Scandalous Fashions: Amelia Bloomer Part 1

About the promoter, not inventor of Bloomers style of dress for women, Amelia Bloomer and the scandal that followed.

AMELIA BLOOMER (1818-1894). Promoter of bloomers.

Although she had persuaded her husband to omit the word "obey" from their marriage vows, Amelia Jenks Bloomer was no 19th-century Women's Liberationist. She would not sign the Declaration of Independence for Women that was drawn up right in her own town of Seneca Falls, N.Y., and her real concern was temperance, not feminism. She contributed articles (signed "Gloriana" or "Eugene") on morality, alcoholism, and other social issues to the Free Soil Union and the Seneca County Courier, but her enterprising spirit was not satisfied, and she resolved to start her own magazine.

The Lily was officially the house organ of the Seneca Falls Ladies' Temperance Society, but to all intents and purposes it was the personal mouthpiece for the crusading opinions of its petite and rather pretty editor. "A simple young thing with no education for business, in no way fitted for such work," Amelia Bloomer described herself to a subscriber. Nevertheless, she established her pressroom in the room adjoining the post office (she was also deputy postmaster), wrote copy, read proof, edited, contracted for the printing, and by herself wrapped and mailed all the copies that her public had subscribed to at 50 cent a year. It was the 1st women's magazine in America.

In spite of these innovations, Mrs. Bloomer's neighbors were hardly prepared for her sudden appearance on the town's main thoroughfare with her skirt apparently shrunk all the way up to her knees and the lower half of her legs enveloped in a kind of Turkish trouser. In truth, credit for inventing this scandalous attire must go to the wealthy abolitionist Gerrit Smith, whose fashionable daughter, Mrs. Elizabeth Smith Miller, 1st wore it. Amelia Bloomer was merely joining the reaction against the voluminous hoopskirts that fashion decreed for every lady. The hoops could be propelled through doorways only with difficulty, and they were especially ill-suited to the unpaved streets of small-town America. After The Lily took up the cause of dress reform and even included patterns for the new costume, Gerrit Smith's invention became permanently associated with the name of the magazine's editor.

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