on 2 August 2012
Bluestockings tells the story of the first women to go to University in the UK, of their fight for that right, of the prejudices they faced, of the friendship an support that allowed them to succeed, of how they lived, what they learnt, and what they came to contribute to society. It is easy for us to take education for granted (forgetting that, in so many places in the world, it is still denied to both women and men), which is why it is so important to remember, through books like this one, that we owe our freedom to the sacrifices of the ones who came before us.
The women of whom this book speaks are inspiring true heroines who were driven by love of knowledge in a hostile world where they were, due to gender, considered unable to learn - in fact, pretty much unable to do anything but have children and take care of the house. The arguments used against them are both laughable and outraging: women's brains are lighter than men's; studying would make them infertile or hysterical or promiscuous... they proved them wrong by their extraordinary results and, later on, by the high participation and success of women in most areas.
However, this fight - which started in the 18th century but only gained momentum in the second half of the 19th century - was not a loud one. There were moments of resistance to these revolutionary women's ideas, most notably the 1897 riot of Cambridge students against the idea of awarding degrees to women (which, incredibly, Cambridge only did in 1948), but in general these women were quiet and very well-behaved. This strategy allowed them to prove that higher education for women has excellent results, thus silencing opposition and strengthening their cause. Soon enough, girls from all social classes were going to University, experiencing some measure of independence, expanding their minds, and forming strong friendships. The quaint, old-fashioned and rather sweet descriptions of their daily lives and the anecdotes related are great fun to read about.
Of course, not everything was perfect: there were women who did not adapt at all, others who faced conflicts with their families or economic hardship (and it is touching to read about how they helped each other), and all had a very restricted form of freedom. For example, if they wanted to go anywhere, they had to take a chaperon; for a man to go into a woman's bedroom, the bed had to be removed first and the door kept open (even if it was a family member). Initially, upon leaving University, they either married and had children or became teachers but, by 1939, women were starting to go into every career, inspired by the generations before them. Change is portrayed as a wave that keeps gaining momentum as it moves forward.
The evolution in the part women play in society has been extraordinary - which is why the book is written in the sunny tonality of winners - but we must not forget that there are still many challenges ahead in the struggle for an egalitarian society in which feminism plays an important role. This book does not cover those general changes: its scope is narrower, which allows the author to focus on individual lives, thus re-constructing in delightful detail the way of life of young 'undergraduettes' in British Universities during the late 19th/early 20th centuries (until 1939). The text is so fluid, the stories so touching and amusing, that the pages fly by; and the respect for education and for these extraordinary women is clear throughout.
Warm, funny, important - all in all, a delightful book!
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on 20 December 2009
A timely reminder of the journey that women have gone through to reach the position of equality, albeit incomplete, with men that they enjoy today. That women simply did not exist in the minds of many male academics less than 80 years ago is quite astonishing and the struggle for recognition that is chronicled in this excellent book is nothing short of inspirational. A must read for anyone wanting to understand what equal rights for women really meant, at a time when they had so few.
on 13 January 2011
A remarkably inspiring anecdotal account of the fight for women to be allowed into further education and subsequently to be able to gain a recognised degree.
I find as a University student myself, it is incredibly easy to become disillusioned with academia, however much you might enjoy the subject you study. The short passages about some of the first women to go to University remind the reader that things could have been completely different now, if not for the determined few. It doesn't lecture or attempt to make the reader guilty, but it did remind me that I'm lucky to be living in an age in which going to University is MY choice.
on 30 May 2010
I found this book interesting, and certainly thought provoking. Equality of opportunities has occured very quickly, basically in the last 50 years. I felt trhat this book outlined the situation of women and university education well. Although, as one reviewer wrote just a collection of anthologies, I felt that this was the purpose of the book was meant to be. There is a comprehensive bibliography for people who want to explore the area more deeply. I felt that this book was for the general reader, who wanted to obtain a general overview of the struggles that women faced in being accepted at university, and then the further challenge of being granted a degree after three years study.
I enjoyed this book, particularly some of the comments made by men, and in some cases women, why women could never be expected to gain anything from university, or even their capability of understanding what they were learning, only men were capable of this process.
This is an interesting social history which shows how far equality has gone,and relatively quickly in the last 50 years,strongly recommended
on 3 January 2012
I only recently heard the term, "bluestocking", and thought this looked like a promising start. This book is a riveting read comprising of contemporaneous narrative interspersed with historical facts.
It is quite shocking to read of riots in the streets of Cambridge, the result of a proposal that women be eligible to receive degrees. Oxbridge was anything but a pioneering education institution for women. By the start of the 1900s, only Oxford and Cambridge held out on crediting women graduates with actual degrees.
The road to equality in higher education is signposted by the amazing headmistresses, school teachers and pioneers whose unstinting support, imagination, perseverance and resilience to insulting and derogatory commentary enabled women to enter higher education institutions. They did not hold to the paradigm that a woman had "A fertile womb and a barren brain, or vice versa."
I have a heightened sense of appreciation for my own education now, and am enthusiastic to read more into the subject. Credit to the author, this is a worthwhile read for all.
on 23 March 2011
... that the education we take for granted today was fought for long and hard. The book is an inspiring and enjoyable read - the individual stories of some of the early pioneers are well told. And the reminder of what our lives would have been like without them will remind me, anyway, not to moan about my job so much - I am truly lucky to be an heir to the bluestockings. What is slightly depressing however is that some of the arguments against women's education are resurfacing now, or bubbling along in the working vs non working mums debate...