|Juana Ines de la Cruz (1651-1695) aged 15 years, artist unknown|
Wikipedia: Juana Ines de la Cruz de Asbaje y Ramirez was born in San Miguel Nepantla, near Mexico City. She was the illegitimate child of a Spanish Captain, Pedro Manuel de Asbaje, and a Criollo woman, Isabe Ramirez. Her father, according to all accounts, was absent from her life. She was baptized December 2 and described on the Baptismal rolls as "a daughter of the Church." The future poet was raised in Amecameca, where her maternal grandfather owned a hacienda called Panoaya.
Juana was a devoutly religious child who hid in the hacienda chapel to read her grandfather's books from the adjoining library, something forbidden to girls. She learned how to read and write at the age of three. By age five, she could do accounts, and at age eight she composed a poem on the Eucharist. By adolescence, she had mastered Greek logic, and at age thirteen she was teaching Latin to young children. She also learned the Aztec language ofNahuatl, and wrote some short poems in that language.
In 1664, at age sixteen, Juana was sent to live in Mexico City. She asked her parents' permission to disguise herself as a male student so that she could enter the university. Not being allowed to do this, she continued her studies privately. She came under the tutelage of the Vicereine Leonor Carreto, wife of Viceroy Antonio Sebastián de Toledo. The viceroy (whom Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography names as the Marquis de Mancera), wishing to test her learning and intelligence (she being then seventeen years old), invited several theologians, jurists, philosophers, and poets to a meeting, during which she had to answer, unprepared, many questions, and explain several difficult points on various scientific and literary subjects. The manner in which she acquitted herself astonished all present, and greatly increased her reputation. Her literary accomplishments soon made her famous throughout New Spain.
She was much admired in the vice-royal court , and declined several proposals of marriage. In 1667, she entered the Convent of the Discalced Carmelites of St. Joseph as apostulant. In 1669, she entered the Convent of the Order of St. Jérôme. In Juana's time, the convent was often seen as the only refuge in which a female could properly attend to education of her mind, spirit, body and soul. Nonetheless, she wrote literature centered on freedom. In her poem Redondillasshe defends a woman's right to be respected as a human being.