Blue Stocking Women

Kathleen DelaneyKathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to talk about those courageous women who first dared to talk about things other than fashion and society.

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016.

http://www.kathleendelaney.net

A long time ago, in a land not so very far away, a woman by the name of Elizabeth Montague got tired of sitting in the corner of the drawing rooms of wealthy homes in merry old England with all the other women. They  worked on their embroidery and talked of nothing but fashion and who had finally landed a husband. It sounded so much more interesting on the men’s side of the room. They talked of business, politics, literature, and other interesting things. So, she gave a small party and invited women she knew who read a lot, particularly women who liked poetry and books that were considered literary works. She didn’t exclude those who wanted to discuss the “penny dreadfuls” but she wanted the emphasis to be on books with a little more meat on their bones. She further requested that the guests should come “undressed” which in the eighteenth century meant casual, not naked, and they did. At least they wore what was casual and comfortable for upper class women in the 1700’s. They also brought their take on the books they’d read, the ideas they’d gotten from those books, and the need to talk about something that actually stretched the mind. The beverage of choice was tea. They didn’t exclude men, but they had to be willing to actually discuss things with the ladies. A few came. One, Benjamin Stillingflat, an aristocrat, came wearing what could only be described as blue working class stockings. The ladies adopted them as their signature article of clothing. Wearing them became a symbolic gesture of a thinking woman’s freedom to read what she pleased and proclaimed to the world she had the brains to understand it, and discuss what she found interesting.

The Blue Stocking Society became the first female club ever known. It was a huge success in some circles, but was vilified in others. Unfashionable, downright dowdy women was only one demeaning comment.

Of course, the only women who attended were able to read. Many women in that era could not. It wasn’t considered necessary. A women’s job was to stay home, wash, cook, sew and have babies. Reading was unnecessary and expensive. Free libraries hadn’t been invented yet. Besides, reading put ideas in women’s heads. Ideas about how they might be able to get jobs outside the home, that they might be able to manage their own money and property, that they actually were able to form an idea of their own. The thought of an independent woman made a lot of men nervous. But girls, even poor ones, started to go to school, they learned to read, and things started to change. The world opened up to them. They learned about ideas, places and cultures they’d never known about, and began to realize you can find answers to questions that had long puzzled them in books. Facts about many things, from how to make their lives easier to the expansiveness of the universe were suddenly at your fingertips. They found unknown beauty in words, in thoughts about religion, about marriage, about their role as a woman.  Reading made them knowledgeable, curious and powerful. Imagine that. Reading made them powerful.

The Blue Stocking Society helped. It made women aware, for the first time, of the importance of literacy. And, reading women have changed the world.  Not enough, but we’re working on it.

However, one word of caution. Knowing how to read isn’t enough. There is one thing more we need to always remember. If I may, a quote from Mark Twain. The inserts are mine.

“The man (woman) who does not read good books has no advantage over the man (woman) who cannot read them,”

Something to keep in mind.

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12 thoughts on “Blue Stocking Women

  1. What a wonderful and timely reminder. I remember learning about the Blue Stockings in school (all girls school). I thought they were brave and courageous and wanted to be just like them. I still do.

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  2. What an interesting post. I live in the UK and history is my true love, but my “period” is between Henry II and Elizabeth I, so I don’t know about the fashions or mores in later times in England. Although my first three books, The Tudor Enigma, were a mix of crime and history, I’m now concentrating on my contemporary early-music soprano, Georgia Pattison, who is very headstrong and independent. I do have a book “cooking” though, set in the early days of Edward IV, after the Battle of Towton and before Lose-Cote Field and, yes, it will have a very straight-speaking woman in it.

    Of course, women, usually individually, have always been very independent, e.g. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella, Queen of Edward II and, we must never ever forget Boudicca! This insistence on independent thinking reveals itself in so many ways, like the Blue Stocking Women, striking a blow, albeit behind their hands, for women. No wonder women crime writers are so good. We have devious minds. I am going to trot across to Amazon and take a look at the Ellen McKenzie books. Thank you for posting something so fascinating.

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  3. A delightful post on Bluestockings, a subject dear to my heart. I write a series (Perseverance Press) on 18th-century proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Mary was not an official bluestocking, but she was sometimes called one. She was a brilliant young woman, a governess in her youth, who was exceedingly well read and who enjoyed an occasional salon during her short life. She loved nothing more than to discuss books and ideas with her publisher, Joseph Johnson, and his Unitarian group of writers and thinkers (Wordsworth, Coleridge, William Blake, Thomas Paine, William Godwin and others). Sadly, she died in her thirties after giving birth to Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein.

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  4. I finally have a little more to say than, “I like this author and her books look good, and I wish I had time to read her.” I have been doing that for years, reading her posts right here with the beautiful doggie (that series) and then her bio about writing after retiring from a career in real estate. I meant what I said all these years on Buried Under Books about wanting to read her books and finding her history interesting, but I didn’t do anything about it until recently.
    I was working the Middle Tennessee (mostly Nashville) Sisters in Crime tent with others on October 15th and 16th at the Southern Festival of Books event here in Nashville. She showed up! Wow, I thought. After seeing her on these posts for so long. She came as a Sisters in Crime and/or Mystery Writers of America member. She sold some books and drew a great deal of attention with a little stuffed doggie that look sooo real. She drove from Georgia. I finally bought one of her books – HAD TO AS THIS WAS AN OMEN. I chose one from her first series: Dying For A Change. I hope I can read them all.
    Lelia, I’m so glad I got to meet Kathleen after seeing her on your Buried Under Books blogpost for years. Thank you!.

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    • It’s a small world, Kathleen. I know you already know this from age and experience. If you submit to be on a SFof Books through Humanities of TN from Jan. 1 to June 1 and send them a free copy of your latest book, they probably will get you on a panel next year. The give preference to us locals, but someone with your books and a remark of being there with Sisters in Crime and/or Mystery Writers of America will probably get you in. Lots of the panels were with out of state authors, but they had to be reasonably established, which fits you to a bill. Hope to see you next year.

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  5. Pingback: Blue Stockings Hack Tiny House in Hometown #FridayRecommends - MARIAN ALLEN, AUTHOR LADY

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