Our lives are shaped by our connections to each other, past and present.
I am interested in the lessons we can learn from the lives of the great creatives – people who exemplified the pursuit of mastery and embodied a bold point of view.
The concept of coming together and sharing ideas with like-minded people excites me. I have imagined gathering around an elongated wooden table with tapered candles flickering and a glass of red, robust vino in hand while deliberating the art of life and living. My invitees would be the provocative Gertrude Stein, an American writer of novels, poetry, and plays; Virginia Wolff, an English writer and one of the foremost thinkers of the twentieth century; and finally, the mystifying Anne Morrow Lindbergh, an author, aviator, and the wife of fellow flyer Charles Lindbergh. Each of these legendary women has left an imprint on my psyche. The stories they told make us question societal standards and challenge our sense of normality.
A few years back, I came across one of those words that just tingles the mind: bluestocking. I was immediately smitten with the term and subsequently, its meaning.
Bluestocking is an unusual word that brings different images to each of us. I decided to ask my friends and family for their instant impressions. One of my valued female friends thought of Christmas, while another believed it to mean blue panty hose. My teenage son was confident it was an elderly man with suspenders. They were all pragmatic answers, and it was entertaining to watch each person’s reaction once the actual meaning was revealed. The definition provided by various sites on the web is: an intellectual or literary woman.
The word bluestocking came into existence in the mid-eighteenth century. A group of women in England decided to replace their customary evenings of idle chatter and card playing with “conversation parties”. They would invite celebrated men of letters who would share their experiences in life and learning. This exposed the women to higher levels of thinking. A regular invitee named Benjamin Stillingfleet would wear his inexpensive, tattered, blue stockings to the meetings. This shocked the women since men generally wore black silk stockings. But these polite ladies looked beyond Mr. Stillingfleet’s clothing choices. His lively conversation was their fundamental focus.
Countless individuals during this era considered it inappropriate for women to aspire to learning. These shortsighted people sarcastically began calling this learned circle of ladies “The Bluestocking Society”, or so the story is told.
However the name was acquired, I applaud these women who were intent on having their intellectual and literary interests satisfied. A spark within me was ignited. My curiosity instantly took on a new sense of eagerness and enthusiasm. I wanted to mimic this meeting of minds by creating a similar concept.
I found my small community lacking venues for artistic and literary exchange. Or perhaps, I could not locate these groups within my social circles. What I did find was talk of fashion fads, parenting guidelines, and the vitriolic reality television digression. Yet while these trivial topics were discussed, my imagination would take me to that elongated table with the flicker of a candle, a glass of wine… I knew creative souls were out there. I needed to find them. To converse and construct together. To be daring and deep. To share similar storylines.
While raising my two sons, it became essential for me to find dynamic conversations. I wanted to inspire and be inspired. The idea of linking women together through shared experiences was my plan. I wanted to create a forum where we could gather and grow together, sit and search for solutions, relax and reflect while chatting about life, love or lunacy.
I was determined to start my own bluestocking society, with a modern twist. I would invite a “bluestocking” from the community to lead each discussion and share her life experiences to a group of interested ladies. I encouraged my friends to participate and they called their friends to join this intimate social gathering. The objective was to have meaningful discussions about various topics and issues – something more than the typical kitchen-table conversation. It quickly became a quarterly parlor series with a different topic at each occasion. This was not a meant to be a lecture series. The conversations hinged on individual strengths; they were “life talks” that provided information and camaraderie. I named the get-togethers Living Legacies. During each session of our parlor series, we learned from our foremothers’ strengths and shortcomings.
Each Living Legacy parlor series provided a unique and authentic space for women to gather. The evening would begin with socializing while indulging in sweets and sipping a glass of wine or hot tea. I would warmly welcome our living legacy and the ladies in attendance. There were stories of resilience, personal triumph, survival, and the many joys inherent in each of our lives. We walked away mentally nurtured and energized by the life lessons everyone offered. It became a place to build a movement of shared understanding where relationships will grow, alliances will be forged and ideas will be nurtured.
The idea of stories and sharing experiences is so simple and universal, yet a lost art across generations. Which is why this concept of women gathering and exchanging ideas must continue for centuries. You can create your own “bluestocking” society or check online for other venues. There are also numerous virtual forums that offer similar fellowship. Feel free to use the Living Legacies website (www.livinglegaciesventuracounty.org) as a possible template for your group.
Together we can inspire each other. Invite your own Gertrude Stein, Virginia Wolff or Anne Morrow Lindbergh – they are out there! The challenge is to find them. We creative women come in a variety of styles and silhouettes. It is our passion, our drive and our willingness to be different that remains consistent. In the spirit of our female predecessors, we need to celebrate nonconformity with our own versions of the bluestockings – The Bluestocking Society 2.0.
© 2015 Shannon Hogan Cohen
First Published at Life As A Human on November 28th 2015