Our lives are shaped by our connections, past and present, to each other
Gathering around an elongated wooden table with flickering tapered candles, holding a glass of red, robust vino, deliberating the art of life and living is my idea of a good time. The mood of coming together and sharing ideas with like-minded people truly excites me.
My guests would include the provocative Gertrude Stein, (an American writer of novels, poetry, and plays); Virginia Wolff, (one of the foremost thinkers of the twentieth century); and finally, the mystifying Anne Morrow Lindbergh, (author, aviator, and the wife of fellow pilot, Charles Lindbergh). Each of these legendary women has left an imprint on my psyche. The stories they told make me question societal standards, challenge my sense of normality and motivate me to bring women together in varied arrangements. This intimate image of fearless females sitting and swapping stories together has and continues to inspire me to dare myself and never be afraid to be different.
A few years back, while researching women sharing good company in days of yore, I came across one of those words that just tingles the mind: bluestocking. I was immediately smitten with the term and its meaning.
Since “bluestocking” is an unusual word that brings different images to mind, I decided to ask my friends and family for their “first thought.” One of my treasured female friends instantly thought of Christmas, while another believed it to mean sapphire colored panty hose. My teenage son was confident it implied an elderly man wearing suspenders. While these were all pragmatic answers, it was entertaining to watch each person’s facial reaction once I revealed the actual meaning: an intellectual or literary woman.
The word was born 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 also chose to invite celebrated men of letters to share their experiences in life and learning, exposing the women in the room to higher levels of thinking. A regular invitee, Benjamin Stillingfleet, would always wear his inexpensive, tattered, blue stockings to the meetings. This shocked them, since men generally wore black silk stockings under their footwear. Yet these polite ladies repeatedly looked beyond Mr. Stillingfleet’s wardrobe choices. His lively conversation was their fundamental focus.
Countless individuals during this era considered it highly inappropriate for women to aspire to learning at all. These shortsighted people sarcastically began calling this cultivated circle of ladies “The Bluestocking Society,” or so the story is told.
No matter how the name was acquired, I applaud these outstanding women intent on having their intellectual and literary interests satisfied. Right away, a spark within me was ignited. My curiosity instantly took on a new sense of eagerness and enthusiasm to mimic this meeting of minds by creating a similar venue.
I have always been interested in the lessons we can learn from the lives of the people who demonstrate resilience in the face of adversity, exemplify the pursuit of their own life’s mastery, and embody a bold point of view. I knew other creative souls were out there; I just needed to find them to converse and construct together, to be daring and deep, to share similar storylines, to support one another.
While raising my two sons, it became essential for me to find dynamic conversations to both inspire and be inspired. The idea of linking women together through shared experiences has been my plan and purpose all my adult life. I want to nurture a forum where we gather and grow together, sit and search for solutions, relax and reflect, while chatting about life, love, loss or lunacy.
I was determined to start my own bluestocking society with a modern twist. I decided I would invite a “bluestocking” from the community share her life experiences with a group of curious ladies. I encouraged my friends to participate, and they called their friends to join this intimate social gathering. My objective was to create a space for meaningful discussions – something more than the typical kitchen-table conversation.
Not a meant to be a passive lecture series, our gatherings quickly became a quarterly parlor soiree with distinct topics. Our conversations hinged on individual strengths; they were “life talks” that provided both information and camaraderie. I named these get-togethers Living Legacies. During each session held in my home, we learned from our foremothers’ tenacity and shortcomings.
Each Living Legacy parlor series provided a unique and authentic space beginning with socializing, a social hour while indulging in sweets and sipping a glass of wine or tea. The stories we witnessed and told were of resilience, personal triumph, survival, and the many joys inherent in each of our lives. I always walked away mentally nurtured and energized by the life lessons offered. These wise woman meetings became a place to build a movement of shared understanding where relationships grew, alliances were forged and ideas nurtured. Although storytelling and sharing experiences among friends is so simple and universal, it’s a lost art across generations.
I have now embarked on another “bluestocking” society through S.H.E. Share Heal Empower to offer a similar fellowship on a different platform. This is not only a book of twenty-four woman unveiling their personal losses and their victories on life’s battlefield; this is also a community of women who embrace change and understand that personal perseverance is to be celebrated. I am giddy with excitement to unveil the narratives of dynamic females who remind me that storytelling can be an instrument of freedom. Together we inspire each other.
Women supporting women is a vital outcome of this crazy life we lead. Our fortitude, durability and courage come in a variety of styles and silhouettes. The universal, consistent theme is our passion, our drive and our willingness to be different. In the spirit of sharing stories and in honor of our female predecessors, we need to celebrate nonconformity with our own version – The Bluestocking Society 3.0.