1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bluestocking

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BLUESTOCKING, a derisive name for a literary woman. The term originated in or about 1750, when Mrs Elizabeth Montagu (q.v.) made a determined effort to introduce into society a healthier and more intellectual tone, by holding assemblies at which literary conversation and discussions were to take the place of cards and gossip. Most of those attending were conspicuous by the plainness of their dress, and a Mr Benjamin Stillingfleet specially caused comment by always wearing blue or worsted stockings instead of the usual black silk. It was in special reference to him that Mrs Montagu's friends were called the Bluestocking Society or Club, and the women frequenting her house in Hill Street came to be known as the “Bluestocking Ladies ” or simply “bluestockings.” As an alternative explanation, the origin of the name is attributed to Mrs Montagu's deliberate adoption of blue stockings (in which fashion she was followed by all her women friends) as the badge of the society she wished to form. She is said to have obtained the idea from Paris, where in the 17th century there was a revival of a social reunion in 1590 on the lines of that formed in 1400 at Venice, the ladies and men of which wore blue stockings. The term had been applied in England as early as 1653 to the Little Parliament, in allusion to the puritanically plain and coarse dress of the members.