anna brones

writer + artist + producer

Amelia Bloomer

leave a comment »

“When you find a burden in belief or apparel, cast it off.”

Amelia Bloomer (1819-1894)

Born Amelia Jenks, Bloomer was a writer, editor, abolitionist, and active member of the women’s suffrage movement. Her progressive views helped to shift not only how American women viewed what they wore, but also themselves and their role in society.

After attending the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention in 1848, Bloomer launched The Lily. The newspaper was entirely for women, and dedicated to covering the topics of the day. A publication by and for women was not only novel, but controversial. While it began as a temperance journal, it quickly evolved, and within its pages, Bloomer and her team not only advocated for women’s right to vote, but also to end slavery.

Bloomer later wrote, “The Lily was the first paper published devoted to the interests of woman and, so far as I know, the first one owned, edited and published by a woman. It was a novel thing for me to do in those days and I was little fitted for it, but the force of circumstances led me into it and strength was given me to carry it through. It was a needed instrumentality to spread abroad the truth of the new gospel to woman, and I could not withhold my hand to stay the work I had begun.”

But it was articles on fashion that would spike the interest in The Lily, as Bloomer advocated for dress reform. Long dresses of the day were heavy, impractical, and often, an impediment to health. As Lorraine Boissoneault writes for Smithsonian:

“… middle- and upper-class American women squeezed themselves into corsets and six to eight petticoats to fill out the shape of their skirts. The result weighed up to 15 pounds, placed enormous pressure on their hips, and made movement a struggle.

“Women complained of overheating and impaired breathing, sweeping along filthy streets and tripping over stairs, crushed organs from whalebone stays and laced corsets, and getting caught in factory machinery,” writes historian Annemarie Strassel.

Doctors worried the outfits might cause health problems for pregnant mothers, and the press regularly lampooned the style of the day, with cartoons showing assorted garbage getting caught in women’s sweeping skirts. But what could be done?”

Bloomer found an answer in a liberating new style of outfit: a short skirt with billowy pantaloons underneath. She published photos of herself wearing it, and advocated for the style change in the pages of The Lily.

This physical manifestation of women’s liberation of course caused an uproar, one that Bloomer hadn’t expected. “At the outset, I had no idea of fully adopting the style no thought of setting a fashion; no thought that my action would create an excitement throughout the civilized world, and give to the style my name and the credit due Mrs. [Elizabeth Smith] Miller. This was all the work of the press. I stood amazed at the furor I had unwittingly caused,” wrote Bloomer.

She hadn’t planned on starting a fashion revolution, but Bloomer became the outfit’s namesake, and in turn the face of the movement for dress reform. Women wrote to Bloomer asking about the dress, and if there were patterns available, and the interest was so great that The Lily‘s monthly circulation went from 500 to 4,000.

Imagine: a woman in pants! To the public of the day, the thought was not just unconventional, but unsightly. During the American Civil War, nurses were even banned from wearing them, but the freedom of movement that they allowed causes many nurses to ignore the ban and don them anyway.

Bloomer later went back to her full-length dress, and the suffragettes moved away from dress reform as one of their causes, but the connection between pants and women’s right’s remained—our wardrobes and our politics forever changed.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

October 17, 2019 at 10:57

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: