Amelia Bloomer didn't design bloomers!

Last week we looked at tops that women cyclists might have worn a hundred years ago. Today we get to the bottom…which in the late 1800s and early 1900s were often bloomers. Bloomers–those baggy pants usually gathered at the bottom–are associated with Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-1894).
Bloomer edited The Lily, what’s believed to be the first newspaper in the United States directed at women. The Lily grew out of the temperance movement (educating the public on the evils of alcoholic beverages) and expanded to include other issues important to women, including the right to vote. Among the contributors to The Lily was a person who signed her articles “Sunflower”–suffrage activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Courtesy Library of Congress

Stanton and Bloomer became friends and allies in the fight for women’s rights. They both began to wear the knee-length dress and pants that Stanton’s cousin, Elizabeth Smith Miller, designed. According to the National Park Service (which manages the Women’s Rights National Historical Park and has volumes of information on the Web), it’s Miller (1822-1911) we have to thank for “bloomers.”  On a trip to Turkey, she was taken with the practicality and the mixture of modesty and freedom of movement of pantaloons. Miller wore her pantaloons as part of the “rational dress” movement.
When women got into cycling at the end of the 19th century, they shed the knee-length dress and stuck with a modified version of the pantaloons. They called these “bloomers” in honor of Amelia. The name stuck. So did cycling. So did the push for women’s rights.


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