May 27, 1818 – Birthday of Amelia Jenks Bloomer

On this day in history, Amelia Bloomer was born in Homer, New York.

Amelia Bloomer was an American women’s rights and temperance advocate, who became, however, best-known for her efforts to reform women’s clothing styles.

Bloomer had only a few years of formal education, although at age 17 she became a school teacher. She must have exhibited writing skills, because her husband whom she married at age 22, attorney Dexter Bloomer, encouraged her to write for his New York newspaper, the “Seneca Falls County Courier.”

In 1848, Bloomer attended the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention. The following year, she became editor of the first newspaper for women, “The Lily.” It was published biweekly from 1849 until 1853. Although the newspaper began as a temperance journal, it increasingly extended its mix of contents to include recipes and moralist tracts. Bloomer felt that because women lecturers were considered inappropriate, writing was the best way for women to work for reform.

In her bi-weekly publication The Lily, she wrote:

The costume of women should be suited to her wants and necessities. It should conduce at once to her health, comfort, and usefulness; and, while it should not fail also to conduce to her personal adornment, it should make that end of secondary importance.”

In 1851, New England temperance activist Elizabeth (Libby) Smith Miller started wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankles, like women’s trousers worn in the Middle East and Central Asia, topped by a short dress or skirt and vest. Miller displayed her new clothing to her cousin, temperance activist and suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who found it sensible and becoming, and adopted it immediately. In this garb Stanton visited Bloomer, who began to wear the costume and promote it enthusiastically in her magazine. Articles on the clothing trend were picked up in The New York Tribune. More women wore the fashion which was promptly dubbed The Bloomer Costume or “Bloomers”.

Bloomer remained a suffrage pioneer and writer throughout her life, writing for a wide array of periodicals. Although Bloomer’s work was far less renowned than that of her contemporaries, she made many significant contributions to the women’s movement — her ideas of dress reform and her work in the temperance movement were notable. Moreover, The Lily was a voice for many women reformers such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

Among many tributes to her, The Amelia Bloomer Project, part of the Feminist Task Force of the American Library Association’s Social Responsibilities Round Table, creates an annual book list recognizing children’s books with feminist themes published during the award year. You can access their recommendations here.

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