Bluestockings and the emergence of organized feminism – a guest post by Deborah Heller

This is a guest post from Deborah Heller, editor of Bluestockings Now!, and Professor of English at Western New Mexico University

International Women’s Day—celebrated annually on March 8—has as its slogan “paint it purple,” harkening back to purple as the official color adopted by the IWD founders more than a century ago. They adopted that color from the British suffragettes, who had used purple to symbolize justice and dignity for women.  Bluestockings Now! The Evolution of a Social Role, helps to propose another color as symbolic for women-powered advancement of women, and women’s advancement of society in general—the color blue.

The name “Bluestocking” was invented in the eighteenth century to signify the intellectually and culturally energized women who frequented the London salons of Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Vesey, and others. When Elizabeth Vesey urged one salon guest to attend in casual “blue stockings” instead of the white silk stockings of formal attire, the name stuck. Thus “blue stocking,” often clipped to “blue,” came to stand for the informal apparel and egalitarian manners of the Bluestockings. But it signified much more.

Bluestockings Now! is not the first book on the subject of the Bluestockings, but it is a book that sets out to redefine the Bluestockings as a movement rather than a fixed group, describing what that movement was, how it operated as a networked phenomenon, and how it lead, in the middle of the nineteenth century, to the emergence of organized feminism.

This collection of nine essays, newly written by top scholars in the field, accomplishes a number of significant things. It follows the Bluestockings—and what I call “Bluestockingism”—from the eighteenth century into the nineteenth and, indeed, into the twenty-first century. As an illustration of the staying power and versatility of the Bluestocking movement, I introduce a hitherto unknown eighteenth-century Bluestocking, Margaret Middleton, and show how Middleton steered the Bluestocking impulse into the movement for the emancipation of slaves and, eventually, the emancipation of women.

Contributors to the volume agree that Bluestockingism—an emerging new form of women’s social and cultural activism—was born out of a macro-phenomenon commonly called “modernization.” Modernization entailed new forms of social networking that allowed women to transcend the primary groups into which they were born (family, neighborhood, religion) and to form feminocentric groups that eventuated in the feminist concept of “women” as a solidaristic group sharing legal, political, economic, and personal interests in common. Modernization also provided the material basis of improved communication technologies and the social foundation of “cultural production” as viable means of making social change happen. “Make it happen”, by the way, is another official slogan of International Women’s Day 2015. The Bluestockings were the primary impetus behind the evolution of women’s self-consciousness that has resulted in such activities as IWD in our present moment.

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Bluestockings now‘This excellent volume of new research on the Bluestocking phenomenon makes an exciting intervention in the field of eighteenth-century literary studies. The editor has gathered together an impressive range of original essays. The use of contemporary network theory and visual mapping is particularly innovative and thought-provoking.’   Elizabeth Eger, King’s College London, UK

 

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