Our History

Bluestockings is named after The Blue Stockings Society, a mid-18th century English political movement and literary discussion group to promote female authorship and readership.

Bluestockings Women’s Bookstore was founded in 1999 by Kathryn Welsh. With a silent business partner, an inheritance, and a group of willing of volunteers, the then 23-year-old Welsh formed Bluestockings in 1999 as a bookstore, community space, and events venue for women. The store, which occupied the southern-most 1/3 of the current store space, had an inventory of both new and used titles, mostly focused on feminism, and was collectively operated.

By 2002, the business was in financial duress, due in part to a lag in sales after September 11. The Bluestockings collective was disbanded, and Welsh took over operating the business. In January 2003, Welsh decided to sell Bluestockings Bookstore in order to pursue her MBA.

In February 2003, just days before the store was set to close down, Brooke Lehman stepped in. She purchased Bluestockings and assembled a six-person collective to operate the space. In May 2003, after the collective purchased new furniture and equipment for the store, Bluestockings re-opened as a collectively-owned operated bookstore with this new mission statement:

Bluestockings is an independent bookstore, café, and activist resource center, located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Through words, art, food, activism, education, and community, we strive to create a space that welcomes and empowers all people. We actively support movements that challenge hierarchy and all systems of oppression, including but not limited to patriarchy, heterosexism, the gender binary, white supremacy and classism, within society as well as our own movements. We seek to make our space and resources available to such movements for meetings, events, and research. Additionally, we offer educational programming that promotes centered, strategic, and visionary thinking, towards the realization of a society that is infinitely creative, truly democratic, equitable, ecological, and free.

The focus of the store expanded from feminism to a broader focus on radical politics and activism, including queer and gender theory, race/racism, and anti-capitalism, and more. Bluestockings continued to act as a community space and events venue, hosting an event nearly every evening. In 2005, the store doubled to twice its original size by taking over the recently vacated space next door and tearing down the wall between the two spaces.

Now in 2019, 20 years since its initial founding, Bluestockings is still a collectively-owned and volunteer-powered radical bookstore, activist center, and fair trade café operating at 172 Allen St. Bluestockings operates on a break-even model, operated by an entirely volunteer collective, a small group of dedicated staffers, and a base of incredible volunteers. We are thrilled to be celebrating over 20 years of community support, and look forward to 20 more years!