womens beyond border logo

BOXES beyond borders

Sor Juana

Kathryn Susannah Peck
USA - California 1999

Sor Juana Ines De La Cruz was a 16th century Mexican nun. Not only was she one of the greatest poets and playwrights of her time, she was also the first person on this continent to argue in writing for the rights of women to be educated.

In Sor Juana’s time, a girl had only two real choices: she could marry or she could join a convent. Juana was illegitimate and had no father to pay her dowry, so marriage to a wealthy man who might foster her deep love for knowledge was out of the question. Marriage to a poor man would end her education, so reluctantly she joined a convent. In her convent she had extensive free time which allowed her to continue her studies.

Although she was not allowed to leave the convent, she was allowed visitors and many important people came regularly to visit this brilliant woman. She became quite famous and her books were bestsellers in Spain.

Defying the Inquisition and the profoundly patriarchal world she lived in, she filled her room with over 4000 books and wrote voluminously, particularly poetry. Later in life, she was threatened into silence by the male Church hierarchy and forced to sign a statement of repentance.

Her final days were spent caring for the poor, and she died after she gave up writing while caring for her sisters during a plague.

In her room was a sign that she had not completely surrendered; an unfinished poem, carefully hidden.