Elena Piscopia - First Female Doctor of Philosophy

Elena Piscopia was born in 1646 into a wealthy family in Italy that valued education. Even though she was "only a girl", her family praised her love of knowledge and gave her the tutors and books she craved. She could speak at least six languages and loved philosophy in particular.

In 1672, Elena enrolled in the University of Padua, which was an achievement in itself. She excelled in her studies and was content to take them just for the joy of learning. But her family felt very strongly that Elena's skills were better than the other students - and that she therefore should get a degree, just like the men did.

Elena gave in to her family's wishes and applied for a degree, but the Roman Catholic Church refused. They did not feel a female was worthy of the title of the degree, even though Elena had proven herself quite up to the skills required. Finally, with pressure coming in from various sides, the church agreed to let her try the exam. They figured she would never pass.

In fact, the examiners were awe-struck with the intelligence and insight that Elena possessed, and gave her her degree with flying colors. At age 32, Elena became the very first woman awarded this degree. She was handed it on June 25, 1678.

Elena died in 1684, having become world famous for her skills in lecturing and discussing philosophy.

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