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The Blue Stockings Society

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  • Lady Elizabeth Montagu (1720 - 1800)
    Elizabeth Montagu From WIkipedia : Elizabeth Montagu (2 October 1718 – 25 August 1800) was a British social reformer, patron of the arts, salonist, literary critic, and writer who helped organize a...
  • Sarah Scott (b. - 1795)
    Sarah Scott (Robinson) From Wikipedia Sarah Scott (née Robinson) (21 September 1723 – 3 November 1795) was an English novelist, translator, social reformer, and member of the Bluestockings. Her mos...
  • Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723 - 1792)
    Sir Joshua Reynolds was born on 16 July 1723 at Plymouth Earls, Devon, England. He died on 23 February 1792 at age 68 at London, England. He was buried at St. Paul's Cathedral, The City, London, Englan...
  • Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (1717 - 1797)
    Wikipedia: English Horace Inherited the title when his nephew George died. When Horace then died without issue, the title went extinct. However it was re-created for [ Horatio William Walpole, 4th Ea...
  • Frances Evelyn Glanville (1719 - 1805)
    –– Frances Evelyn Boscawen (née Glanville) (23 July 1719 – 26 February 1805) was known as a literary hostess, correspondent and member of the Bluestockings Society. She was born Frances Evelyn Glanvill...

The Blue Stockings Society

The Blue Stockings Society was an informal women's social and educational movement in England in the mid-18th century. The society emphasized education and mutual co-operation rather than the individualism which marked the French version.

The Society was founded in the early 1750s by Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Vesey and others as a women's literary discussion group, a revolutionary step away from traditional, non-intellectual, women's activities. They invited various people (both women and men) to attend, including botanist, translator and publisher Benjamin Stillingfleet. One story tells that Stillingfleet was not rich enough to have the proper formal dress, which included black silk stockings, so he attended in everyday blue worsted stockings. The term came to refer to the informal quality of the gatherings and the emphasis on conversation over fashion.[2]


The Blue Stockings Society of England emerged in about 1750, and waned in popularity at the end of the 18th century. It was a loose organization of privileged women with an interest in education to gather together to discuss literature while inviting educated men to participate. The Blue Stockings Society leaders and hostesses were Elizabeth Montagu and Elizabeth Vesey. The women involved in this group generally had more education and fewer children than most English women of the time. During this time period only men attended universities and women were expected to master skills such as needlework and knitting: It was considered “unbecoming” for them to know Greek or Latin, almost immodest for them to be authors, and certainly indiscreet to own the fact. Mrs. Barbauld was merely the echo of popular sentiment when she protested that women did not want colleges. “The best way for a woman to acquire knowledge”, she wrote, “is from conversation with a father, or brother, or friend.” By the early 1800s, this sentiment had changed, and it was much more common to question "why a woman of forty should be more ignorant than a boy of twelve",[3] which coincided with the waning of the Blue Stockings's popularity.

The group has been described by many historians and authors such as Jeanine Dobbs[4] as "having preserved and advanced feminism" due to the advocacy of women's education, social complaints of the status and lifestyle expected of the women in their society, seen in the writings of the Blue Stocking women themselves:

In a woman's education little but outward accomplishments is regarded ... sure the men are very imprudent to endeavor to make fools of those to whom they so much trust their honour and fortune, but it is in the nature of mankind to hazard their peace to secure power, and they know fools make the best slaves.

The name "Blue Stocking Society" and its origins are highly disputed among historians.[5] There are scattered early references to bluestockings including in the 15th-century Della Calza society in Venice, John Amos Comenius in 1638, and the 17th century Covenanters in Scotland. The society's name perhaps derived from the European fashion in the mid-18th century in which black stockings were worn in formal dress and blue stockings were daytime or more informal wear. Blue stockings were also very fashionable for women in Paris at the time, though many historians claim the term for the society began when Mrs. Vesey first said to Benjamin Stillingfleet, the aforementioned learned gentleman who had given up society and did not have clothes suitable for an evening party, to "Come in your blue stockings". Mr. Stillingfleet became a popular guest at the Blue Stocking Society gatherings.[6]


The Blue Stocking society had no membership formalities or fees but was conducted as small to large gatherings in which talk of politics was prohibited but literature and the arts were of main discussion. Learned women with interest in these educational discussions attended as well as invited male guests. Tea, biscuits and other light refreshments would be served to guests by the hostesses.

The New York Times archives contain an article published on 17 April 1881 which describes the Blue Stockings Society as a women's movement away from the "vice" and "passion" of gambling which was the main form of entertainment at higher society parties. "Instead however, of following the fashion, Mrs. Montagu and a few friends Mrs. Boscawen and Mrs. Vesey, who like herself, were untainted by this wolfish passion, resolved to make a stand against the universal tyranny of a custom which absorbed the life and leisure of the rich to the exclusion of all intellectual enjoyment... and to found a society in which conversation should supersede cards." (1881, The New York Times).

Many of the Blue Stocking women supported each other in intellectual endeavors such as reading, artwork, and writing. Many also published literature. Author Elizabeth Carter (1717–1806) was a Blue Stocking Society advocate and member who published essays and poetry, and translated Epictetus. Contemporary author Anna Miegon compiled biographical sketches of these women in her Biographical Sketches of Principal Bluestocking Women.[7]

Notable members


Jump up ^ Portraits in the Characters of the Muses in the Temple of Apollo, Richard Samuel, National Portrait Gallery, accessed February 2010 ^ Jump up to: a b c Schnorrenberg, Barbara Brandon (2004), "Elizabeth (1718–1800)", Montagu Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Check |url= value (help) (online ed.), retrieved 22 April 2007 (subscription or UK public library membership required) Jump up ^ Smith, Sydney, 1810, Female Education, The Works of the Rev. Sydney Smith, retrieved Aug 28, 2014 Jump up ^ Dobbs, Jeanine: "The Blue-Stockings: Getting it Together", Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, Vol. 1, No. 3. (Winter, 1976), pp. 81-93. Jump up ^ NY Times 1881 Article Jump up ^ Bebbington, William George (1962). "Blue-Stocking". An English Handbook (6th ed.). Huddersfield: Schofield & Sons Ltd. pp. 252–3. ^ Jump up to: a b c d Miegon, Anna, "Biographical Sketches of Principal Bluestocking Women," The Huntington Library Quarterly 65.1/2 (2002): 25-37. Jump up ^ Elizabeth Eger "Boscawen, Frances Evelyn (1719–1805)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [accessed 16 Dec 2008]. Jump up ^ ODNB: Subscription required. Retrieved 18 February 2011. Jump up ^ Boswell's Life of Johnson, ed. Hill, G.B. (1887), vol. IV, p. 108. Jump up ^ ODNB entry: Retrieved 29 June 2011. Jump up ^ Rhoda Zuk, "Talbot, Catherine (1721–1770)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [accessed 16 Dec 2008]

Further reading

Primary Sources Kelly, Gary. Bluestocking Feminism: Writings of the Bluestocking Circle, 1738-1790. London: Pickering & Chatto, 1999. ISBN 9781851965144 Studies Clarke, Norma. The Rise and Fall of the Woman of Letters. London: Pimlico, 2004. ISBN 9780712664677 Eger, Elizabeth. Bluestockings Displayed: Portraiture, Performance and Patronage, 1730-1830. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0521768801 Eger, Elizabeth. Bluestockings: Women of Reason from Enlightenment to Romanticism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. ISBN 9781137018472 Eger, Elizabeth. Brilliant Women: 18th-Century Bluestockings. New Haven, Ct.: Yale University Press, 2008. ISBN 9781855143890 Johns, Alessa. Bluestocking Feminism and British-German Cultural Transfer, 1750-1837. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2014. ISBN 9780472035946 Myers, Sylvia Harcstark. The Bluestocking Circle: Women, Friendship, and the Life of the Mind in Eighteenth-Century England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. ISBN 978-0198117674 Pohl, Nicole and Betty A. Schellenberg. Reconsidering the Bluestockings. San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library Press, 2004. ISBN 9780873282123 Tinker, Chauncey Brewster. "The Bluestocking Club." The Salon and English Letters. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1915. 123-183. at Open Library

External links

Reinventing the Feminine: Bluestocking Women Writers in 18th Century London Details on origin of term at World Wide Words Bluestocking Archive Mrs. Vesey, Cambridge History of English and American Literature Brilliant Women exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Wood, James, ed. (1907). "article name needed". The Nuttall Encyclopædia. London and New York: Frederick Warne.