A bluestocking is an educated, intellectual woman, more specifically a member of the 18th-century Blue Stockings Society led by the hostess and critic Elizabeth Montagu (1720–1800), the "Queen of the Blues", and including Elizabeth Vesey (1715–91), Hester Chapone (1727–1801), and the classicist Elizabeth Carter (1717–1806). In the following generation came Hester Lynch Piozzi (1741–1821), Hannah More (1745–1833), and Frances Burney (1752–1840).
Until the late 18th century, the term had referred to learned people of both sexes. It subsequently was applied primarily to intellectual women, and the French equivalent bas bleu had a similar connotation. The term later developed negative implications, and in some instances such women were stereotyped as being "frumpy". The reference to blue stockings may arise from the time when woollen worsted stockings were informal dress, in contrast to formal, fashionable black silk stockings. Curiously, the most frequent such reference is to a man, Benjamin Stillingfleet, who reportedly lacked the formal black stockings, yet still participated in the Blue Stockings Society.
A reference to bluestockings has been attributed to John Amos Comenius in his 1638 book, where he mentioned the ancient tradition of women being excluded from higher education, citing Bible and Euripides. That reference, though, comes from Keatinge's 1896 translation and is not present in Comenius's original Latin text.
The name may have been applied in the 15th century to the blue stockings worn by the members of the Compagnie della Calza in Venice, which then was adopted in Paris and London; and in the 17th century to the Covenanters in Scotland, who wore unbleached woollen stockings, in contrast to the bleached or dyed stockings of the more affluent. In 1870 Henry D. Wheatley noted that Elizabeth Montagu's coterie were named "blue stockings" after the blue worsted stockings worn by the naturalist Benjamin Stillingfleet.
The Blue Stockings Society was a literary society led by Elizabeth Montagu and others in the 1750s in England. Elizabeth Montagu was an anomaly in this society because she took possession of her husband's property when he died. This allowed her to have impact in her world. This society was founded by women, and included many prominent members of English society, both male and female, including Harriet Bowdler, Edmund Burke, Sarah Fielding, Samuel Johnson, and Frances Pulteney. M.P., an 1811 comic opera by Thomas Moore and Charles Edward Horn, was subtitled The Blue Stocking. It contained a character Lady Bab Blue who was a parody of bluestockings.
In Japan, a literary magazine Seitō (Bluestocking) was launched in 1911 under the leadership of Raichō Hiratsuka. It ran until 1916, providing a creative outlet and political platform for Japanese feminists even while it faced public outcry and government censorship. 
- Tinker, 1915.
- Carol Strauss Sotiropoulos (2007), Early feminists and the education debates: England, France, Germany, 1760–1810, p. 235, ISBN 978-0-8386-4087-6
- Hannah More (1782), The Bas Bleu, or, Conversation
- James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D, Comprising A Series of His Epistolary Correspondence and Conversations with Many Eminent Persons; And Various Original Pieces of His Composition; With a Chronological Account of His Studies and Numerous Works, p. 823
- Ethel Rolt Wheeler, Famous Blue-Stockings, p. 23
- Comenius cites Euripides' tragedy Hippolytus, where Hippolytus says, "I detest a bluestocking. May there never be a woman in my house who knows more than is fitting for a woman to know.", to which Comenius answers: "These opinions, I opine, stand in no true opposition to our demand. For we are not advising that women be educated in such a way that their tendency to curiosity shall be developed, but so that their sincerity and contentedness may be increased, and this chiefly in those things which it becomes a woman to know and to do; that is to say, all that enables her to look after her household and to promote the welfare of her husband and her family." John Amos Comenius (1633–1638), Didactica Magna (The Great Didactic, translation by M. W. Keatinge, London: Adam and Charles Black, 1896), p. 220
- 'Benjamin Stillingfleet, the celebrated naturalist, who is described by [Thomas] Gray as living in a garret in order that he might be able to support some near relations, died at his lodgings opposite to Burlington House on December 15, 1771 at the age of sixty-nine. It was his blue worsted stockings that gave the name "blue stocking" to the ladies of Mrs Montagu's coterie.' Henry D. Wheatley, Round About Piccadilly And Pall Mall, London: Smith Elder (1870), p. 42.
- Beckett, J. V. "Elizabeth Montagu: Bluestocking Turned Landlady." Huntington Library Quarterly 49, no. 2 (1986): 149-64.
- Louis Kronenberger, Kings and Desperate Men, p. 75
- Elizabeth Eger (2010). Bluestockings: women of reason from Enlightenment to Romanticism. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 206.
- S. L. Sievers (10 November 1998), "The Bluestockings", Meiji Japan, ISBN 978-0-415-15618-9
- Burns, William E. "Bluestockings 18th and 19th centuries" in Reader's Guide to British History (2003). online
- Demers, Patricia. The World of Hannah More (University of Kentucky Press, 1996)
- Myers, Sylvia Harcstark. The Bluestocking Circle: Women, Friendship and the Life of the Mind in Eighteenth-Century England (Oxford University Press, 1990)
- Robinson, Jane. Bluestockings: The Remarkable Story of the First Women to Fight for an Education (Penguin, 2010)
- Tinker, Chauncey Brewster (1915). The salon and English letters: chapters on the interrelations of literature and society in the age of Johnson. Macmillan. full text online
- "Bluestocking". Encyclopædia Britannica. 4 (11th ed.). 1911. p. 91.