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Bluestocking Week

Bluestocking Week is an initiative of the NTEU Women’s Action Committee, chaired by the National President and coordinated by the National Office in cooperation with Divisions' women’s committees/networks and local Branches. 

These web pages provide details of upcoming and previous Bluestocking Weeks, as well as a short history on the traditions of Bluestocking women. It also has links to other resources focusing on the themes of women’s intellectualism, advancing feminism through education and rebelling against social constructs that prescribe roles for women and restrict women’s freedom of expression and thought. For further information please contact Terri MacDonald.

It's on Again! Bluestocking Week 2015

NTEU is pleased to announce that, in conjunction with the National Union of Students (NUS) and Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA), Bluestocking week is on again in 2015!  

Bluestockings will again be all the rage from August 10th - 14th, on campuses all around the country.  As with each year, this fantastic week long event grows and our next BSW is already promising to be bigger and better than last year, with more planned in all states and terrorities. 


What is Bluestocking Week about?

Bluestocking Week is named for the first generations of university women of the 19th century who grabbed the term and, even as it was used by their opponents as a derogatory dismissal of their achievements proudly wore it as a badge of serious scholarship.

The term originates from the latter part of the 18th century as women started organising literary societies in their homes and began campaigning for women’s access to university and more generally for women’s rights to equality in work, under the law and access into the parliaments. Many of the English middle and upper class leaders of the suffragist and suffragette movements started out in or were influenced by these literary societies, as were some of the male supporters of women’s rights. Indeed the term ‘blue stocking’ is often attributed to a male member of the circle who arrived at meetings in his everyday worsted wool blue stockings rather than white silk ones usually worn by men when meeting with men. This was taken up as distinguishing the women’s initiative*

While the original bluestockings of the literary societies and indeed the university pioneers were upper middle class and wealthy women, like their brothers, the efforts of women of more lowly backgrounds and their supporters should not be rendered invisible by the focus on the wealthy. As more research is done on the early university bluestockings it becomes clear that clever and determined women with financial support of families and communities made it through to universities and went on to careers in public service across many fields. I recommend Jane Robinson's Bluestockings: the remarkable story of the first women to fight for an education (2009, Penguin, London) to tell more of this story in Britain. Hopefully someone is currently researching and writing a similar book on the diversity of the Australian Bluestockings.

Jeannie Rea

NTEU National President


Previous Bluestocking Weeks 

In 2014 We Crossed the Line!

In 2014 the theme was “Crossing the Line”, with a focus on fighting attitudes that seek to silence the voices of women, and to highlight the importance of women speaking out and sharing their stories and views.

This was the third consecutive year that NTEU together with NUS (National Union of Students) ran Bluestocking Week, after successfully relaunching it in 2012.  Over the last 2 years, the event has grown in both scope and size, with more university campuses participating each year.  

When we reintroduced Bluestocking Week in 2012 we focussed upon celebrating women’s achievements in higher education and assessing the current situation for women. There is a long way to go. For a terrific visual depiction of the statistics on women in higher education go back and look at the 2012 edition of the NTEU’s annual women’s magazine Agenda.

Even before the change of government in 2014, we saw that opportunities for equity and access to initatives that have benefited women were under attack.  Gender studies courses and research, suffering in course and staff cutbacks, were - and are still - fighting to maintain their existence as more conservative attitudes to feminism in education and research have political sway. We have an environment where pro-women and feminist policies and approaches are being ignored, and where the Abbott led government seeks to actively wind back the clock to a pre-Menzies era for gender equality and women’s rights.

 While we support the protests and actions opposing the cuts to higher education and deregulation of student fees, we also need to fight those attitudes that seek to silence the voices of women. Bluestocking week will highlight the importance of women speaking out and  sharing their stories and views.  We want to create a human tapestry that describes the experience of women who work and study in our universities, and whose lives are richer for that experience.  Through Bluestocking Week’s activities, we sought to challenge the conservative agenda that both degrades and denigrates women and which portrays feminist viewpoints as extreme, dangerous and irrelevant.

We are the women of the university; past, present and future - share your stories!

in 2014 we were particularly interested in events or activities that collate the stories of women in our universities - in all their diversity and marvel.   As a part of 2014 activities, we encouraged women to take a picture of themselves or with others and provide a short caption about them and their connection to universityas part of bigger project - We are the women of the university; past, present and future.. Women then posted their stories on our website and through social media on how they "crossed the line" and challenge attitudes that seek to restrict women's freedom and opportunities. Click here to read submitted stories.


2013 Bluestocking Week

The 2013 theme was ‘Holding the Line’ and posters, bookmarks and balloons were again produced pursuing this theme. In a tumultuous period for gender politics in Australia and when public resistance to sexism in public life is clearly needed, ‘Holding the Line’ seemed an apt theme for NTEU’s Bluestocking Week in 2013.

Holding the Line also complemented the National Union of Students (NUS) theme for their April Bluestocking Week - ‘Our blue stockings are on the line’. It also allowed for some excellent imagery in our poster artwork. And that was taken even further in the national launch event on Monday morning of 12 August when National Office staff and others, in blue stockings literally held the line in University Arcade (next to Victoria University), draping a clothes line of cardboard cut-outs of stockings and clothes (reproduced from the poster) across the laneway drawing many interested queries from staff and students, tourists, city workers and shoppers who were all taking photos.

The National Union of Students held their 2013 Bluestocking Week in April to avoid coinciding with the federal elections, but in 2014 they will revert back to August with NTEU.

2012 Bluestocking Week

In 2012 we focused upon celebrating the success of women in higher education drawing upon the history of women’s sometimes slow, but determined struggle for participation in universities as students and staff, as well as upon challenging gendered discrimination in the construction and transmission of knowledge. We emphasised that women may now have the numbers, as the majority of students and staff in universities, but we are still continually struggling against gendered segregation as a major obstacle to gender equity. Disciplines, occupations and paths to promotion and decision making power are still gendered.

When NTEU and NUS relaunched Bluestocking Week, we created physical space and time to speak out against sexism. The feedback was extremely positive as women (and men) learned that their scepticism about the rhetoric of gender equity was justified and that in reality we have a long way to go.

The reality in higher education is that women constitute the majority of casualised academics, but only a quarter of the professoriate, make up most of the lower level general staff without adequate opportunities for career advancement, and students are still sharply concentrated in traditional gendered disciplines and courses. Women graduates earn less than their male counterparts, and are more likely to be in insecure jobs.

Further information

For details of the origins and histories of the Bluestockings, see also the 2013 edition of Agenda, the NTEU’s annual women’s magazine.

Bluestocking Week is coordinated by the national Women’s Action Committee which has representatives from each Division. Events are being organised at national, divisional and university branch levels. Contact your branch to get involved and make suggestions. As events are organised they will be posted on this website.

For further information on Bluestocking Week activities and events please contact your local NTEU Branch or Division office or the NTEU National Office on 03 9254 1910 or email Terri MacDonald.