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← History's "worst" nun - Theresa A. Yugar

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Showing Revision 4 created 11/19/2019 by lauren mcalpine .

  1. Juana Ramírez de Asbaje sat before a panel
    of prestigious theologians,
  2. jurists, and mathematicians.
  3. The viceroy of New Spain had invited them
    to test the young woman’s knowledge
  4. by posing the most difficult questions
    they could muster.
  5. But Juana successfully answered
    every challenge,
  6. from complicated equations to
    philosophical queries.
  7. Observers would later liken the scene
  8. to “a royal galleon fending
    off a few canoes.”
  9. The woman who faced this interrogation
    was born in the mid-17th century.

  10. At that time, Mexico had been a Spanish
    colony for over a century,
  11. leading to a complex and
    stratified class system.
  12. Juana’s maternal grandparents
    were born in Spain,
  13. making them members of Mexico’s
    most esteemed class.
  14. But Juana was born out of wedlock, and
    her father – a Spanish military captain –
  15. left her mother, Doña Isabel,
    to raise Juana and her sisters alone.
  16. Fortunately, her grandfather’s
    moderate means
  17. ensured the family
    a comfortable existence.
  18. And Doña Isabel set a strong example
    for her daughters,
  19. successfully managing one of her father’s
    two estates,
  20. despite her illiteracy and the
    misogyny of the time.
  21. It was perhaps this precedent that
    inspired Juana’s lifelong confidence.

  22. At age three, she secretly followed her
    older sister to school.
  23. When she later learned that higher
    education was open only to men,
  24. she begged her mother to let her attend
    in disguise.
  25. Her request denied, Juana found solace
    in her grandfather’s private library.
  26. By early adolescence, she’d mastered
    philosophical debate, Latin,
  27. and the Aztec language Nahuatl.
  28. Juana’s precocious intellect attracted

  29. from the royal court in Mexico City,
  30. and when she was sixteen,
  31. the viceroy and his wife took her in
    as their lady-in-waiting.
  32. Here, her plays and poems alternately
    dazzled and outraged the court.
  33. Her provocative poem Foolish Men
  34. infamously criticized sexist
    double standards,
  35. decrying how men corrupt women
    while blaming them for immorality.
  36. Despite its controversy, her work still
    inspired adoration,
  37. and numerous proposals.
  38. But Juana was more interested in knowledge
    than marriage.
  39. And in the patriarchal
    society of the time,
  40. there was only one place
    she could find it.
  41. The Church, while still under the zealous
    influence of the Spanish Inquisition,

  42. would allow Juana to retain her
    independence and respectability
  43. while remaining unmarried.
  44. At age 20, she entered the Hieronymite
    Convent of Santa Paula
  45. and took on her new name:
    Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.
  46. For years, Sor Juana was considered a
    prized treasure of the church.

  47. She wrote dramas, comedies, and treatises
    on philosophy and mathematics,
  48. in addition to religious music and poetry.
  49. She accrued a massive library,
  50. and was visited by many
    prominent scholars.
  51. While serving as the convent’s treasurer
    and archivist,
  52. she also protected the livelihoods of her
    niece and sisters
  53. from men who tried to exploit them.
  54. But her outspokenness ultimately brought
    her into conflict with her benefactors.

  55. In 1690, a bishop published Sor Juana’s
    private critique of a respected sermon.
  56. In the publication,
  57. he admonished Sor Juana to devote herself
    to prayer rather than debate.
  58. She replied that God would not have given
    women intellect
  59. if he did not want them to use it.
  60. The exchange caught the attention of the
    conservative Archbishop of Mexico.
  61. Slowly, Sor Juana was stripped of her
  62. forced to sell her books
    and give up writing.
  63. Furious at this censorship, but unwilling
    to leave the church,
  64. she bitterly renewed her vows.
  65. In her last act of defiance, she signed
  66. “I, the worst of all,” in her own blood.
  67. Deprived of scholarship, Sor Juana threw
    herself into charity work,

  68. and in 1695, she died of an illness she
    contracted while nursing her sisters.
  69. Today, Sor Juana has been recognized
    as the first feminist in the Americas.
  70. She’s the subject of countless
    documentaries, novels, and operas,
  71. and appears on Mexico’s 200-peso banknote.
  72. In the words of Nobel laureate
    Octavio Paz:
  73. “It is not enough to say that Sor Juana’s
    work is a product of history;
  74. we must add that history is also
    a product of her work.”