Recent graduate Kimberly Gonzalez and University Chaplain Zandra Wagoner discussed Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz’s role as a feminist educator in 17th century Mexico City Wednesday in the University Chapel.
Wagoner emphasized the historical context of Sor Juana’s achievements; Sor Juana lived in a time when most women could not receive an education.
“She is significant because so few women are remembered in our history books,” Wagoner said. “She was a remarkable intellectual, theologian, writer and creative artist. We are making sure her memory is preserved and honored.”
Juana de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana, also known as Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, was born on November 1651 in San Miguel Nepantla, Viceroyalty of New Spain.
At age 15, Sor Juana became a lady-in-waiting. Her father, well connected in the colonial viceroy court, got her access to the nobility, and she entertained viceroys with her literary work. While in court, 15 scholars questioned her to test her knowledge, and she shocked them with her intellect, Gonzalez said.
“She was very, very smart. She was particularly a genius and prodigy, especially in literature,” Gonzalez said.
Sor Juana was also an activist for women’s rights. One of her poems, “Foolish Men,” called out men for labeling and accusing women for issues that men themselves had caused.
Even though she was a lady-in-waiting, she had no desire to marry. Instead, she continued her studies in academia, left the court and became a nun. Displeased with the first convent, she briefly returned to court. She later joined the convent at Santa Paula. While in the convent, she still studied and wrote, Gonzalez said.
Jane Beal, associate professor of English British Literature said she believed that more people should know about what Sor Juana did for women and education in New Spain – now modern-day Mexico.
Sor Juana did not want to take part in an economy that exploited women, nor did she want to be a man’s mistress or wife, Beal said.
“Sor Juana said ‘I am going to be the bride of Christ’ and obtain the highest status possible in her culture,” Beal said.
She was not afraid to challenge the church and she wrote multiple religious works, with or without the church’s permission. She wrote a criticism of a Jesuit sermon, which earned her the scorn of Manuel Fernandez de Santa Cruz, the Bishop of Puebla. When she responded with criticisms of the Bishop’s remarks on women, the church refused to back her.
She had one of the biggest libraries in New Spain at the time, replete with instruments, scientific studies, her literary work, and the literary works of others.
After the church retaliated against her, she sold her library and quit her studies. As a result, the library slowly deteriorated.
“Now that I recall, there was a nun who went against the church,” junior history major Kathleen Garcia said. “They punished her and sold the library. Sor Juana was devastated, and most people were also really sad about the library being sold.”
She was also the convent’s accountant and archivist and a highly respectable person in the community.
She taught music and drama to girls at the Santa Paula school because of her love of education and passion for women’s educational rights, Gonzalez said.
Hannah Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.