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Saturday, 27 May 2017

Saturday Rave: Poor Amelia Bloomer and the Great Pants Takeover

For what would you like to be famous?

A crime? A catastrophic end? For being a laughing-stock?

Or perhaps for some achievement?

I hereby invite you to drop a tear for poor blameless Mrs Amelia Bloomer

AmeliaBloomer-sig.png

Mrs Bloomer started her journalistic career as a writer on her husband's newspaper, the Seneca Falls County Courier, but soon she had spread her wings and was editing The Lily, an early (perhaps the first) newspaper for women. The Lily started off as a temperance paper, but presumably Mrs Bloomer soon got bored with banging on about temperance, and The Lily started featuring recipes and opinion pieces. 

Then the suffragettes got involved, and the paper declared itself dedicated to the 'Emancipation of Woman from Intemperance, Injustice, Prejudice and Bigotry'.


Mrs Bloomer believed that her newspaper was 'a needed instrument to spread abroad a new gospel to women'. She was, therefore, generally the broadcaster rather than the author of the feminist ideas publicised in The Lily, and as such any fame accrued tended to be focused on her writers.

So why do we now remember Mrs Bloomer, who worked so long and hard for women's rights? 

Sadly, for her pants.

In 1851 Libby Miller started wearing baggy trousers under a shortish skirt. It wasn't a new idea (see the illustration below) but this time round people were in the mood to be intrigued by it and Libby Miller's trousers caused a sensation. Soon the actress Fanny Kemble had got in on the act, but it was poor hard-working sensible Mrs Bloomer, with her newspaper, who was mainly responsible for publicising and promoting the wearing of these trousers. 

File:Bloomer Costume (Robert Chambers, p.113, 1832) - Copy.jpg
Illustration, Robert Chambers, 1832

Unfortunately nearly everyone immediately decided they were utterly, hilariously, ridiculous, and soon 'bloomers' were being sniggered at across the western world, both in the press and in the street.

Mrs Bloomer stayed a doughty and effective campaigner for women's rights all through her long life. But what is she famous for?

Sadly, even though she gave up on bloomers after the crinoline was invented (on the rather strange grounds that walking about in a five- metre-round cage was quite liberating enough), her pants.

File:The Dangers of Crinoline, 1858 02.png
Crinoline. Unsigned illustration 1858 

Word To Use Today: bloomers. After poor Amelia.


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