I have signed a contract with Belt Publishing for my biography of Amelia Bloomer, to be delivered to them in spring 2023.
I’ve admired Anne Trubek and Belt for years now, and I’m thrilled to publish with them. A significant aspect of this story is the journey from Central New York to Ohio and then the new town of Council Bluffs, Iowa, where Bloomer spent most of her adult life. Belt’s catalog is filled with stories across and around that same map, and some of their books, such as Phil Christman’s brilliant Midwest Futures, have already influenced my thoughts about this project.
Amelia Bloomer (1818-1894) was an influential and well-known figure in the early women’s rights movement whose name now conjures up images of 19th-century underwear. Out of her fifty-year career as a writer, editor, speaker, and organizer, “bloomers” are the center of her popular legacy, and the last thing she wanted to be remembered for.
She grew up with no connections and little education in rural New York State, and became a leading advocate for temperance and women’s rights. She founded and edited one of the first US newspapers for women, The Lily, and created a private reading and discussion room for women in the Seneca Falls post office. She introduced Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Susan B. Anthony, and served with them in the top leadership of several reform organizations. After she moved West, she continued to collaborate with her Eastern friends, write for national papers, and work for her chosen causes for another forty years.
But, Bloomer’s legacy derives from the shaming she received in the international press for her promotion of “the short skirt and trousers.” Her name has been synonymous with indecency, blasphemy, caricatures of feminists, gym clothes, and finally, quaint underwear. Though she changed into hoop skirts after a few years, endless reprints of the old story ensured that the popular image stuck. The rest of her career would be swept under the rug by both mainstream and radical writers, replaced by the silly pants lady of children’s books.
Charming and witty, sharp tempered and critical, kind and forgiving, a stubbornly independent thinker; and a disciplined worker in the face of chronic illness, Bloomer lived on the front lines of the early USA women’s movement, and the cultural and political development of the settler Midwest. We are still working through the problems and arguments that occupied her life.
The shelf over my desk is loaded with books already read and TBR, I have a new Youtube yoga habit to counteract the effects of peering at 19th century books and documents on my monitor, and I look forward to seeing beautiful Iowa in May.