Amelia Bloomer

Amelia Bloomer

Trawling through the internet, I’ve found another interesting Victorian feminist; this time the American women’s rights and temperance advocate Amelia Jenks Bloomer.

Amelia was born on May 27th 1818 in Homer, New York.  Her family were not rich, and she only received a few years of formal education.  At the age of 17 she enjoyed a brief career as a schoolteacher, moving to Waterloo after a year and becoming a governess to the three youngest children of the Oren Chamberlain family.

When she was 22 she married attorney Dexter Bloomer, who encouraged her to write for his New York newspaper the Seneca Falls County Courier.  In 1848 Amelia attended the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, and in 1849 she began editing the first bi-weekly newspaper for women, The Lily.  She thought it best to write about women’s issues, as during the mid-1800’s women lecturers were considered unseemly.  The newspaper began as a temperance journal for the members of the Seneca Falls Ladies’ Temperance Society, but soon after came under the influence of activists and suffragettes Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.  It was a model for later periodicals focused on women’s suffrage.

Amelia had free rein over the newspaper, and began to wear and promote activist Elizabeth Smith Miller’s less restrictive costumes for women, comprising of loose trousers gathered at the ankles (these became ‘Bloomers’) topped by a short dress or skirt and blouse.  More and more women adopted the fashion, which was eventually replaced by the crinoline.

Amelia remained a suffrage pioneer and writer throughout her life.  She made a considerable contribution to the women’s movement and the temperance movement.  She served as president of the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association from 1871 until 1873.  She died on 30th December 1894 in Council Bluffs, Iowa, at the age of 76.  Her home at Seneca Falls , New York, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

As an aside, both my grandmothers always called knickers ‘bloomers’!