Bluestockings: The Remarkable Story of the First Women to Fight for an Education

Written by Jane Robinson
Review by Lucinda Byatt

This remarkable story is about opportunities that the developed world generally now takes for granted. It serves as a timely reminder of how ‘some of history’s most determined and diplomatic pioneers’ succeeded in opening the way to women’s education and enabling the brightest to reach the pinnacles of academe. These ‘bluestockings’ may have formed an academic elite, but Robinson repeatedly stresses how socially, culturally, religiously and politically diverse they were. Robinson traces the very earliest advocates of women’s education – from Hild in the 17th century up to Mary Wollstonecraft and later, the awesome headmistresses, Misses Buss and Beale. By 1869 a group of five women, the nucleus of what would become Girton College, were studying at Cambridge. They were rapidly followed by other pioneers who battled against prejudice and antagonism, often at great personal cost. Encouraged by family and teachers these young women ‘caught fire’ intellectually and by the 1920s and 30s it had become ‘a duty, a right, for the good of society, not to extinguish the spark but to fan the flames’. This is a marvellous social history, rich in detail and an inspirational read.