Juana Inés Ramírez was born out of wedlock to a Spanish captain and the daughter of a wealthy landowner in a village outside of Mexico City in 1651.
She spent her formative years on the estate of her maternal grandfather, raised by her mother. By all accounts she was a child prodigy. She spent hours in her grandfather’s well-appointed library and had mastered Greek, Latin, and Nahuatl, as well as Aristotle’s “Logic,” in her pre-teen years.
At the age of 16 she asked for permission to disguise herself as a man and thus gain admittance to the university in Mexico City so she could continue her education. The grandfather instead got her a position as a lady-in-waiting to the Spanish Viceroy’s wife. There, she prospered and had access to a fine library which attracted the capital’s most erudite clerics, scientists and scholars. At age 17, she was quizzed by a panel of experts in various fields and—to the amazement of all present—showed a depth of learning well beyond her years.