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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Juana de la Cruz

b. 1648 or 1651, San Miguel Nepantla, Mexico; d. 1695, Mexico City

A precocious child with little opportunity for formal education, Juana Inés de la Cruz was almost entirely self-taught. In 1664, she became a lady-in-waiting at the viceroy’s court in Mexico City, but by 1667 she had chosen a religious path, taking her vows at the Convent of Saint Paula in 1669. There she was free to develop her intellectual talents and to write—music, poetry, plays, in every genre, both secular and religious. The scope of her production is breathtaking. She amassed one of the largest private libraries in the New World. Her royal patrons, the viceroy and vicereine, had her works published in Spain. But with celebrity came scrutiny by church officials. The ax fell in 1690, when the bishop of Puebla, under the pen name Filotea de la Cruz, publicly admonished her interest in science and suggested she concentrate on theology. Sor Juana replied with a bravura defense of women’s right to knowledge, the Respuesta a sor Filotea de la Cruz (Reply to Sister Filotea of the Cross). But by 1693, she seems to have capitulated to censure; she stopped writing, her books were sold for alms, and she signed various penitential documents. Two years later, she died of the plague.