On Bluestockings and Beauty: 19th Century Advice for Educated Women

Another excellent post from Mimi Matthews.

‘a bluestocking is defined as a “pedantic female” who has sacrificed the “excellencies of her sex” to education and learning’ – it is a bit like that question of whether you would like to be 10% more intelligent at the cost of being 10% less attractive. Intellect wins any day.

Mimi Matthews

“Blue-stocking or not, every woman ought to make the best of herself inside and out.  To be healthy, handsome, and cheerful, is no disadvantage even in a learned professor.”
The Art of Beauty, 1883.

Unlike the clever, witty bluestockings that populated the fashionable salons of the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Victorian bluestocking was considered to be, as one 1876 publication puts it, “a stiff, stilted, queer literary woman of a dubious age.”  This unfortunate stereotype was so firmly entrenched that it even made its way into an 1883 edition of the Popular Encyclopedia, wherein a bluestocking is defined as a “pedantic female” who has sacrificed the “excellencies of her sex” to education and learning.

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