The Genius Nun
“I don’t study to know more, but to ignore less.”—Juana Inés de la Cruz
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was a 17th century nun, self-taught scholar and acclaimed writer of the Latin American colonial period and the Hispanic Baroque. She was also a staunch advocate for women’s rights. (biography.com)
What strikes me most about Juana is her consistent thirst for learning—it drove her for her entire life. She spoke of her experience as a young girl: “… I was not yet three years old when my mother determined to send one of my elder sisters to learn to read at a school for girls we call the Amigas. Affection, and mischief, caused me to follow her, and when I observed how she was being taught her lessons I was so inflamed with the desire to know how to read, that deceiving — for so I knew it to be — the mistress, I told her that my mother had meant for me to have lessons too. … I learned so quickly that before my mother knew of it I could already read ...”
Now, this is back in the days when girls didn’t get further education. Rather than getting married, she opted to join a convent at the age of 16 in order to continue learning at will. She famously wrote many plays and poems for the church but also wrote on secular subjects, and spoke out strongly for women’s rights and education. She surrounded herself with books and scientific and musical instruments in order to teach herself everything she could. She was a mind ahead of her time. She knew it, and she made sure to use it!
You can see Juana’s portrait on Mexican money.