Tag Archives: Women’s History

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.


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


Women Reviewing Women in Nineteenth Century Britain

In their November issue, Transnational Literature reviewed Joanne Wilkes’ book Women Reviewing Women in Nineteenth-Century Britain: The Critical Reception of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot. Here’s a quote from the review:

In this meticulously researched book, Joanne Wilkes covers new ground on the subject of how three leading nineteenth-century novelists – Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot – were read and reviewed by women critics…
Its strength… is that it is empirical rather than theoretical. For the most part, Wilkes lets the writing of her quarries speak for itself, meaning that this monograph is readable and jargon-free, as well as intelligent.

Read the full review online

Oh, and the reviewer also has a nice word to say about Ashgate…
Ashgate has established a reputation for producing high-quality scholarly monographs, and this recent addition to their catalogue keeps their standard high.
That’s nice to hear!

Personal highlights from our Women’s History list (no.5)

Over the past few weeks we have been publishing a series of blog posts highlighting some of our favourite Ashgate Women’s History books (we’re very proud of our Women’s History publishing!).

Our fifth pick is from Whitney Feininger, Assistant Editor for Literary Studies, and is The Literary Manuscripts and Letters of Hannah More, by Nicholas Smith:

“A thorough and extensive resource that provides direct insight into a woman’s experience in literary production, philanthropic activity, and political debate.”

The result of meticulous research done by Nicholas Smith, this survey collects and describes for the first time the extensive correspondence and manuscripts of the celebrated Bluestocking writer and Evangelical philanthropist Hannah More (1745-1833). This compilation is a major achievement in the study of Hannah More, but and it also participates in the ongoing recovery of eighteenth-century women writers. The primary sources collected here show insight into eighteenth century women’s conduct and education, as well as women’s participation in the book and publishing trade, and reaction to the abolition movement, French and American revolutions, and the Napoleonic wars.

About the author: Nicholas D. Smith is an archivist at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK.

Review from The Year’s Work in English Studies:

“This is a wonderful addition to textual scholarship and an important reference work for those interested in the writings of Hannah More and her circle. It consists of a catalogue of all known and many newly discovered letters by More in both public and private collections, as well as a catalogue of drama, prose, and verse manuscripts, including those translated by and attributed to More. Smith’s introduction provides well-organized accounts of his discoveries and investigations into the libraries and repositories surveyed here.”

Other great resources for the study, discussion, and promotion of women writers include the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies, the British Women Writer’s Association, and the Society for the Study of American Women Writers.


Germaine Greer – An Insight. (A new interview from Leeds Metropolitan University)

It’s the last Sunday of Women’s History month, and I thought I’d use the occasion to highlight a newly published interview with Germaine Greer – who happens to be my most admired thinker and speaker on women’s issues. To me, her views always seem intelligent, challenging, well thought through, and very relevant.

Germaine Greer spoke last week to students at Leeds Metropolitan University, and they have posted her talk on their Youtube channel, together with this ten-minute interview, in which she talks about what it is like to be an icon (she disputes that she is one!), and she reflects generally on education, women and the world.

Please note that the interview contains some strong language.


Personal highlights from our Women’s History list (no.4)

March is Women’s History month, and in celebration we are publishing a series of blog posts highlighting some of our favourite Ashgate Women’s History books (we’re very proud of our Women’s History publishing!).

The fourth pick comes from Meredith Norwich, Ashgate’s Commissioning Editor for Art and Visual Culture. Her choice is Women and Things, 1750–1950, edited by Maureen Daly Goggin and Beth Fowkes Tobin, both from Arizona State University.

I love the fact that this volume casts a light on women as producers of all manner of arts and crafts–including my personal favorite, butter sculpture!–rather than as only consumers.

About the book: 

In contrast to much current scholarship on women and material culture which focuses primarily on women as consumers, this essay collection provides case studies of women who produced material objects.

The volume is interdisciplinary with essays by art historians, social historians, literary critics, rhetoricians, and museum curators. The scope of the volume is international with essays on eighteenth-century German silhouettes, Australian aboriginal ritual practices, Brittany mourning rites, and Soviet-era recipes that provide a comparative framework for the majority of essays which focus on British and North American women who lived and worked in the long nineteenth century.

About the Editors: Maureen Daly Goggin is Associate Chair in the Department of English at Arizona State University, USA. Beth Fowkes Tobin is Professor in the Department of English at Arizona State University, USA.

Dr Maureen Daly Goggin’s profile page on the Arizona State University
Maureen Daly Goggin’s website
Dr Beth Fowkes Tobin’s profile page on the Arizona State University

Full information about Women and Things is available on Ashgate’s website


Personal highlights from our Women’s History list (no.3)

March is Women’s History month, and in celebration we are publishing a series of blog posts highlighting some of our favourite Ashgate Women’s History books (we’re very proud of our Women’s History publishing!).

The third pick comes from Maureen Lazenby, Marketing Assistant in Ashgate’s UK office. Maureen has chosen Colleen Denney’s book Women, Portraiture and the Crisis of Identity in Victorian England.

How often the portrait shows the smooth, expected, public face – and how often these swans were paddling furiously against the current, and gaining on it.

About the book: 

Exploring the concept of portrait as memoir, Women, Portraiture and the Crisis of Identity in Victorian England examines the images and lives of four prominent Victorian women who steered their way through scandal to forge unique identities. The book shows the effect of celebrity, and even notoriety, on the lives of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Dilke, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, and Sarah Grand.

For these women, their portraits were more than speaking likenesses-whether painted or photographic, they became crucial tools the women used to negotiate their controversial identities. Colleen Denney shows that the fascinating power of celebrity – and specifically its effects on women – was as much of a phenomenon in Victorian times as it is today.

About the Author: Colleen Denney is a Professor of Art History in the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Wyoming, where she also holds an adjunct position in the Art Department. She counts many scandalous women among her closest friends. Like one of her subjects, Sarah Grand, she is an avid cyclist.

Professor Colleen Denney’s profile page on the University of Wyoming website

More information about Women, Portraiture and the Crisis of Identity in Victorian England


Personal highlights from our Women’s History list (no.2)

March is Women’s History month, and in celebration we are publishing a series of blog posts highlighting some of our favourite Ashgate Women’s History books (we’re very proud of our Women’s History publishing!).

The second “pick” in the series comes from Erika Gaffney, Ashgate’s Publisher for Literary and Visual Studies. Erika had a hard time choosing!

Across Ashgate’s lists there are so many great books to do with women’s/gender studies that it’s really difficult to pick out one personal favorite. However, one element of the list that stands out for me is the book series “Women & Gender in the Early Modern World,” which now includes upwards of 70 titles from across humanities disciplines.  I am pleased with and proud of the way the series serves to capture and showcase the important work being done by scholars in this dynamic and ever-evolving field!

About the series:

The Women and Gender in the Early Modern World series is edited by Allyson Poska and Abby Zanger.

The study of women and gender offers some of the most vital and innovative challenges to current scholarship on the early modern period. Now having passed its tenth anniversary, Women and Gender in the Early Modern World is an established forum for presenting fresh ideas and original approaches to the field. Interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary in scope, this Ashgate book series strives to reach beyond geographical limitations to explore the experiences of early modern women and the nature of gender in Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Africa.

More information about the series, including an interview with the series editors, and a list of the books in the series is available on the Ashgate website.