ANNA MARIA VAN SCHURMAN (1607-1678)
Praise Anna Maria van Schurman!
She mastered Greek, Latin and German,
Hebrew and Syriac,
Her efforts were just superhurman.
Note: When her older brothers were studying Latin, and she French, in the same room, Anna Maria would shout out the (right) answers to the questions her brothers couldn’t answer. Seeing this potential, Anna Maria’s father helped her learn Latin, and she was on her way. On his death bed, he made her promise that she would never get married. So she turned to studying, which she did, day and night, until it made her ill. After recovering, she would go right back to studying. Writing a poem about her, the clergyman Jacobus Revius said: “The beauty of your mind outshines us all.” We know from her contemporaries that she studied Plato, the Stoics, and Seneca, among others. She corresponded with Marie de Gournay (see earlier post) and Elisabeth of Bohemia (see later post), discussed philosophy and science with Descartes, and was widely known as a marvel. Her memory was prodigious: she could recite Homer by heart, as well as the Greek Church Fathers. By 1633, she was well known in the Netherlands as “the jewel of learned women”. A few years later, the theologian Voetius invited her to compose a poem (printed and widely disseminated) praising the establishment of the new University of Utrecht (1636). She was permitted to attend university lectures and disputations, but only hidden behind a screen in a separate cubicle. In her Dissertatio (1638), she defends the (at the time, radical) proposition that women are capable of studying what we now think of as the liberal arts: women have a longing for knowledge and their tranquil lives give them the opportunity to do so. (I am indebted to Pieta van Beek’s The First Female University Student: Anna Maria van Schurman (1636).)