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Google Celebrates 1st Woman to Receive a Doctorate

In World
June 05, 2019

Google on Wednesday celebrated Italian philosopher and theologian Elena Cornaro Piscopia with a Doodle. She is said to be the first woman to earn a PhD or doctorate degree and that too, at a time when the church did not view women studying theology and philosophy favourably.

In fact when Piscopia appeared for her oral examination it garnered such huge interest that it had to be conducted at the Padua cathedral instead of the university, in order to accommodate the huge audience of professors, students, senators and many other guests, invited from universities across Italy.

During her viva, Piscopia impressed the committee speaking in Latin to explain tough passages which were randomly selected from Aristotle’s writings. The committee chose to express their approval publicly in granting her the doctorate rather than doing so through secret ballot.

A wreath of laurel was placed on her head, with a gold ring on her finger, a book of philosophy in her hand and an ermine cape on her shoulders, as is illustrated in Google’s Doodle. Born in Venice on this day in 1646, Piscopia received her PhD at the age of 32. Throughout her lifetime, she had learned several languages, subjects and the use of many musical instruments.

When she was just seven, her parents recognised her potential. They were encouraged by a family friend to give her lessons in Greek and Latin, other than that she was also well versed in Hebrew, Spanish, French and Arabic. Piscopia studied the use of several musical instruments like the harpsichord, clavichord, harp and violin. She also studied mathematics and astronomy. But, what really interested her was theology and philosophy.

At 26, Piscopia enrolled at the University of Padua in 1672 after becoming the president of the Venetian society Accademia dei Pacifici. There, she applied for a Doctorate of Theology, but was rejected as church officials refused to give the title to a woman. After much struggle and a little support from her father, Piscopia was successful in applying for a Doctorate of Philosophy.