The Prato della Valle square in Padua with some of the statues

Padua to honour first woman in history to get a PhD with a statue

Padua to honour first woman in history to get a PhD with a statue

Google had already paid respect to her with a Doodle back in 2019

The northern Italian city of Padua has plans to place the first statue of a woman on its Prato della Valle square. The Italian news agency ANSA reported that the sculpture will commemorate Elena Cornaro Piscopia, a 17th-century Venetian noblewoman, who was the first female person in the world to receive a doctoral academic degree.

With this honour, she will stand next to other famous Italian historical figures who have statues on the square, such as Savonarola, Galileo, Petrarch, Matnegna and Torquato Tasso. And it is indeed high time that female history of scholarship received some recognition in what has been stereotyped as a male-dominated field.

Elena Cornaro Piscopia was a polyglot and a child prodigy

Prato della Valle is the largest city square in Italy, and one of the largest in Europe. It consists of a green island surrounded by a canal in an oval shape, having an overall surface of 90,000 square metres. It is notable for its 78 statues placed at equal distances along the inner and outer perimeters of the island.

All of the statues are of notable historical men, most of them Italian and Venetian, but from now on there will be a bit of a diversity added to that gentleman’s club.

Elena Cornaro Piscopio was born in Venice in 1646 and was considered to be exceptionally gifted from a very young age. She learned Latin, Greek, French, Hebrew and Arabic and her studies included the standard for her time subjects of mathematics, philosophy, music and theology.

The young woman’s fame spread quickly in the scholarly circles of the Venetian Republic and her tutor petitioned for her to be granted a degree in Theology from the University of Padua. The Bishop of Padua refused on the grounds that she was a woman, however, he conceded to allow her to get a degree in Philosophy, which was conferred to her in 1678 with an official ceremony at the Padua Cathedral after she completed the course.

Elena Cornaro Piscopia never married and dedicated her life to academic pursuits before dying in 1684 of tuberculosis. Her achievement is remarkable given the social climate of her time, however sadly, she could not pave the way for broader acceptance of women in academia. Before the next woman could receive such a degree ( also Italian by the name of Laura Bassi), more than 50 years had to pass.



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