Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

Date: 1680
Owner: Granger Collection, The
Source Type: Images


Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1651-1695) was a seventeenth century Mexican polymath, a female genius renowned for her plays, poetry, painting, proto-feminist views, and knowledge of science. As a teenager in Mexico City, Sor Juana, though largely self-educated, impressed the viceroyal court with her aptitude for all manners of learning and, instead of sacrificing her studies and intellectual freedom to the constraints of marriage, she decided to become a nun. In the convent, Sor Juana amassed one of the largest libraries in the New World and a variety of scientific and musical instruments. Her secular plays and other writings earned her much praise in her lifetime, and many of her works dealt with advanced scientific subjects like astronomy.

Sor Juana eventually came under attack for her intellectual pursuits. Leading men of the Catholic Church censured her for focusing on scientific and scholarly studies that they considered to be the exclusive sphere of men, and the Bishop of Lima, Manuel Fernandez de Santa Cruz, published a letter criticizing her for engaging in secular learning. In what is perhaps her most famous writing, Sor Juana published a reply to the Bishop in 1691 in which she defended the benefits of female education and averred that studying the natural sciences furthered one's ability to know the sacred.

By the early 1690s, however, Sor Juana was finally overwhelmed by the omnipresent forces that sought to reserve learning for men alone. She sold off her books and instruments, confessed that her secular pursuits were sinful, and died soon after.

CITATION: "Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz." 18th Century. The Granger Collection, New York. 0023636.