a woman with intellectual or literary interests -- not a compliment in the 18th and 19th century.

"The Blue-Stocking Club" was a literary salon founded towards the end of the 18th century by Elizabeth Montagu, a society hostess and intellectual. The gatherings were exclusively of literary and educated women, with only a select number of males invited to attend (among them Joshua Reynolds and and William Wilberforce).

The names itself derives from a poem written by one of the members of the club, Hannah More, describing their meetings and entitled Bas-Bleu (blue stocking). I do not know if the explanation of the name given by Webster here is correct, apocryphal or somehow related to the poem, but however the existence of the poem is fact.

The term "bluestocking" was not always derogatory. The Regency and the period preceding it, the end of the 18th century, both placed a very high premium on wit and elocution as well as literacy. Women during the Regency period were much better educated in general than their Victorian counterparts, and it is only as the 19th century, with its backlash against "decadent" Regency values, wore on that brains became a marriage liability in a female.

Blue"stock`ing (?), n.

1.

A literary lady; a female pedant.

[Colloq.]

⇒ As explained in Boswell's "Life of Dr. Johnson", this term is derived from the name given to certain meetings held by ladies, in Johnson's time, for conversation with distinguished literary men. An eminent attendant of these assemblies was a Mr. Stillingfleet, who always wore blue stockings. He was so much distinguished for his conversational powers that his absence at any time was felt to be a great loss, so that the remark became common, "We can do nothing without the blue stockings." Hence these meetings were sportively called bluestocking clubs, and the ladies who attended them, bluestockings.

2. Zool.

The American avocet (Recurvirostra Americana).

 

© Webster 1913.

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