Amelia Jenks Bloomer: Suffrage Pioneer, Fashion Designer, Publisher

By Deborah O’Rell It’s hard to know what this woman is better known for: being the originator of ‘bloomers’ or her political activism for women’s suffrage and temperance or the recommended list of feminist books.

Every year the Amelia Bloomer Project, which is part of the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Roundtable of the American Library Association, offers their recommendations for Young Adult books with a strong feminist message or character. Two of the more popular recommendations on the list this year are The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace by Lynn Povich. This is the story how she and 46 other women sued Newsweek for sex discrimination. She later became Editor. And I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb. If you haven’t heard of it, the title tells it all. Remarkable young woman.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer, for whom the Feminist project was named, was a publisher, journalist, fashion designer and women’s rights activist.

Born in 1818, Amelia had just barely enough of an education to become a teacher in her teens. She later became a governess where she met and married Dexter Bloomer, in 1840, an editor and owner of a local newspaper, the Seneca Falls County Courier. She began writing articles on temperance and women’s rights for her husband’s newspaper. She was also very vocal about reforming women’s clothes, to afford them more freedom of movement.

In 1848, she attended the First Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls. This event inspired her to create The Lily, a temperance newspaper. In describing her mission she said, “It is woman that speaks through The Lily. It is upon an important subject, too, that she comes before the public to be heard. Intemperance is the great foe to her peace and happiness.”

It was her neighbor, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who encouraged her to tackle the more important subject concerning women such as suffrage and advocating for more comfortable, less restricting clothing. Her outfit, which became known as ‘bloomers’, was a blouse and knee-length skirt with shorts underneath. Bloomer later stated, “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.”

She moved to Ohio in 1853 and continued her writing and advocacy. She is credited with getting women the right to vote in that state in 1873.