This article was written by Shannon Green and was originally published in the Frederick News-Post on 8 June 2012. Click here for a link to the original article.
One day while waiting for my daughter's gymnastics class
to let out, I decided to steal a few minutes to read my book. I hadn't finished one chapter when a woman plopped her gym bag on the couch seat next to me and asked, "What are you reading?" I
replied that I was finishing up "The Autobiography of Benjamin
Franklin." She paused and then said, "There's a name for women like you,
intellectual women, blue something or other." I told her that I was not
familiar with any such term. After rummaging in her bag for a moment
she made a hasty retreat. I didn't think a whole lot of the exchange
until I recounted it to my husband that evening at dinner. He encouraged
me to look it up, and thanks to the infinite knowledge of Wikipedia, I
discovered what she was trying to call me: a blue stocking.
never heard this term before, so I read the entire article. Wikipedia
defines "blue stocking" as an 18th-century term for an educated,
intellectual woman. OK, that's not so bad. But as I read further I
discovered that the term had mostly negative connotations, and the blue
stocking name itself came from the cheaper stockings allegedly worn by
educated women as opposed to the more fashionable black stockings that
were in style. What really got to me was there was only one word in the "See Also" section of the entry. And that word was "nerd."
further investigation, I also found that in 1811 an Irish playwright
wrote a play titled "The Blue Stocking" that parodied such women. On the
flip side, I also discovered the Blue Stocking Society. Established in
England in the mid-1700s, the society was a circle of women interested
in the education of their fellow females. They would meet, invite
learned men to attend and discuss the intellectual issues of the day.
women were not allowed to attend college at that time, meetings like
this attempted to fill the gap in their education. One quote from one of
the most famous Blue Stocking members, Elizabeth Montagu, really struck
a chord with me. In 1743 she stated: "In a woman's education little but
outward accomplishments 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."
the 20th century, some women's groups and colleges have tried to
reclaim the name much the way Revolutionary War soldiers reclaimed the
word "Yankee." Not to much avail, however, since the term is rarely
Now I won't pretend to know the woman's motivation or
intentions when she called me this. Perhaps she didn't mean it as an
insult. Most of my friends think that she did. Whatever her reason, I am
thankful that she did it.
Who knows if I would have ever
encountered this term or learned about these women who so bravely sought
equality and an education?
Shannon Green writes from Frederick, Maryland where she still reads in public, no matter what the cost.