What is a "bluestocking"?

I like to read historical novels, and I’ve noticed that often times a girl of the upper class who likes to read is often labeled a “bluestocking”.

Was this a way to say she was a nerd, or a bookworm? Or was there something nastier to it?


A book I own Where Queen Elizabeth Slept and What the Butler Saw by David N. Durant says this:

“About 1750 Mrs. Elizabeth Montague in an effort to introduce a more intellectual tone to society, began to hold receptions at which literary conversation and discussion between sociable, intelligent and learned men and women displaced gossip and cards.”
It goes on to explain that a poet too poor to own fine evening clothing wore blue worsted stockings and some Admiral who lived until 1761 was said to have coined the term and applied it to ladies.

The book continues, “The term came to be used derisively to describe serious women affecting literary tastes and learning.”

Anecdotally, everywhere I’ve seen it used (Austen and the like) it is an insult or derogatory term for a female who has a…shall we say unwomanly focus on learning and intellectual persuits, to the exclusion of traditional female interests like catching husbands and having babies.


While the term, as applied to women, appears about the mid-1700’s, in a depreciative tone, the actual term goes back in print to 1683, referring contemptuously first to the Parliament of Cromwell(1653), suggesting the members were too “common.”