Most Astounding Woman You’ve Never Heard Of

Juana Ines de la Cruz might be the most astounding women you’ve never heard of.
Born in 1651 in what is now Mexico, de la Cruz was reading and writing by the age of 3 and, having mastered everything in her grandfather’s extensive library by the age of five, began begging to attend a university.  Her family believed the university wasn’t a place for five year olds and instead sent her to study under Martín de Olivar, a priest.  She quickly learned everything the de Olivar had to teach her (Latin only took her 20 lessons to master), and became maid of honor to Marqués de Mancera, the Spanish viceroy’s wife.

De la Cruz’s mistress, Marqués de Mancera, enjoyed showing off her maid’s intellect.  In an era when women were not educated and when feminism wasn’t supposed to exist, de la Cruz was an educated feminist at court.  Groups of professors and priests would gather to quiz de la Cruz.  She always impressed them with her well-reasoned, educated answers.  But in a reality where women could be mothers, wives, prostitutes, or nuns, de la Cruz made the only decision available to her as an intellectual young woman with an insatiable thirst for knowledge–as a teenager, she became a nun.

Past being a feminist nun, de la Cruz was an independent voice for the oppressed.  One of the most important poets in the Spanish Golden Age, de la Cruz wrote not only in the Spanish of the elite, but in the accented Spanish of African Slaves and the languages of indigenous America.  She dared to write feminist social critiques in the seventeenth century.  Her access to books was revoked by an angry church shortly before her death from the plague, but her work lives on.

Juana Ines de la Cruz might just be the most astounding women you’ve never heard of.
— Shea Daniels

About Ohio U Women's Center

The Ohio University Women’s Center serves and responds to the needs of OU women students, faculty, and staff, as well as members of the community. Founded in 2007, the center is dedicated to creating an inclusive and welcoming campus climate for all members of the community through programs, resources, referrals, advocacy, and education. Located in Baker University Center 403.
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