While acting as co-author on my late mother’s book, I got interested in Amelia Bloomer. I had not entirely realized who she was, or that she grew up thirty minutes from my house. And the more I read about her, the more interested I got. So I’m researching her now, and may write about her, that is, write more than the essay on early Muslim influence in “Western” feminism (ideas and trousers) that I’m trying to place right now. [update: I placed it here]
My current reading is a biography of Lucy Stone, published in 1930 by her daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell. I bought it in part because it had a damn index, a pretty good one, which has two entries for Bloomer–one for her, one for the “Bloomer dress” she did promoted and wore, but did not invent.
Stone is mostly remembered for not taking her husband’s name. But she had a very significant career as an activist and editor, was a charismatic orator, and worked with Bloomer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony, among many others in the suffrage and abolition and temperance movements.
She also wore the Bloomer costume for a few years, and a letter from her to Anthony is quoted in this book, scoffing at the idea that the main problem with it was that it detracted from their credibility. “No, no, Susan, it is all a pretense that the cause will suffer. I wish that the dress gave me no other troubles; but I am annoyed to death by people who recognize me by my clothes, and when I get a seat in the cars, they will get a seat by me and bore me for a whole day with the stupidest stuff in the world. Much of that I should escape if I dressed like others.” And being pursued by hordes of boys in the cities, and the embarrassment when the wind blows up the short skirt–they all gave it up in time, once the hoopskirts came in. Funny to think that hoopskirts were liberating, but they were.
I also loved the story in this of the first, illicit, women’s debate society at Oberlin. They met in secret, out in the woods, with “posted sentinels” and then–well, I put that page on my Instagram if you want to read it.
I did not expect this to be an enjoyable read, but the prose is clear and she seamlessly combines family memories, letters and documents, and interviews. Of course it’s hard to know how much could be corroborated by other sources, but she is a lively writer, is not flowery, and does not romanticize.
Last weekend, I participated in a little group tour of Seneca Falls led by Laura Free, a Hobart and William Smith historian and author of Suffrage Reconstructed: Gender, Race, and Voting Rights in the Civil War Era.
I hadn’t been up there since 1994, and wow, it so much more rewarding now. Afterwards, I did a drive-by of a home where Bloomer may have lived. It does not belong to the National Park Service, as Stanton’s does, but there’s a craft shop across the road so I was able to pull over in their parking lot and stare from a moderately discreet distance.
The ranger sitting on Stanton’s porch told us that this horse chestnut tree was alive when she was. I love old buildings. but I love old trees more.