Amelia Bloomer – Today in History

Amelia Bloomer was mercilessly mocked for wearing baggy pantaloons underneath her overskirts, but her tireless passion for dress reform planted a seed that eventually led to the acceptance of women in trousers. By Harriet Hall

Amelia Bloomer

(27 May 1818 – 30 December 1894, USA)

Dress reformer

After writing for her husband’s progressive Quaker newspaper, Amelia was inspired to found her own, The Lily, in 1849. Initially promoting temperance, the biweekly newspaper soon expanded to advocate women’s suffrage and emancipation and grew so popular that its circulation quickly rose from 500 to 4000.

In the early 1850s, Amelia was introduced to the wearing of light, loose Turkish trousers under a shorter skirt by women’s rights activist, Elizabeth Smith Miller, who had seen the style in Europe. Consisting of layers of floor-length heavy fabric and tightly bound corsets, women’s fashion of the time was cumbersome and uncomfortable. When Amelia saw the knickerbockers were both modest and practical, she immediately and passionately promoted them in The Lily. The trousers were derogatively dubbed "bloomers" and were ridiculed by the press, but many women went on to adopt the liberating style.

Amelia remained a women’s rights activist, and was credited with securing the vote for women in Ohio in 1873. Her dress reform was a pivotal step in the sartorial emancipation of women.

Harriet Hall is a London-based journalist working across print and digital platforms, with an expertise in women's issues and fashion history. Currently Head of Digital Features at Stylist magazine where she presents videos, conducts celebrity interviews and edits the reputable Ask a Feminist column, Harriet also works as a broadcaster, appearing on the BBC, Sky and Talk Radio, as well as speaking widely at panel events. 

Extracted, with permission, from She: A Celebration of Renegade Women, by Harriet Hall (Headline Publishing Group, 2018).

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