Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651-1695) was born as Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana. She was born as an illegitimate child in a small town outside of Mexico City. She lived with her maternal grandfather who owned a hacienda. She often hid in the hacienda's chapel to read her grandfather's books from the adjoining library.
At the age of 16, Juana Inés de la Cruz briefly entered the Convent of the Discalced Carmelites of St. Joseph, leaving after finding the rules to be too strict. In 1669, she entered the Convent of San Jerónimo, where she remained the rest of her life. The life of this convent was not austere. The nuns had private living quarters, kitchens, baths. Many of the nuns, including Sor Juana, had servants. This lifestyle allowed Sor Juana to amass her own library, to write, correspond, study, and hold intellectual court with her friends. Her duties at the Convent included attendance of divine offices, observance of canonical hours, and teaching girls musical and dramatic activities. She was nominated as prioress several times but declined the honor.
Sor Juana's "enduring importance and literary success are partly attributable to her mastery of the full range of poetic forms and themes of the Spanish Golden Age, and her writings display inventiveness, wit and a wide range of knowledge. Juana employed all of the poetic models of her day, including sonnets and romances, and she drew on wide-ranging—secular and nonsecular—sources. Unlimited by genre, she also wrote dramatic, comedic and scholarly works—especially unusual for a nun." Her most famous works include "Primero Sueo" or "First Dream", recounting the soul's quest for knowledge and "Hombres Necios" or "Foolish Men" which accuses men of behaving illogically by criticizing women. A large collection of her works are available at Audiolibros, and can be downloaded in the mp3 format at no cost.
in 1690, Sor Juana wrote a critique of a famous sermon of Portuguese Jesuit, Antonio de Vieira at the request of her friend the Bishop of Puebla. The Bishop of Puebla published it without permission and then using a pen name Sor Philothea de la Cruz admonished Sor Juana to focus on religious studies instead of secular studies. Sor Juana publishes "Respuesta a Sor Filotea" or "Reply to Sor Philothea" defend women's right to education and justifying her study of secular topics as necessary to understanding theology. Shortly after she gives up her intellectual studies for religious duties. In 1695, while caring for sick sister nuns during an epidemic, she herself dies.
With the rise of feminism, Sor Juana became national icon of Mexico. Her poetry is taught in public schools and many students and adults can recite her poetry.