Scandalous Fashions: Amelia Bloomer Part 2

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.

Mrs. Bloomer and her disciples were soon swept up in a tremendous hubbub, for the new fashion was as feverishly discussed as the Fugitive Slave Law or abolition. A large Boston daily wrote glowingly in its society section of a bride attired "in the poetry and bloom of a Bloomer costume . . . of elegant white satin," and the Brooklyn Eagle raved about "a young lady, apparently in the bloom of her teens, and beautiful as a bouquet of roses . . . her limbs, which appeared symmetrical as the chiseled pedestals of a sculptured Venus, encased in a pair of yellow pantaloons." But Godey's Lady's Book disapproved, and Gordon Bennett's New York Herald was vehemently opposed: ". . . the attempt to introduce pantaloons . . . will not succeed. Those who have tried it, will very likely soon end their career in the lunatic asylum, or, perchance, in the State prison."

The raging battle produced side skirmishes hardly less interesting. A certain reverend of Easthampton, Mass., forbade 2 Bloomer girls to enter his church, threatening them with ex-communication and causing periodicals on both sides of the issue to temporarily unite in denouncing him for such an unwarranted assumption of holy authority. Another and more famous divine, Dr. DeWitt Talmage, cited Moses as an early opponent of Bloomerism ("A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man . . ." Deut. 22:5), but Mrs. Bloomer countered with Genesis, which, she pointed out, makes no distinction between the fig leaves of Adam and Eve.

The fashion crossed the Atlantic when a small band of proselytizing Bloomer girls invaded England. A "London Bloomer Committee" was formed and almost immediately issued a hand-bill announcing that "a public lecture relating to the same will be delivered at the Royal Soho Theatre on October 6. The ladies of the committee will themselves appear in full Bloomer costume, and the mothers and daughters of England are cordially invited to attend." That winter "A Grand Bloomer Ball" was held in the elegant Hanover Square Rooms, and although it was attended by youthful members of both Houses of Parliament as well as Guards, officers, dandies, writers, painters, actors, and barristers (among others), too few of the bloomer-clad ladies present were exactly "respectable," and the bloomer lost face accordingly.

The general mockery that 1st greeted the bloomer never abated, and although the feminists continued to wear the bloomer for a few years, even they gave it up in time. Feeling martyred in Seneca Falls, Amelia and her husband moved west, where the fame (but not the ridicule) had preceded her. They settled happily in Council Bluffs, Ia., where Mrs. Bloomer continued to wear the costume for a few more years. She gave it up when the Union cause superseded feminism and dress reform in her heart. The guns at Ford Sumter were hardly silent before she had organized the Soldiers' Aid Society; it met in her home to stitch the large silk flag which Company B of the 4th Iowa Volunteer Infantry eventually received from her hands. "You are now going forth to sustain and defend the Constitution," emoted Mrs. Bloomer at the presentation, "against an unjust and monstrous rebellion, fomented and carried on by wicked and ambitious men who have for their object the overthrow of the best Government the world has ever seen." A local reporter, recording the scene, noted that among the volunteers "many a brawny breast heaved, and tears trickled down many a manly face."

Amelia Bloomer had won them at last!

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