Victorian "Bluestockings"

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Eleanor Rose

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in-the-library-by-august-toulmouche-1872.jpg

"In the Library" by August Toulmouche, 1872.
The Victorian “bluestocking” was defined as, “a stiff, stilted, queer literary woman of a dubious age.” This stereotype actually made its way into an 1883 edition of the Popular Encyclopedia, where a “bluestocking” was defined as a “pedantic female” who had sacrificed the “excellencies of her sex” to education and learning. Ouch!!! Maria Haweis provided advice to these “stiff” female academics in her 1883 book entitled, The Art of Beauty:

It is one of the most potent objections to the cause of female education, that clever women go in for huge boots and Gampian umbrellas, setting at nought many graces essentially womanly and indispensable in woman: and the fact, which really has some truth in it, positively damages the cause.

Recollect that you have a body, although exceptionally gifted with a mind: a little attention to it will neither nip your mental powers nor impede you as you clamber up the tree of knowledge. Busy sisters, if you climb at all, climb gracefully, rather than bring the tree into disrepute.”

young-girl-reading-by-otto-scholderer-1883.jpg

"Young Girl Reading" by Otto Scholderer, 1883.​

Haweis subscribed to the notion that an excess of education turned attractive young ladies into frumpy bumpkins. She counseled Victorian females not to flaunt their intelligence and to never be so strong-minded as to be accused of “aping a man.” Ouch again!!!

Haweis did advocate education for some women. For unattractive girls who she referred to as “Nonentities,” she asserted that education was absolutely essential. Her advice to the “Nonentities” was quite forthright:

To her I have but one word to say: educate yourself...books are so cheap, and your leisure probably so large that there is little to prevent an effort to redeem lost time.”

It is clear throughout her book that Haweis deems outward beauty as a woman’s most important asset. She refused to believe “bluestockings” who said appearance wasn’t important to them. She wrote:

No woman can say truthfully that she does not care whether she is pretty or not. Every woman does care. The immutable laws of her being have made physical attractiveness as much a natural glory to her as strength is to a man...After all, what is vanity? If it means only a certain innocent wish to look one’s best, is it not another name for self-respect—and without it, what would woman be worth?”

Ouch yet again!!!

Sadly the idea that a woman’s worth stemmed from her outward appearance was popular in the Victorian era. Many thought that beauty and intellect were incompatible in women. While these views weren’t necessarily the norm, it seems the stereotype of the unattractive “bluestocking” was very prevalent.



Source: The Art of Beauty by Maria Haweis, 1883.
 

Patrick H

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More lovely art @Patrick H. Hope you enjoy!
Yes indeed! That's beautiful. So was the model. I get a strong sense of this being a portrait face with an excellent likeness to the model--maybe the artist's daughter. The lady in the blue gown is more idealized. She's probably painted from a model, but not with any attempt to identify her.
 
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WJC

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a “bluestocking” was defined as a “pedantic female” who had sacrificed the “excellencies of her sex” to education and learning
I am curious just what were those sacrificed “excellencies". I find intellect a very attractive trait. Thanks for sharing.
 
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Patrick H

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A CW Bluestocking Society is a pretty amusing concept--at least nowadays. Seriously, though, I had never really given much thought to this in terms of history. I'd like to think that men of the CW era appreciated and respected and valued well-educated women, and I'm sure at least a few of the men did. It is pretty disturbing to think of so many women and girls being dismissed as "bluestockings."
 
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Haweis subscribed to the notion that an excess of education turned attractive young ladies into frumpy bumpkins
One little story from the late 1970s: I went to an all-girls school, a pretty good one, we had a lot of daughters of aristocrats, it had been the educational institution for the Upper Ten Families in my hometown. Now believe it or not, back in 1979 I had a class in school, named "Values and normative rules" and one semester we worked on emancipation - not only women's emancipation, but also slavery etc. But when we worked on women's emancipation, our male teacher asked the class "Prove the sentence that intelligent women are mostly ugly"
Imagine! He stood in front of a class of bright young girls !!!!
:mad::bomb::spider:

But even worse was that some of the girls even raised their hands to reply!!! I will never forget that one sycophant really said "That is probably because while these women do a lot of intellectual work, they forget to wash their hair and to apply make-up."
My friend Sabine and I thought we had to choke on what we could not say to her in that situation!! :cannon:

So if you look for members for your "CWT Bluestocking Society" - seems here is another one!
 

Eleanor Rose

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A CW Bluestocking Society is a pretty amusing concept--at least nowadays. Seriously, though, I had never really given much thought to this in terms of history. I'd like to think that men of the CW era appreciated and respected and valued well-educated women, and I'm sure at least a few of the men did. It is pretty disturbing to think of so many women and girls being dismissed as "bluestockings."

Mary Wollstonecraft, an 18th century advocate of women's rights and an original "bluestocking" once said:

"Those who are bold enough to advance before the age they live, and to throw off, by the force of their own mind, the prejudices which the world . . . will in time disavow, must learn to brave censure. We ought not to be too anxious respecting the opinion of others.”

Mary is best known for her book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), in which she argued that women were not naturally inferior to men, but appeared to be only because they lacked education.

220px-Mary_Wollstonecraft_by_John_Opie_%28c._1797%29.jpg

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie (c. 1797)​
 
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Eleanor Rose

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One little story from the late 1970s: I went to an all-girls school, a pretty good one, we had a lot of daughters of aristocrats, it had been the educational institution for the Upper Ten Families in my hometown. Now believe it or not, back in 1979 I had a class in school, named "Values and normative rules" and one semester we worked on emancipation - not only women's emancipation, but also slavery etc. But when we worked on women's emancipation, our male teacher asked the class "Prove the sentence that intelligent women are mostly ugly"
Imagine! He stood in front of a class of bright young girls !!!!
:mad::bomb::spider:

But even worse was that some of the girls even raised their hands to reply!!! I will never forget that one sycophant really said "That is probably because while these women do a lot of intellectual work, they forget to wash their hair and to apply make-up."
My friend Sabine and I thought we had to choke on what we could not say to her in that situation!! :cannon:

So if you look for members for your "CWT Bluestocking Society" - seems here is another one!
OMG!!! There are no words! Kudos to you for choking on your words and not choking her!
 

NH Civil War Gal

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But why the term "Bluestocking?" I have never, ever found out a reason for that! If anyone has read the Anne of Green Gables series, you find out Anne and others like her, fighting to get into the women's college, are termed that.

My father remembered old Joel Hesser from Hesser College, now defunct, coming to the farm in NH in 1918 (just past Victorian) to convince his father on why it was okay for a woman to go to college. Apparently my father's much older sister (born in the 1890s) applied on her own! My grandfather must have been convinced because he paid for the 2-year college, which was big doings back then.
 
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But why the term "Bluestocking?" I have never, ever found out a reason for that
I always thought it was a German term, because we have the same word, "Blaustrümpfe".
But actually the origin lies in England and the first bluestocking was ... a man!! Biologist Benjamin Stillingfleet did not have the financial means to afford the proper black silk stockings in 1750 London...

"A society was founded in the early 1750s by Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Vesey and others as a literary discussion group primarily for women. The society was noted for wanting conversation and did not encourage card playing. They invited various people to attend including Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Catharine Macaulay, Elizabeth Griffith, Hannah More, Elizabeth Ann Linley, Charlotte Lennox[10] and 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."


Read more here:
https://www.revolvy.com/page/Benjamin-Stillingfleet
 

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But why the term "Bluestocking?
Apparently there was indeed a Bluestocking Society in England in the 18th century and one legend goes...

Once upon a time, "in the 1750s a lady named Elizabeth Montagu sought to make her home on Hill Street the intellectual capital of London. She was to be England’s answer to the French salonnière, an aristocratic/upper bourgeosie hostess of late hour assemblies where men and women gathered on equal footing to discuss society’s fashionable arts. From the written word to the painted embodiment, London’s distinguished came to discuss whatever was itching society at the present moment. And unlike other club atmospheres of the day, it was a society undressed, the Georgian answer to casual attire and debate en famille.

For a club geared toward the intellectual expansion of women, its attendees were also prestigious. On any given evening, one might encounter Samuel Johnson’s high-reaching troop including Oliver Goldsmith, Edward Gibbon, Sir Joseph Banks, David Garrick, Adam Smith, and many others.

But there was only one man who wore blue stockings or so the legend says. He was purportedly a philosopher who minded his economics over his fashion sense (ever an admirable trait among the enlightened). Blue worsted stockings were cheap compared with bleached or black silk and he sported them on his frequent visits to Hill Street, flashing his legs at Montagu’s get-togethers whenever he was in the mood for a bit of high-minded chatting.
"


Source:
Brilliant Women: 18th-century Bluestockings edited by Elizabeth Eger and Lucy Peltz.
 
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Apparently there was indeed a Bluestocking Society in England in the 18th century and one legend goes...

Once upon a time, "in the 1750s a lady named Elizabeth Montagu sought to make her home on Hill Street the intellectual capital of London. She was to be England’s answer to the French salonnière, an aristocratic/upper bourgeosie hostess of late hour assemblies where men and women gathered on equal footing to discuss society’s fashionable arts. From the written word to the painted embodiment, London’s distinguished came to discuss whatever was itching society at the present moment. And unlike other club atmospheres of the day, it was a society undressed, the Georgian answer to casual attire and debate en famille.

For a club geared toward the intellectual expansion of women, its attendees were also prestigious. On any given evening, one might encounter Samuel Johnson’s high-reaching troop including Oliver Goldsmith, Edward Gibbon, Sir Joseph Banks, David Garrick, Adam Smith, and many others.

But there was only one man who wore blue stockings or so the legend says. He was purportedly a philosopher who minded his economics over his fashion sense (ever an admirable trait among the enlightened). Blue worsted stockings were cheap compared with bleached or black silk and he sported them on his frequent visits to Hill Street, flashing his legs at Montagu’s get-togethers whenever he was in the mood for a bit of high-minded chatting.
"


Source:
Brilliant Women: 18th-century Bluestockings edited by Elizabeth Eger and Lucy Peltz.
Seems more than one MAN wore the infamous blue stockings, lol!
 
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Eleanor Rose

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Elizabeth Montague’s Bluestocking Society incurred savage criticism. Take a look at this:

rowlandson-bluestockings.jpg

Breaking Up of the Blue Stocking Club by Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827)
William Hazlitt, an English essayist, carried this vitriol into the 19th century when he wrote:

The bluestocking is the most odious character in society … she sinks wherever she is placed, like the yolk of an egg, to the bottom, and carries the filth with her.”

Back to saying ouch!!!

Anna Laetitia Barbauld, a prominent English poet and writer advised:

The best way for a woman to acquire knowledge is from conversation with a father, or brother, or friend.”

Anna's comments strike me as especially odd since one would think she was a well read woman herself.

Of course during her lifetime Elizabeth Montague didn't take the criticism lying down. The Oxford National Dictionary of Biography records Elizabeth as giving as good as she got:

In a woman’s education, little but outward accomplishment 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.”


Source:
Brilliant Women: 18th-century Bluestockings edited by Elizabeth Eger and Lucy Peltz.
Wikipedia
 
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I am curious just what were those sacrificed “excellencies". I find intellect a very attractive trait. Thanks for sharing.
In Charles Dickens' eponymous book, David Copperfield passes over the intelligent Agnes to marry the pretty little ninny, Dora. He soon finds her a poor housekeeper, and a less than stimulating companion. Dora is well aware of her shortcomings, which are due to her upbringing.
After Dora's death, David eventually marries the educated and sensible Agnes, who makes for him a much more satisfactory wife. Dickens uses the marriages as a commentary on nineteenth century social expectations for women, drawing on his own experience of marrying a pretty but silly woman, of whom he soon tired.

What 19th century men thought they wanted and what they really wanted were two different things. As the Amish put it so succinctly, "Kissing, don't last, but cooking do." Practicality and sensibility make for a much more companionate relationship. Fortunately, men look at women a bit differently now.
 
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