world, Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia: it is precisely in Padua that Elena graduated in philosophy in 1678.


Natural daughter of the noble Giovanni Battista Cornaro, prosecutor of San Marco, and of the commoner Zanetta Boni, she was born in Venice in 1646, the fifth of seven children. She was enrolled in the honor roll of nobles at 18, when her father shelled out 100,000 ducats to elevate her and her brothers to patricians.

She soon became passionate about studies, in which she was followed by her father, who was determined to use Elena's talents to redeem the prestige of the Cornaro family.

For this purpose he entrusted it to the best theologians and professors on the market, thanks to whom he developed a profound culture in many fields, from languages ​​to literature, from art to music.


Soon, however, Elena realized a passion that stood out more than the others, an authentic religious vocation, which pushed her to become a Benedictine oblate at the age of nineteen. This choice displeased her parents, who intended for her to marry, but it avoided the disappointment of monastic confinement and allowed the young woman to live following the Benedictine rule. In 1677 she applied for a degree in theology, but a woman was not allowed to receive such a degree.

Thus began a long controversy between the University of Padua, which had agreed to the degree, and Cardinal Barbarigo. At 32 years old, on 25 June 1678, Elena finally obtained her degree: however, it was granted to her in philosophy and therefore not in theology, as initially desired.


Her culture was so high that she was considered by her family to be a phenomenon to be exhibited, an erudite woman capable of tackling philosophical dissertations and capable of conversing in Latin. At that time it amazed intellectuals that all this happened in a woman's body.

Elena took her revenge, she had become a celebrity, everyone was looking for her because they wanted to talk to her.

Louis XVI also sent his informants to verify the woman's exceptional qualities.


Some say that there were 30 thousand people taking part in the event that day.


A few years later, however, given his already poor health, also put to the test by long study sessions, he fell ill more and more frequently and for long periods, until he died in July 1684.


She is only 38 years old and very little remains of her: in 1773 Caterina Dolfin donated the statue depicting Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia to the University of Padua, which is now placed at the foot of the Cornaro staircase, in the Ancient Courtyard of Palazzo Bo (in Padua) and only in 1969, on the occasion of the tricentenary, the University of Padua finally takes action, starting research on Elena and confirming the truth of the story.

Furthermore, a high school in Jesolo was recently named after him.



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