Elena Lucrezia Peshkopia, First female doctor of philosophy in the world
Elena is the first woman in the world to receive a doctorate of philosophy. She was the most learned woman of her century in Europe. The statue of Elena that is found at the University of Padua, one of the oldest and best-known Europian universities, testifies to the values of her life’s achievements. This is also proven by the 22-foot-high stained glass window in the Frederick Ferris Thomson Memorial Library at Vassar College in New York (USA), where she is portrayed defending her thesis on Aristotle.
Elena was born in Venice in 1646. She completed the Scuola di Santa Maria e di San Gallo degli Albanesi in Venice, a school that had an early educational tradition in the Republic of Venice (St. Mark’s Republic).
The school was founded by educated Albanians and Albanian noblemen on 22 October 1442, and it continued to be the cradle of the education of Albanians until the end of the eighteenth century. From the beginning, boys and girls followed the school together. The protector of the school was Our Lady of Good Counsel (Madonna de buon consiglio), the protector of Albania, St. Gall and also, from 1447, St. Maurice. The school was supported with the taxes (luminaria) that the Albanians paid, and women were included both in the obligations as well as the benefits that it offered.
The Albanian Viktor Karpaçi (Vittore Carpacio), a distinguished artist of the Europian Renaisance, oversaw the construction of the building and the decoration of the school’s facades, while the paintings that he made for the school are found today in the galleries of Venice, Milan, Paris (the Louvre), Vienna, London and elsewhere.
The large presence of Albanians in the Republic of Venice is connected to the Albanians settlements in Sicily, Southern Italy and Dalmatia in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, as a consequence of the Ottoman conquest as they came closer to the West.
Elena, being musically talented and a polyglot, continued her studies in philosophy and astronomy and followed the doctoral programme in philosophy at the University of Padua. She defended her doctoral thesis on 25 June 1678 before professors of philosophy and logic, medicine, theology. She became a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Padua, where she served until her death. She died of tuberculosis on 26 July 1684 at the age of 38 and was buried at St. Luke’s Chapel, named in 1978 Capella Cornaro.