When is the last time you remember a woman gracing the cover of Time Magazine for little else than her ability to throw a really great party?
Perle Mesta, from the cover of the March 14, 1949 issue of Time, is credited with being “the capital’s No. 1 hostess, a position she had inherited, almost by default, from a long line of free-spending, haughty, and sometimes charming dowagers.”
And according to the November 22, 1963 issue of Time, “Short of a summons to dinner at the White House, few invitations are treasured as highly as those to 2221 Kalorama Road, N.W., site of the grey stone, Tudor-style French embassy and home of Nicole Alphand.”
These women may have been the last remaining vestiges of the eighteenth century salons in which a single woman ruled the gathering (and the guest list) and the lively discussion of art, literature and politics were the main menu.
Granted, salons died out largely because there was no longer a need for them. Originally, women who had some power (whether by marriage, status or charisma) held salons in their homes for the singular purpose of educating themselves. Since it was “unbecoming” for a woman to be educated, the closest one would come to a university would be in the parlor of her home where she might overhear the men discussing poetry and politics. A suffrage movement, two world wars, and the sixties later – women represent nearly sixty percent of American advanced degree holders. Go us.
But I can’t help feeling slightly cheated out of what I imagine to be some really fascinating conversation. I mean, just because women are better educated doesn’t mean that we have nothing to learn from mixing a group of artists, politicians and social movers and shakers together with food and cocktails. Who knows what one might learn? I suspect the salon of the mid 1700s was more than just an oppressed girl’s college. Power has always originated from social knowledge. Who you know and what you know about who you know makes all the difference in the world.
I’d like to revive the Blue Stockings Society. Of course, I don’t quite know how to go about doing so. I mean, there are lots of questions to ask: where does one find artists and politicians and social movers and shakers? Do they hang out in the organic produce section of Kroger? Probably not. I mean, if they all hung out there together, we’d have no need for a society devoted to mixing them up. We’d all just go to the Kroger.
I’ll have to think on this a bit and see if I can’t come up with a “How-To” on reviving a centuries-old tradition. In the meantime, you can find me in the frozen foods section.