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Amelia Bloomer was a newspaper editor, journalist, temperance reformer, and women’s rights advocate from the United States. She advocated for a new style of women’s clothing, which entailed pairing a loose-fitting blouse with a knee-length skirt, and baggy pants, that became known as Bloomers. Although Amelia Bloomer did not invent the dress style, her numerous feminist writings and general advocacy of the dress style caused the trend to grow nationwide. She published her writings in The Lily, a women's rights and temperance newspaper.

Early Years and Career

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was born just Amelia Jenks on May 27, 1818, in Homer, New York.[1] She attended school in her youth and chose a teaching career initially.[2] She relocated to Waterloo to live with Elvira, her newly married sister. She then moved in with the Oren Chamberlain family to be their three youngest children’s governess.[3] She married Dexter Bloomer on April 13, 1840. He worked as an attorney and edited a newspaper from Seneca Falls, New York. Amelia also wrote temperance and women’s rights articles for the newspaper.[4]

The Lily

Amelia Bloomer attended the first U.S. Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls in 1848. She channeled her talent for writing and passion for social activism into the newspaper called The Lily, focused on equal education and economic opportunities for women and women’s suffrage while encouraging temperance.[5] The Lily was the first newspaper for women and ran from 1849 to 1853. It started as a temperance journal since Bloomer felt that writing was a better way for women to communicate their want of reform since she felt women lecturers unseemly.

The Lily was originally intended for home use by members of the newly formed Seneca Falls Ladies Temperance Society that began in 1848. Initial setbacks deterred the Society, so Bloomer dedicated herself to the editing and publishing of the newspaper.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s writings and friendship with Amelia Bloomer reinforced Bloomer’s dedication to women’s rights and encouraged her to seek ways to make an impact.

The title page read “Published by a committee of ladies” at first, but by 1850 it only read Bloomer’s name. The paper did not aim to be considered radical, even though its formation grew out of women’s exclusion from temperance society membership and various reform groups. It originally propagated women as simply “defenders of the home,” and its articles covered topics such as education, temperance, and child-bearing.

The newspaper kept its focus on temperance even as it began including articles addressing other subjects interesting to women. A large portion came from the hand of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who wrote under the pseudonym, “Sunflower,” who penned many of the other topics before she turned to women’s rights. Stanton slowly turned to writing about gender-biased laws and insisted on change. Her friendship with Bloomer doubled the latter dedication to the feminist cause and caused her to seek different avenues of encouraging change. Bloomer wrote about her change of heart after reflecting on an elderly friend banned from her home after her husband passed without at will:

“Later, other similar cases coming to my knowledge made me familiar with cruelty of the laws towards women; and when the women rights convention put forth its Declaration of Sentiments. I was ready to join with that party in demanding for women such change in laws as would give her a right to her earnings, and her children a right to wider fields of employment and a better education, and also a right to protect her interest at the ballot box.”[6]

Women’s Bloomers

Even though they bear her name, Amelia Bloomer did not invent the “Bloomer costume,” but simply wrote about it in her newspaper and wore the dress herself.

Amelia Bloomer then took interest in women’s clothing reform. She, Stanton, and other took inspiration from Elizabeth Smith Miller, a resident of Geneva, New York, and her style of a knee-length dress with pants. Bloomer wrote several articles that included printed illustrations of the new type of dress in The Lily and wore it herself. Her outspoken advocacy resulted in the outfit being known as the “Bloomer costume.” She noted in her writings,

“As soon as it became known that I was wearing the new dress, letters came pouring in upon me by the hundreds from women all over the country making inquiries about the dress and asking for patterns – showing how ready and anxious women were to throw off the burden of long, heavy skirts.”[7]

Bloomer introduced Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Susan B. Anthony in May of 1851 and, during the same time, The Lily’s circulation grew from 500 copies to 4000 copies per month because of her association with the Bloomers controversy.[8]

Later Life and Death

Amelia Bloomer moved with her family to Mount Vernon, Ohio in 1854. [9] She continued to publish her magazine The Lily over the next year after the move and the circulation continued to increase to over 6000. In 1854, Bloomer sold The Lily to Mary Birdsall prior to her next family move.[10] Bloomer continued her social activism and spoke around the Midwest, including St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Cincinnati. The Bloomer family moved again in 1855 to Council Bluffs, Iowa. Amelia Bloomer again returned to her women’s right activism. Since Council Buffs had no facilities to publish the paper, she continued on as editor for the remaining two years The Lily remained in circulation. From 1871-1873, she led the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association as their first president. She used her connection through her membership in the Episcopal Church to fight for women’s rights and aid the poor citizens in her area through many charitable causes. [11] Amelia Bloomer died on December 30, 1894, in Council Bluffs, Iowa and is buried in the city’s Fairview Cemetery.[12]

References

Bibliography


Bloomer, D. C. (2009). Life and Writings of Amelia Bloomer. BiblioBazaar.

Find A Grave. (2001, January 1). Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818 - 1894). Find A Grave Memorial.[1]

National Historical Park New York. Amelia Bloomer. National Park Service.[2]

Footnotes

  1. Find A Grave, 2001
  2. Bloomer, 2009
  3. Weber, S. S. Special History Study. (1985). Women’s Rights National Historic Park, Seneca Falls, New York, US Department of the Interior, National Park Service.
  4. Bloomer, 2009
  5. Bloomer, 2009
  6. National Historical Park New York, n.d.
  7. National Historical Park New York, n.d.
  8. National Historical Park New York, n.d.
  9. Bloomer, 2009
  10. National Historical Park New York, n.d.
  11. Bloomer, 2009
  12. Find A Grave, 2001

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