Women in History: Juana Inés de la Cruz

Ready for this awesome lady?


Juana Inés de la Cruz was a self-taught scholar and student of scientific thought, philosopher, composer, and poet. She was known as a nun who demonstrated the courage to challenge opinions and speak out for her beliefs, credited as the first published feminist of the New World.


Sor Juana, as a woman, had little access to formal education and would be almost entirely self-taught. She was sent to live with relatives in Mexico City, where the viceroy, Antonio Sebastián de Toledo, who had her knowledge tested by around 40 scholars.


In 1667, given her “total disinclination to marriage” and wish “to have no fixed occupation which might curtail my freedom to study,” Sor Juana became a nun at 16. She went on to spend her time, studying, writing, and teaching to the girls in Santa Paula’s school, while also working as the convent’s archivist and accountant. Eventually, she had collected one of the largest private libraries in the New World. During this time, she stayed in contact with other scholars and politicians, who helped her to publish her works in Spain.


It didn’t take long for Sor Juana to become a literary success due to her mastery of the all poetic forms and themes of the Spanish Golden Age, while her writings displayed inventiveness, wit and a genius. She drew on both secular and religious sources, writing dramatic, comedic and scholarly works— especially unusual for a nun. Many of her plays included brave and clever women, celebrating them as the seat of reason and knowledge in the 1600s.


Mad feminist vibes.



One critic of her writing was Bishop Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz, who published Sor Juana's critique of a 40-year-old sermon by Father António Vieira, a Portuguese Jesuit preacher. In addition to publishing that without her permission, under the pseudonym of Sor Filotea, he told her to focus on religious instead of secular studies. He published his criticisms to use them to his advantage against the Priest and while he agreed with her criticisms, he believed that as a woman, she should devote herself to prayer and give up her writings.


In response to critics of her writing, Juana wrote a letter, in which she defended women's right to education: "Oh, how much harm would be avoided in our country" if women were able to teach women in order to avoid the danger of male teachers in an intimate setting with young female students. She said that such hazards "would be eliminated if there were older women of learning, as Saint Paul desires, and instructions were passed down from one group to another, as in the case with needlework and other traditional activities."


Several high ranking officials began to condemn her, resulting in the end of Sor Juana’s writings, in order to avoid official censorship.

Sor Juana went on to sell all of her books, an extensive 4,000, and renew her religious vows. She died while tending to other sickened nuns during a plague on April 17th, 1695.


Mexico has honored and recognized Sor Juana in recent years by:

  • Having her name inscribed in gold on the wall of honor in the Mexican Congress

  • Pictured on the 200 pesos bill

  • The convent in Mexico City where she lived the last 27 years of her life is now the University of the Cloister of Sor Juana


Check in tomorrow for the last awesome woman of the week!


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