Bloomer, Amelia Jenks
BLOOMER, Amelia Jenks
Born 27 May 1818, Homer, New York; died 30 December 1894, Council Bluffs, Iowa
Daughter of Ananias and Lucy Webb Jenks; married Dexter C.Bloomer, 1840
Amelia Jenks Bloomer's parents were natives of Rhode Island. She received only a few years' schooling at the district school in Courtland County, New York, but was evidently well enough educated to teach in another school when she was seventeen years old.
Her husband, a lawyer and editor of the Seneca County Courier, encouraged her to contribute articles on social, political, and moral subjects to his paper. She also began to take an active part in the temperance movement, writing frequently for the Water Bucket, an organ of the temperance society of Seneca Falls, New York. She attended the first meeting on women's rights held in Seneca Falls in 1848 but did not actively participate. In 1849 she began the publication of a periodical called Lily, writing on such subjects as temperance, education, unjust marriage laws, and woman suffrage. By 1853 Lily had a circulation of some 4,000 subscribers. It was the first newspaper owned, edited, and controlled by a woman and devoted solely to the interests of women.
Through Lily she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. She also met Elizabeth Smith Miller, a cousin of Mrs. Stanton, who was the first to wear the short skirt and full Turkish trousers that came to be known as "bloomers." Several of the women adopted the costume, finding it more comfortable, more sanitary, and better adapted to the active life they were leading than the corsets and voluminous skirts that were the fashion. They ceased wearing the costume only when they discovered their attire was distracting from the message of women's rights.
In 1852 Bloomer began lecturing on temperance and women's rights, never speaking extemporaneously but always carefully writing out and delivering her speeches from manuscript. The following year her husband purchased an interest in the Western Home Visitor and the Bloomers moved to Mount Vernon, Ohio. She continued publishing Lily, served as assistant editor of the Western Home Visitor, a literary weekly with a fairly large circulation, and lectured occasionally. Early in 1855, when her husband decided to relocate in Council Bluffs, Iowa, it was necessary to cease publication of Lily, but she did not discontinue writing and speaking on behalf of temperance and women's rights. She was instrumental in organizing the Iowa Woman's State Suffrage Society and worked zealously for her church and community.
As a writer Bloomer produced prose that was graceful, clear, and often infused with passion. Her early writings were devoted to temperance, imploring women to unite in that cause. Warning all those who supported it not to relax their vigilance, she wrote in one early essay: "Those who feel most secure will find to their dismay that the viper has only been crushed for a time, and will rise again upon his victim with a firmer and more deadly grasp than before." In starting her journal she made it clear in her first editorial that "it is woman that speaks through Lily… .Like the beautiful flower from which it derives its name, we shall strive to make the Lily the emblem of 'sweetness and purity'; and may heaven smile upon our attempt to advocate the great cause of Temperance reform!"
Always a woman of strong opinions on almost every subject, she introduced herself to the readers of the Western Home Visitor by saying: "What I have been in the past, I expect to be in the future,—an uncompromising opponent of wrong and oppression in every form, and a sustainer of the right and the true, with whatever it may be connected." The causes Bloomer advocated included employment and education for women. She considered the failure to educate women for meaningful occupations a serious "wrong" and insisted "parents do a great injustice to their daughters when they doom them to a life of idleness or, what is worse, to a life of frivolity and fashionable dissipation."
She considered, in fact, that the education of women might be a cure for some of the ills of the nation. Replying to an article on corruption in the state legislature, she demanded: "Where then shall the remedy for purifying and healing the nation be found? We answer, in the education and enfranchisement of woman! Loose the chains that bind her to the condition of a dependent, a slave to passion and the caprices of men. Open for her the doors of our colleges and universities and bid her enter. Hold up before her a pattern for womanly greatness and excellence and bid her to occupy the same positions held by her brothers."
Bloomer's lecture on suffrage, written originally in 1852 and delivered and revised many times through the years, is perhaps one of the finest examples of the clear, forceful, and logical arguments presented in the cause. She ends this stirring speech by calling woman's admission to the ballot box "the crowning right to which she is justly entitled" and states that "when woman shall be thus recognized as an equal partner with man in the universe of God—equal in rights and duties—then will she for the first time, in truth, become what her Creator designed her to be, a helpmeet for man. With her mind and body fully developed, imbued with a full sense of her responsibilities, and living in the conscientious discharge of each and all of them, she will be fitted to share with her brother in all of the duties of life; to aid and counsel him in his hours of trial; and to rejoice with him in the triumph of every good word and work."
It is indeed unfortunate Bloomer's skill as a writer is over-shadowed by the association of her name with a short-lived and ridiculed experiment in female attire.
Life and Writings of Amelia Bloomer (ed. D. C. Bloomer; 1895).
Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography (1888). DAB (1929). A Woman of the Century (1893).
—ELAINE K. GINSBERG
Amelia Jenks Bloomer
Amelia Jenks Bloomer
An American advocate of woman's rights in the early days of the feminist movement, Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-1894) spent most of her life working for the cause. She was also a reformer of women's clothing and helped promote "bloomers."
Amelia Jenks was born into a family of modest means in Homer, N.Y., on May 27, 1818. Her formal education was negligible, consisting of only a few years in grammar school. At the age of 22 she married Dexter Bloomer, a lawyer and part owner of the Seneca Falls County Courier. A man of Quaker background and progressive social principles, he encouraged his wife to write articles on temperance and other social issues for his newspaper and for other periodicals.
In 1848, at the age of 30, Bloomer attended the first public Woman's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, N.Y., but she took no part in the proceedings. A few months later she began to publish her own temperance newspaper, The Lily, which was immensely successful, gaining a circulation of 4,000 within a few years. At this time in her career Amelia Bloomer was a small, slight, dark-haired woman with good features and a pleasant expression. Timid and retiring by nature, she was a sternly serious person, seemingly lacking in any sense of humor.
Prodded by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who also lived in Seneca Falls, Bloomer devoted increasing space in The Lily to questions concerning woman's rights, such as unequal educational opportunities, discriminatory marriage and property laws, and suffrage. In 1851 The Lily supported the reform in women's dress which came to bear Bloomer's name. Female fashion in the 1850s consisted of unhealthy, tightly laced corsets, layers of petticoats that could weigh well over 10 pounds, and floor-length dresses that dragged in the filth of the era's unpaved and unswept streets. The bloomer costume dispensed with corsets in favor of loose bodices, substituted baggy ankle-length pantaloons for petticoats, and cut the gowns to above the knee. Such a costume had been worn at the utopian New Harmony colony in Indiana in the 1820s and as resort wear during the 1830s, and Mrs. Bloomer was by no means the originator of the revival in 1851. But her promotion of it attached her name to the sensation. Woman's-rights advocates, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, wore the reform dress for a year or so but abandoned it when they concluded that the ridicule it frequently elicited was preventing a fair hearing of their views. Mrs. Bloomer continued to wear the dress until the late 1850s, but, conservative by nature (she never shared the liberal religious views or abolitionist sentiments of her sisters in the movement), even she eventually opposed bloomers as inexpedient.
Bloomer moved to Council Bluffs, lowa, in 1855, where she abandoned The Lily but continued to work actively in the woman's-suffrage movement of that state. She lectured and wrote widely, served as president of the state Woman Suffrage Association between 1871 and 1873, and corresponded with and arranged lectures for Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in lowa. She retired increasingly into private life in the 1870s, troubled by poor health. She died at Council Bluffs on the last day of 1894.
Amelia Bloomer's work never matched the incessant and selfless activity of some of her contemporaries, but she contributed to the suffrage movement far more profoundly than the generally facetious use of her name would indicate.
Bloomer's husband, Dexter C. Bloomer, published the Life and Writings of Amelia Bloomer (1895) shortly after her death. Most of the general works on the 19th century woman's suffrage movement take note of her. The most valuable work treating her career in some detail is Louise R. Noun, Strong-Minded Women: The Emergence of the Woman-Suffrage Movement in Iowa (1970). See also Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle: The Woman's Rights Movement in The United States (1959); Robert W. Smuts, Women and Work in America (1959); Aileen S. Kraditor, The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 1890-1920 (1965); Andrew Sinclair, The Better Half: The Emancipation of American Women (1965); and William L. O'Neill, Everyone Was Brave (1969). □