From the 17th century. Originally in reference to blue stockings worn by men as opposed to more expensive white stockings. First associated with the Barebones Parliament in the 17th century, then with a series of literary salons which admitted female intellectuals in the 18th century; in particular the 18th-century Blue Stockings Society led by Elizabeth Montagu on the Parisian model. The term was not originally derogatory.
None of the ladies wore blue stockings. The first recorded use of the term is in reference to Benjamin Stillingfleet. He was not rich enough to have the proper formal dress, which included black silk stockings and so he attended in everyday blue worsted stockings.
bluestocking (plural bluestockings)
- (usually derogatory) A scholarly, literary, or cultured woman.
- Synonym: (dated) basbleu
- 1844 August, Fitz-Boodle [pseudonym; William Makepeace Thackeray], “Barry Provides for His Family and Attains the Height of His Luck”, in “The Luck of Barry Lyndon; A Romance of the Last Century”, in Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country, volume XXX, number CLXXVI, London: G[eorge] W[illiam] Nickisson, page 235, column 1:
- Many of her ladyship’s letters were the most whimsical rhodomontades that ever blue-stocking penned.
- 1846, George W.M. Reynolds, The Mysteries of London, volume 1, London: George Vickers, page 109:
- But Isabel was no blue-stocking; she was full of vivacity and life, and her conversation was sprightly and agreeable, even when turning upon those serious subjects.
- 1896, Maurice Walter Keatinge (tr.), The great didactic of John Amos Comenius, London: Adam and Charles Black, translation of Didactica Magna by John Amos Comenius:
- And let none cast in my teeth […] the remark of Hippolytus in Euripides: “I detest a bluestocking. May there never be a woman in my house who knows more than is fitting for a woman to know.”
- 1907 August, Robert W[illiam] Chambers, “A Novice”, in The Younger Set, New York, N.Y.: D. Appleton & Company, →OCLC, page 359:
- “Heavens!” exclaimed Nina, “the blue-stocking and the fogy!—and yours are pale blue, Eileen!—you’re about as self-conscious as Drina—slumping there with your hair tumbling à la Mérode! Oh, it’s very picturesque, of course, but a straight spine and good grooming is better. […]”
- 2001, Louise Anderson Allen, A Bluestocking in Charleston: The Life and Career of Laura Bragg, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, →ISBN, →OL:
- Bragg was a Massachusetts-born bluestocking, a New Woman of the Progressive Era who changed not only the cultural face of Charleston but also the nation's approach to museum education.
- 2016 August 14, Ross Douthat, “A Playboy for President”, in The New York Times:
- But the cultural conflict between these two post-revolutionary styles — between frat guys and feminist bluestockings, Gamergaters and the diversity police, alt-right provocateurs and 'woke' dudebros, the mouthbreathers who poured hate on the all-female 'Ghostbusters' and the tastemakers who pretended it was good — is likely here to stay.
- (historical) A member of an 18th-century Blue Stockings Society.
- (historical) The English parliament of 1653, more commonly called the Barebones Parliament
Though the term bluestocking (applied to mean an intellectual woman) is usually derogatory, it is not always so. The term was not originally pejorative, and it has at times been reclaimed by various groups, especially as attitudes towards women's education have changed in the Western World.
- → Dutch: blauwkous (calque)
- → French: bas-bleu (calque)
- → German: Blaustrumpf (calque)