Among Sutro Library’s collections of books from colonial Mexican libraries are several that were kept and used by women’s convents. Though women were largely excluded from intellectual pursuits, these books account for some of the activities of “mujeres letradas” (lettered women), who were writers, printers, and readers. As Nuria Salazar Simarro writes in her article “Los libros del noviciado del convento de Jesus Maria de Mexico” (The Books of the Novitiate of the Convento de Jesus Maria de Mexico), the marks of ownership left in books that circulated within (and sometimes between) convents contest “la idea de falta de acceso de la mujer a una formacion intellectual” (the idea that women lacked access to intellectual development).
You can click on the italicized sub-headings to view Sutro’s catalog records for materials so far identified has having been owned by that convent. As the number of identified items grows, so will the records viewable at these links. To inquire about any of these materials, or request them for use in our reading room, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The top edge of this book is branded, but the symbol has been made using an ink pen on the bottom edge. The symbol is a monogram that uses the letters C, H, V, R, B, S, and O, the letters needed to spell Churubusco.
A copy of Santa Teresa de Avila’s Avisos espirituales bears the firebrand of the Convento de Santa Clara de Mexico. The book is inscribed by Francisca Maria de San Antonio, and beneath is another inscription which begins: “es libro ya no me acuerdo si me lo dieron o prestaron” (I no longer remember if this book was given or loaned to me). Vows of poverty prevented ownership of property, and books changed hands readily. Sometimes they were kept in a communal space, other times reserved by one or a few sisters for a prolonged period. “Los libros no contaban con un lugar fijo” (Books did not have fixed locations), Salazar Simarro notes.
On the edges of El religioso en soledad is written the name of a previous owner, Sor Maria Josefa de San Ignacio, a prominent member of the Convento de Jesus Maria in Mexico City who paid for the reprinting of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz’s Protesta de la fe in 1763.  A second mark of ownership, an inscription on the front free endpaper, states it is for her use. At the very end of the second volume is a third, longer inscription that gives a brief custodial history. First, it notes that San Ignacio was not just the former owner of this book, but solicited it as a donation from another sister. It asks “those who use it to pray for both” the donor and the solicitor, thus inviting multiple users, a sense of communal ownership, and a net positive from its increased circulation.
Painted Book Cover
This book’s original covers have been ensconced in decorative paper painted blue, orange, black and white. Look closely at the lower right-hand corner and you’ll see a two-color fabric tie sticking through the covering material. The paint used on the cover must have still been wet because some of it has transferred onto the front end paper. A previous owner has written a note begging whoever takes this book from her library to not hold on to it for too long.
As this blog post comes to an end, we should also reflect on the demise of these libraries. Many were dispersed in the 19th century as anticlericalism grew in Mexico. The separation of church and state came with the sale and nationalization of church property. Salazar Simarro outlines the complex afterlives of these books as convents tried to place them in sympathetic hands. She details a harrowing story in which the library of the Convento de Jesus Maria Mexico survived for many decades in a bath tub.
In Sutro Library’s copy of Arco iris de paz (Seville: Viuda de Francisco Lorenzo de Hermosilla, 1729), previously held by the Convento de Santa Clara, are a couple of small, printed forms summoning choir singers to a funeral service. Only one is dated, but they appear contemporary and so are likely from around the same time: 1857. That year, a new constitution took effect which led to severe rifts between the Mexican state and Catholic Church, with the archbishop of Mexico City threatening to excommunicate any Mexican Catholics who pledged allegiance to the new constitution. (Note that the images below represent one item, showing front and back.)
—Jose Guerrero is Cataloging and Metadata Librarian at Sutro Library.
 For a study of annotated books at women’s convents, see Nuria Salazar Simarro, “Los libros del noviciado del conveto de Jesus Maria de Mexico. Sus anotaciones manuscritas.” Boletin de Monumentos Historicos (Tercera Epoca), No. 40, May-August 201, pages 116-142. http://boletin-cnmh.inah.gob.mx/boletin/boletines/116-142.pdf
 Asuncion Lavrin, “Unlike Sor Juana?” In Feminist Perspectives on Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. Ed. By Stephanie Merrim. Detoit: Wayne State University Press, 1999, page 65, footnote 61.