Anna Maria van Schurman (Cologne, 5 November 1607 – 4 May 1678 Wiewerd) became the first female university student of Europe (Utrecht University, 1636) and the most learned woman of her time. Born in Cologne, she lived most of her life behind the Domcathedral in Utrecht, Holland, where she became known for her knowledge of theology, philosophy, medicines and of at least 14 languages (Dutch, German, French, English, Italian, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Syriac, Samaritan, Persian and Ethiopic). She even composed a grammar for Ethiopic. Van Schurman was a multi-talented woman. She was an artist, wrote poetry in German, Dutch, Latin, Greek, Hebrew and corresponded with many learned men and women of the European Res Publica Litteraria (the Republic of Letters), for example from England and Ireland: Simonds D’ Ewes, James Harrington, Bathsua Makin, John Owen, Elisabeth Stuart, Queen Henrietta Maria, Samuel Collins, Samuel Rutherford, Dorothy Moore, John Dury, William Penn, Utricia Swann-Ogle and Archibald Hamilton. She was a succesful writer and her Opuscula Hebraea Graeca Latina et Gallica, prosaica et metrica was published in 1648 and reprinted several times (1650, 1652, 1723, 1749). Almost every library of importance in Europe has work by her (even as north as Trondheim and Ostersund). The Opuscula also contains her logical defence of women’s right to study, the Dissertatio de ingenii muliebris ad doctrinam et meliores litteras aptitudine, translated into English as The Learned Maid. Thousands of people visited her, among these queen Christina from Sweden and Maria de Gonzaga from Poland. Later in life she left the academy, the church and city of Utrecht and joined the radical wandering protestant Labadists (1669). As a defence she wrote a humanistic autobiography in Latin, the Eukleria.
Read further for more detail and for beautiful pictures of her works of art:
Pieta van Beek, The first female university student: Anna Maria van Schurman (1636) Utrecht: Igitur, 2010, pp. 262-274.
1607 (5 November) Birth of Anna Maria van Schurman in Cologne. She lived in the house The Cronenberg at the ‘Krummer Buchel’.
1610 After a religious persecution she and her parents (Frederik van Schurman and Eva von Harff) and her brothers Hendrik Frederik, Johan Godschalk and Willem left Cologne for the family castle at Dreiborn, near Schleiden.
1613/1615 The Van Schurman family settled in Utrecht in the Republic of the United Provinces. They rented a house at the Domsquare. Anna Maria attended the French school for a few months only. A house master taught the Van Schurman children ‘writing, arithmetic, the art of singing/ music vocal as well as on instruments’. She played the lute and clavichord.
1618 Father Van Schurman changed his mind about women and Latin and admitted his daughter into the world of Latin, the language of learning, although he censured some classical authors.
1620 Poetess and artist Anna Roemer Visscher wrote a beautiful praise poem on Van Schurman and introduced in her into the literary circle of writers and artists like Cats. She praised her as ‘the pride of all maidens who ever pursued knowledge’.
1623 The Van Schurman family moved to Franeker, an university town in Friesland. Frederik Van Schurman enrolled for the lectures by the Puritan professor William Ames, and Johan Godschalk for geometry.
1623 Frederik van Schurman died on the 15th of November, but not without exacting a promise never to get married from his only daughter. ‘My love is crucified’ would be her motto her whole life. He was buried in the Martini Church in Franeker.
1626 Eva von Harff and the children moved back to Utrecht. Anna Maria van Schurman continued her studies as autodidact, and received training for the artistic arts (embroidery, drawing, papercutting).
1626-1636 Anna Maria became part of the literary circle, due to her knowledg and artistic skills. She wrote to professor Heinsius, Revius and Rivet and impressed them. The Utrecht advocate and antiquarian Arnoldus Buchelius noted everything she wrote and wrote to her himself: ‘Farewell, jewel of learned women, from him who admires, honours and -if I may be so bold’- holds you dearly to his heart’.
1632 Brother Hendrik Frederik passed away and was buried in the family crypt in the Cunera Church in Rhenen.
1636 Opening of the Utrecht University. Anna Maria van Schurman was invietd to write a Latin poem in honour of the university. In the poem she complained about the exclusion of women. Her complaint was succesfull, for she received permission to attend university lectures. Her poem was published together with the French and Dutch poem she wrote for the occasion. She became the first female university student of Europe and followed classes in humanities, medicine and theology. Her special booth (‘Ecoute’) was sometimes used by others, for example Descartes. She took private classes in Greek, Hebrew and theology by her reverend, professor and neighbour Gijsbertus Voetius.
1636-1654 Correspondence with many learned men and some women throughout Europe.
1637 Mother Eva von Harff died and was buried in the family crypt in the Cunera Church at Rhenen.
1638 Her correspondence with Leyden professor Andreas Rivet resulted in her the publication of the Amica Dissertatio inter Annam Mariam Schurmanniam et Andr. Rivetum de capacitate ingenii muliebris ad scientia at Paris. She claimed that this book was published without her consent.
In the same year she published Latin poems in a book by Theodorus Dousa, Lusus imaginis iocosae, sive, Echus a variis poetis, variis linguis.
1639 Publication of De Vitae Termino together with other essays by men on the same topic at the request of the Dordrecht physician Johan van Beverwijck. Translated into Dutch as the Paelsteen vanden tijt onses levens and publushed separately several times.
1641 She published the Dissertatio de ingenii Muliebris ad Doctrinam et meliores Litteras aptitudine at Elzeviers, Leiden. Later translated into Englis (The Learned Maid) and French (Question Celebre). This work deals with the issue of the ability of the female mind for the study of arts and sciences.
1648 Her Opuscula Hebraea Graeca Latina et Gallica, prosaica et metrica published at Elzeviers, Leyden.
1650 Reprint of her Opuscula Hebraea Graeca Latina et Gallica, prosaica et metrica at Elzeviers, Leyden
1652 Editio tertia of her Opuscula Hebraea Graeca Latina et Gallica, prosaica et metrica at Van Waesberghe, Utrecht.
1653-1654 Anna Maria van Schurman, her brother Johan Godschalk and her aunts Agnes and Sibylla von Harff stayed in Cologne, in order to reclaim familiy property. She felt like an exile in Cologne and extolled Utrecht as the holy city Jerusalem, as she wrote in a beautiful Dutch poem ‘Aenmerkinghe over het onderscheid tusschen Utrecht en Ceulen’ with the famous lines ‘O Utrecht lieve Stadt hoe soud ick u vergeeten.’
1654 Queen Christina of Sweden visited Anna Maria van Schurman in Utrecht. Van Schurman drew her picture and wrote the lovely poem in Latin ‘In effigiem Christinae serenissimae potentissimaeque suecorum reginae in comparabilis.’
1658 Anna Maria van Schurman sent a Latin poem to the Danish learned woman Birgitta Thott to congratulate her with her translations from the Latin of Seneca into Danish.
1660-1662 Anna Maria van Schurman, her brother, their aunts and two servants stayed in Lexmond, in the countryside. The two aunts died and were buried in the Cunera Church in Rhenen. Johan Godschalck left for a study trip to Germany and Switzerland.
1662 Johan Godschalck met the ex-Jezuiet and Calvinist preacher Jean the Labadie in Geneva.
1664 Johan Godschalck died in Utrecht and was buried in the family crypt in the Cunera Church in Rhenen.
1666 With letters of recommendation by Anna Maria van Schurman Jean de Labadie is called to the Walloon church of Middelburg, Zeeland. At his arrival he stayed with his disciples Pierre Yvon, Pierre du Lignon and Jean Menuret and with Van Schurman in her house behind the Domcathedral for ten days.
1667 Dedication of a volume of French poems ‘Le Triomphe de l’Eucharistie’ by Jean de Labadie to Anna Maria van Schurman, published at Amsterdam. From this it becomes clear that he wanted to take the place of her brother Johan Godschalck, who had recently passed away.
1668 Her religious-didactic poem ‘Bedenckingen over de toekomst van Christi Coninkryk’ (Concerns about the future of the Kingdom of Christ) was sung in Mijdrecht, at the home of church minister Van Almeloveen, in a circle of friends.
1668 Professor Matthias Nethenus dedicated his Examen Arminianismi to Anna Maria van Schurman. He praised her as ‘our Utrecht Minerva, but not pagan, rather Christian; no goddess, but a worshipper of the true God; not ficitious, but a living being’.
1669 Anna Maria van Schurman published the pamphlet in French Pensées de A.M. de Schurman sur la Reformation necessaire à present a l’Eglise de Christ.
1669 She sold her house, left Utrecht and joined the group around Jean de Labdie who was excommunicated in Middelburg and had started his own ‘house church’ in Amsterdam.
1670 Anna Maria van Schurman and the group around Jean de Labadie left Amsterdam for Herford in Westphalia where they found a place to stay with Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia. She was a former friend of Van Schurman and the abbess of a Reformed convent. Here in Herford community of property was introduced. The Holy Communions were celebrated in an ecstatic way, with dancing and kissing.
1672 Due to conflicts with the locals the Labadists had to move. They found a a refugium in Altona, near Hamburg.
1673 Van Schurman published her autobiography and defence, the Eukleria seu Melioris Partis Electio.
1674 Jean de Labadie died. The dislike of the Labadists was so strong in Altona that a month passed before De Labadie was given a burial.
1675 Van Schurman and the Labadists settled in Wiewerd, Friesland at Waltha castle
1675 Publication of Heilige Lof-sangen ter Eeren Gods, tot Heerlykheid van Jesus Christus, en tot Vertroostinge en Vreugde van sijn Kerk.
1678 (14 May) Anna Maria van Schurman died/ Beneath her last self-portrait the following poem was engraved:
See here the noble maiden, described as unparalleled / before she chose the best part instead of worldly praise / She seemed to be composed of Wisdom, Spirit and Virtue/ Her love was crucified, the Cross was her joy/ Art, languages, science, erudition, greatness and glory/ Gladly she laid it all at the feet of Christ.
Siet hier de Eedle Maegt, genaemt weergadeloos, Eer sy voor ‘w Werelts lof het beste deel verkoos. Sy was als saemgestelt van Wysheyt, Geest en Deugd, Haer liefde was gekruyst, het Kruys was hare vreugd. Kunst, Talen, Wetenschap: Geleertheyt, Grootheyt, Eer, Met blytschap ley sy ‘t al voor Christi voeten neer. )