I won’t be blogging much for a while, as have a fair few exams which are going to decide the next three years of my life – going to focus on them for a while.

But when I return, I shall get down to informing you about the Bluestockings women who I learnt about in the exhibition I mentioned a month or so ago – I’ll start you off with Elizabeth Montagu now.

As a young woman, Elizabeth became a friend of Lady Margaret Harley, who had a strong influence over her early desire to learn. They corresponded weekly when apart and were inseparable when together. She spent time with Lady Harley in London and met many of the celebrated figures of the 1730s, including the poet Edward Young and the religious thinker Gilbert West. In Lady Harley’s household, men and women spoke as equals and engaged in witty, learned banter. (source)

When she was older, and married, Elizabeth was central to the Bluestockings movement of the 1750s (and onwards…), opening up her house (legally her husband’s, Charles Montagu’s) for “breakfast parties and evening conversations”. As one of the wealthiest women of her time, she devoted her time and money to encouraging authors, poets, painters, etc. Although she didn’t write much herself (only An Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespear, from a quick search – she may have written more but this was the only work she published, in praise of Shakespeare), her enthusiasm helped form and maintain the Bluestockings movement.

Her gatherings did not consist solely of women, but encouraged a meeting of minds, with the likes of Samuel Johnson alongside Elizabeth Carter…

For Montagu, and the other women who made up the Bluestockings Movement, this was their chance to learn and converse equally in a time when only men were seen fit to educate. As the ‘education’ of women stretched only to needlework and cooking, the nature of the Bluestockings’ meetings becomes even more extraordinary – these were women who fought to learn, and to be heard, if not by society then at least by each other. Montagu gave herself and these women a platform, and showed that women could be educated and remain in good health, and as rational beings (contrary to common belief that educating a woman could give her cancer, or would make her a nymphomaniac).

It has been claimed that the Bluestockings group “preserved and advanced feminism”, addressing social issues for women as well as furthering their own educations.

Elizabeth continued to encourage the movement until her death, using the money from her husband’s death to build two new houses in which she continued to hold meetings. She died in Montagu House in London on August 25, 1800.

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