Amelia Bloomer – Publisher and Advocate for Woman’s Rights

 

Editor’s Note: This entry is copied from the Historical Files maintained by the National Park Service and there are numerous references to houses where the Bloomers lived and that today are maintained by the NPS as historic sites.

 

Amelia Bloomer

Amelia Bloomer 
Photo: Public Domain

Introduction: Amelia Jenks Bloomer (May 27, 1818 – December 30, 1894). During the 1840s and early 1850s, Amelia Bloomer was one of the most well-known reformers in Seneca Falls, New York. An indefatigable worker, she became involved in temperance work, women’s rights, dress reform, religious charities, and numerous other humanitarian movements. She was very early identified as a believer in women’s rights, and gave that cause heavy coverage in the pages of her newspaper The Lily. Her courage in her convictions, and her willingness to act on them made her a highly visible figure among early women’s rights advocates. Even though she did not create the women’s clothing reform style known as “bloomers,”  her name became associated with it because of her early and strong advocacy.

Early Life: Amelia Jenks Bloomer was born May 27, 1818 in Homer, New York. She was raised in a family of modest means and received only a few years of formal education in the local district school. After a brief stint as a school teacher at the age of 17, she decided to relocate, and moved in with her newly married sister Elvira, then living in Waterloo. Within a year she had moved into the home of the Oren Chamberlain family to act as the live-in governess for their three youngest children.

During this time she made the acquaintance of Dexter Bloomer, the editor and co-owner of the weekly Seneca County Courier. Bloomer’s home was in Seneca Falls where he was studying law in his spare time and taking an active part in local Whig politics. The first evidence of their growing affection is a sentiment which Bloomer penned in Amelia’s autograph book late in 1839. “The writer of this line humbly asks that he may be numbered in the list of Amelia’s favored friends.” [2] Amelia apparently granted the favor, for on April 15, they were married at the Waterloo home of John Lowden by the Presbyterian minister. The word obey was omitted from the marriage ceremony, evidence of the Bloomers’ early commitment to the cause of women’s rights. [3]

Dexter Bloomer recalled that the day after the wedding, he and Amelia rode in a carriage to the Seneca Falls home of Isaac Fuller “where rooms had been prepared for their reception.” [4] Fuller was Bloomer’s partner and the co-owner of the “paper for which he worked.” Though we do not know for sure, the manner in which Bloomer refers to the Fullers seems to suggest that the newlyweds were living with them as guests until they could set up a home of their own, rather than as rent paying tenants. The two men were old friends and the families remained in close touch with each other throughout their lives. Dexter Bloomer asserted that they “proved most dear and excellent friends of the young couple who on the 16th day of April, 1840, took up their residence with them.” [5]

We cannot prove with any certainty that the Mumford House on East Bayard Street, commonly referred to as the Bloomer House, was the Fuller home in which the Bloomers spent the first 5-1/2 months of their married life. There is a longstanding oral tradition in favor of this view, but no documentation has ever been found to support this contention. Although there was a house on the site in 1840, the preponderance of evidence suggests that in all likelihood it was not the Fuller home in 1840. (See the “Architectural Survey of Women’s Rights National Historical Park” for further discussion of this point.)

The question of whether this was indeed the Fuller house is somewhat academic for our purposes in any case, for it appears that Amelia Bloomer engaged in very little reform work during the first months of her marriage. She had not yet conceived of The Lily, and by her own admission was “a shrinking, bashful woman, just entering upon a new life in a home of strangers . . . [and I] scarcely dared open my mouth in presence of half a dozen persons.” [6] To compound her difficulties, she contracted a debilitating fever in July, and left Seneca Falls to recover at Avon Springs near Rochester. Her health restored, she returned to the Fullers’ in August, but only stayed there two months. By October 1, Dexter Bloomer wrote that they had found a home of their own, and “settled down to housekeeping in a modest dwelling.” [7]

The location of this building in which they lived for the next 10 years is also much in doubt. The same is true of the “modest cottage” [8] that Dexter Bloomer purchased in 1850 and where the Bloomers lived during their last four years of residence in the village. In a paper delivered before the Seneca Falls Historical Society in 1948, Caroline Lester admitted that she was not sure exactly where the houses were located, but that she was “inclined to think that . . . [one] occupied the site where the Masonic Temple now stands [on S. Park St.]. I personally can recall a white house with a small front yard on that site.” [9] She does not indicate which of the two houses this might have been. Other local residents have said that the Bloomer house stood nearer the business district, somewhere around the junction of Fall, Cayuga, and Ovid Streets. These individuals may be confusing the house site with the location of the post office where the Bloomers worked, as that structure was supposedly “a small frame building on Cayuga street just north of the present C.L. Hoskins building.” [10] In any event, they all seem to agree that wherever the houses were, neither one is still standing. All we know for certain is that a “House, Barn and office” belonging to Dexter Bloomer was assessed at $1,100 in 1851. [11]

Early Career: Once settled into their new home, the Bloomers soon became very active members of Seneca Falls Society. Dexter Bloomer continued to edit his weekly paper, opened up a successful law practice, and served a term as town clerk. He was extremely active in local Whig politics and attended political caucuses and gatherings throughout the state. [12] In his spare time, he traded stories and political news with the members of Rescue Co. #3, the volunteer fire department which he had joined in 1842. [13]

Amelia Bloomer, too, threw herself into local activities, particularly church charities and local temperance societies. In 1840-1841, a vigorous and highly emotional campaign against alcohol abuse swept across the country under the aegis of the Washington Temperance Society. The Washingtonians had been founded by six Baltimore friends who one night had suddenly decided to swear off alcohol completely and to devote their lives to convincing others to do the same. The Six Reformed Drunkards, as they were forever after called, travelled throughout the country presenting lectures against the evils of alcohol which matched those of a revival preacher for passionate fervor and frightful imagery. [14] Vast numbers of people were convinced by their oratory, and signed Total Abstinence Pledges by the thousands.

Two of the Reformed Drunkards visited Seneca Falls in the early 1840s and created an enormous sensation. Numerous temperance societies sprang up overnight, and everyone began lecturing everyone else on the horrible effects of intoxicating liquor. Mary Bull, a Seneca Falls resident who was seven years old at the time of the great Temperance Reformation, remembered the effect it had on her:

Reformed drunkards were then as now the heroes of society, and I remember well the jealousy and envy I felt toward a little girl at school who was quite a heroine among us, as her father addressed crowds every night in his character of a reformed inebriate. I can recall my mother’s face now when I boldly expressed the wish, ‘that papa was a reformed drunkard.’ [15]

Amelia Bloomer became intensely interested in this cause and temperance reform became her major life’s work. According to her husband, she entered into the battle “with her whole heart and soul,” attending conventions, serving on committees, and composing essays. [16] In February 1842, Bloomer began publishing a temperance newspaper called The Water Bucket, to which his wife began submitting articles under various pseudonyms. [17] She was an uncompromising opponent of alcohol, here, castigating women who put wine in their cakes and brandy on their apple dumplings:

What examples these ladies are setting before their families! Have they a husband, a brother or a son, and have they no fear that the example they are now setting them may be the means of their filling a drunkard’s grave? Have they a daughter? Their example teaches her to respect moderate-drinking young men, and receive their addresses, and should she unite her fate with such a one, almost certain ruin awaits her. [18]

Like the Abolitionist Movement, the Temperance Movement played a vital role in the development of the women’s rights cause. Many of the central figures in the women’s movement such as Susan B. Anthony, first became involved in reform activities through temperance societies. Their participation in these groups would begin to bring home to them the peculiarly demeaning position of women in all fields of endeavor.

When the temperance agitation first began, women were applauded for organizing their own Martha Washington Societies as adjuncts to the men’s Washington Temperance Societies. Indeed, many felt that women were particularly well-suited for temperance work, as popular wisdom ascribed to them superior powers of moral persuasion and spirituality. The article by Amelia Bloomer quoted above shows how she too felt that women had a unique responsibility to reform and ennoble those around them. Nineteenth century temperance literature almost never addressed the issue of female intemperance. It was always simply assumed that women were morally better than men by nature, and that their refined sensibilities made them the obvious regenerators of degraded mankind.

Many women were attracted to the temperance movement not so much to rescue fallen men, as to protect themselves. Under the current legal and social systems, women often became the innocent victims of drunken or dissolute husbands. Unable to earn a living or own property, they were totally dependent on the head of the house for their livelihood and support. The temperance papers of the day were full of stories of women physically abused or neglected by drunken fathers or husbands.

With a personal stake in the success of the cause, women became increasingly bold in their temperance activities. Mary Bull recalled the occasion when the Ladies Temperance Society presented a banner to the men’s group. As it was obviously unthinkable for a woman actually to make the presentation, Ansel Bascom, the husband of the president of the women’s society made a speech on her behalf. When it was discovered that the banner had been stolen, Mrs. Bascom, under the emotion of the moment, called out that they would make another. Realizing that she had spoken out in public, she was immediately horrorstruck, and “afterwards bewailed with tears” the fact that her enthusiasm had gotten the better of her sense of womanly propriety. [19]

Although Eliza Bascom’s daring had been largely unconscious, it was symptomatic of the audacity that individual women were beginning to display in the temperance movement. Amelia Bloomer was growing restless by the restricted role she was allowed to play in her favorite cause. She complained that women “could attend meetings and listen to the eloquence and arguments of men, and they could pay their money towards the support of temperance lecturers, but such a thing as their having anything to say or do further than this was not thought of.” [20] Eager to expand her involvement, Bloomer broached the subject of publishing a temperance newspaper during a meeting of the Ladies Temperance Society in the Mynderse Block in the summer of 1848. The idea was eagerly adopted by the membership, and the name, The Lily suggested by the society’s president, a Mrs. Lyons. Amelia Bloomer and Anne C. Mattison were chosen as the editors. [21] The following notice was duly inserted in the Free Soil Union on August 8, 1848: “It is proposed to publish a Ladies’ Journal in the village of Seneca Falls, devoted to the cause of Temperance and Moral and Religious Literature: to be the organ of the Female Temperance Society of that village, and of other similar societies.” The yearly subscription rate was to be 50¢. [22]

As the realities of publishing, editing, and disseminating a newspaper began to weigh upon the society their enthusiasm for the project began to fade. According to Bloomer, “the zeal of the ladies abated wonderfully. They began to realize that they had been hasty in incurring a great responsibility for which they were not fitted, and very soon the society decided to give up the enterprise altogether. [23] Bloomer, however, was made of sterner stuff, and insisted that she

could not so lightly throw off responsibility. Our word had gone to the public and we had considerable money on subscriptions. Besides the dishonesty of the thing, people would say it was ‘just like women’; ‘what more could you expect of them?’ As editor of the paper, I threw myself into the work, assumed the entire responsibility, took the entire charge editorially and financially, and carried it successfully through. [24]

Bloomer remained the sole editor and owner of The Lily for the next 15 years, molding it into one of the most influential and liberal publications dealing with women’s issues in the early 19th century. It became a major forum for the writings of Elizabeth Cady Stanton,  and an outspoken advocate of women’s rights.

Though it was begun primarily as a temperance paper, Bloomer’s editorial in the first issue on January 1, 1849, clearly revealed her belief in an expanded field of activity for women:

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 is that above all which has made her home desolate and beggared her offspring. It is that above all which has filled to its brim her cup of sorrow and sent her moaning to the grave. Surely she has a right to wield the pen for its suppression. Surely she may, without throwing aside the modest retirement which so much becomes her sex, use her influence to lead her fellow-mortals away from the destroyer’s path. It is this which she proposes to do in the columns of this paper. [25]

As she gained confidence and experience, the tone of the paper became increasingly militant in its support of equal rights for women. Its columns aired debates over such issues as dress reform, equal job opportunities, suffrage, child rearing practices, and education. In the January 1, 1852, issue, Bloomer changed the original heading of the paper from “A Monthly Journal Devoted to Temperance and Literature,” to “Devoted to the Interests of Woman.” [26] Some local temperance advocates resented this shift in emphasis and later accused Bloomer of having absconded with their paper. [27] She stoutly defended herself by saying that “the paper being deserted by the society became my individual property to manage as I pleased; and from the very first member to the last I had the sole charge and direction of it. It was never the ‘organ’ of any society, party or clique, or of any individual but myself.” [28] (See Appendix F.)

Much of the credit for the political feminization of The Lily must go to Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Although Bloomer had always held deep convictions regarding the rights of women, it was not until she came into contact with Stanton that these unconnected feelings and general beliefs solidified into a formal philosophy on women’s rights. Because she was out of town on the days of the Convention, Bloomer said that she was able to attend only the last evening’s session. She implied that if she had been in Seneca Falls she would have been present at all the sessions. [29] According to her husband, she “had not yet thought much on the subject of women’s rights . . . [and] took no part in its proceedings,” [30] nor did she sign the Declaration of Sentiments. The little that she had heard apparently had an effect on her for it was only one month later that she first made the revolutionary suggestion that the Ladies Temperance Society publish their own newspaper.

Ever ready to recognize a favorable opportunity when she saw one, Elizabeth Cady Stanton considered the new The Lily to be a prime candidate for the dissemination of feminist views. With its woman editor, advanced views, and reform orientation, it seemed natural that the little temperance paper should expand its columns to the discussion of women’s rights as well. Amelia Bloomer’s own actions and attitude no doubt encouraged her to believe that the editor would be open to the suggestion.

In the spring of 1849, Dexter Bloomer was appointed postmaster of the village, and promptly swore in his wife as his deputy. She was eager to accept the position, which she filled for four years, because, as she later wrote:

I had determined to give a practical demonstration of woman’s right to fill any place for which she had capacity . . . . It was a novel step for me to take in those days, and no doubt many thought I was out of woman’s sphere; but the venture was very successful and proved to me conclusively that woman might, even then, engage in any respectable business and deal with all sorts of men, and yet be treated with the utmost respect and consideration. [31]

In addition to fulfilling her official duties, Bloomer also maintained an informal social center and clearing house for the women of the town in a room adjoining the post office. Elizabeth Cady Stanton described this adjunct as “a neat little room adjoining the public office. [It acted as] a kind of ladies’ exchange, where those coming from different parts of the town could meet to talk over the news of the day and read the papers and magazines that came to Mrs. Bloomer as editor of The Lily.” [32]

It was in this little lounge that Dexter Bloomer says that Elizabeth Cady Stanton first introduced herself to his wife in the summer of 1849. [33] Stanton offered to contribute some articles for The Lily, the first one appearing in the November 1849 issue under the pseudonym “Gloriana.” [34] This and subsequent articles dealt with temperance issues, but Stanton gradually began submitting articles on women’s rights, suffrage, child rearing and other related subjects, usually under the name “Sunflower.” The Lily began to assume a much broader scope, due in large part to Stanton’s frequent contributions to the paper.

elizabeth-cady-stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Photo: Library of Congress
Digital ID: cph 3a28976

Historians disagree on exactly how much influence Elizabeth Cady Stanton exerted over the editorial policies of The Lily. Bloomer obviously had strong convictions on the ability and right of women to do whatever they felt they were capable of, as evidenced by her involvement with The Lily and the post office, but whether she thought of herself in 1848 as an advocate of women’s rights other than through personal example, is uncertain. Stanton obviously felt that she had politicized a somewhat reluctant Bloomer as evidenced by the following letter she wrote to Susan B. Anthony in 1852 regarding temperance activity, “do not let the conservative element control. For instance, you must take Mrs. Bloomer’s suggestions with great caution, for she has not the spirit of the true reformer. At the first woman s rights convention, but four years ago, she stood aloof and laughed at us. It was only with great effort and patience that she has been brought up to her present position.” [35] In another letter to John Pierpont, Stanton asks him to send her a particular sermon, “and I will have it published in the Lily, the reform paper we started here in Seneca Falls at the beginning of the present year.” [36]

That collective “we” would no doubt have surprised Bloomer, as according to her testimony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton had absolutely nothing to do with the founding of The Lily, and had not even had an article printed in it yet when she wrote her letter to Pierpont.

Other individuals agreed with Stanton that she had a large hand in turning the paper from purely temperance concerns to a much broader scope. In 1880, a former Seneca Falls resident published an article in Good Company in which she described how Stanton had subtly managed to redefine the The Lily‘s orientation:

[It] was conducted in a conservative manner, and was considered unimpugnable by most persons when Mrs. Stanton made her first sally upon the posts. Mrs. Stanton however understood human nature perfectly well. She was a leader in social affairs, her house a social center, distinguished persons were often her guests, and an invitation to her parties was not often declined by anyone, from clergymen down. A visit to Mrs. Bloomer, a judicious invitation or two, and the citadel was won, and ‘The Lily’ was henceforth the organ of the woman’s rights party as represented by Mrs. Stanton. [37]

Amelia Bloomer, then living in Council Bluffs, Iowa, happened to read this article and sent an angry rebuttal to the Seneca Falls Revielle which had reprinted the Good Company story: . . . What she says of the manner and influences that led to her [Stanton] becoming a contributor to ‘The Lily,’ and my subjection to her leadership and influence, I pronounce a malicious misrepresentation. Mrs. Stanton was no more ready to write than I was to have her, and it required no maneuvering on her part to gain access to the paper. That it ever became her ‘organ,’ or in any way subject to her control, is untrue.” [38]

As is generally the case in any dispute involving two very strong characters, the truth of the matter probably lies somewhere between. To Amelia Bloomer must certainly go the sole credit for first conceiving of a paper to be written and managed by women, a courageous undertaking in itself, no matter what its particular orientation might be. It must also be acknowledged that Elizabeth Cady Stanton probably did strongly influence Bloomer in the development of her subsequent feminist philosophy. Though Bloomer had been resolutely living out her convictions in her own life, it was almost certainly Stanton who opened her eyes to the wider issues and the possibilities of using The Lily as a woman’s forum.

Though Stanton and Bloomer seemingly maintained a cordial friendship and correspondence throughout their lives, there were fundamental differences in their views of women’s rights that created some friction between them. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was much more universal and humanistic in her approach than Amelia Bloomer, whose ideas were always firmly anchored in the tenets of traditional Christianity. She had joined the Seneca Falls Episcopal Church along with her husband in 1843, and remained a zealous and active church woman all of her life. [39] Stanton was often frustrated by Bloomer’s refusal to condemn the church in The Lily for its unenlightened views on women and other reforms, [40] but Bloomer believed in effecting reform within the framework of Christianity and would not attack the religious establishment, one of Stanton’s favorite targets.

Bloomer related how they once had a little “difference of opinion in regard to changing the constitution of the Women’s State Temperance Society, so that men would have equal rights therein. I did not favor this change when it was brought before the convention in 1853. Mrs. Stanton said ‘a’ but I did not say ‘b.’ She may have felt a little cool towards me over it.” [41] Comments they made about each other in letters to friends seem to indicate that there was a subtle sense of rivalry between the two women, each trying to outdo the other as Seneca Falls’ resident feminist and foremost reformer.

Amelia Bloomer probably had the upper hand in the earlier years. As noted before, she and her husband were exceedingly active in village affairs and had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. It seems Amelia Bloomer was a member of almost every charitable and church organization available. She sewed clothes for the needy, opened her home to a number of orphans (the Bloomers had no children of their own), helped raise money for church improvements, and buttonholed inebriates on street corners to lecture them on their intemperance. Indeed, she appears to have been something of a busybody, freely insinuating herself into other people’s lives to make them do what she felt was best for them. One biographer described her as “earnest and argumentative, with little sense of humor . . . she never doubted the rightness of her ideas or the desirability of seeing them imposed, by force, if need by, upon others.” [42] Even her husband, the quiet unassuming Dexter, had to admit that she “was deficient in the quality of humour and took life too seriously.” [43] A contemporary expressed somewhat the same sentiments, saying she “had no particular advantages of education, nor was she naturally an intellectual woman or a woman of talent, but she possessed the gifts of untiring energy and industry.” [44] An orphaned niece who lived with the Bloomers recalled how her aunt kept her always busy with baking, sewing, painting, or mending. She particularly remembered the daily stint at quilt making. “The stitches had to be perfect, or they were pulled out, and over and over the teary stitches to be sewed in again, which seemed worse than practicing the music the other two children at times wept over. I wasn’t praised. I was expected to make this perfect work.” [45]

With a firm belief in the righteousness of her various causes, Amelia Bloomer set about reforming Seneca Falls the day she arrived. (She gave an impromptu temperance lecture at her wedding reception at the Fullers.) [46] With her determined character and energetic habits, she was no doubt a familiar figure about the village. Until Elizabeth Cady Stanton arrived and began seriously lobbying for women’s rights, Seneca Falls’ female editor and postmistress was probably the most visible, if not tolerant, example of a women’s advocate in town. Stanton soon supplanted her as the main figure in the women’s cause after the 1848 Convention, creating the slight delicacy of feeling which apparently existed between the two women at times. Amelia Bloomer felt that she was providing the better practical example of women’s equality through her work at the post office and The Lily, while Elizabeth Cady Stanton felt that her work to develop a network and philosophy for the movement was ultimately more significant.

One issue on which both women agreed and with which Amelia Bloomer’s name has been indelibly linked, was that of dress reform. Although the topic was the subject of ridicule, dress reform for women was a serious issue in the 19th century. For many women, the then prevailing fashion of tight corsets, trailing skirts, and layers of petticoats was both a symbol of women’s degradation and a positive health hazard. Even the staunchest women’s rights advocate had to admit that it was foolish to argue for the right to follow any profession they wished, when the clothes they were wearing would have prevented them from performing the very jobs they were seeking. Except among some patients at isolated water cures, and a few daring bohemians, little had really been done to try to popularize dress reform in the early 19th century, and the phenomenal Bloomer Movement of the 1850s was more an accident than any preplanned strategy on the part of Amelia Bloomer.

 

bloomers

The bloomer costume
Photo: Library of Congress
Digital ID: cph 3b49861

Though the movement bore her name, Amelia Bloomer did not inaugurate the wearing of the “short dress” in Seneca Falls. As she always freely admitted, Elizabeth Smith Miller, the daughter of famous reformer Gerrit Smith, brought the outfit to the village in the winter of 1850-1851 while on a visit to her cousin, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Stanton described the dress as “somewhat in the Turkish style—short skirt, full trousers of fine black broadcloth; a Spanish cloak, of the same material, reaching to the knee; beaver hat and feathers and dark furs.” [47] She was much impressed by her cousin’s freedom of movement and promptly made a similar outfit for herself. Stanton related in her autobiography that her cousin could walk with ease, even with her hands full, while she, Stanton, had trouble pulling herself up, even with her hands empty. This convinced her of the need for reform in women’s dress. [48]

Amelia Bloomer, who just happened to be engaged in an editorial exchange of views on the dress reform issue with the Seneca County Courier when Elizabeth Miller and Elizabeth Cady Stanton first appeared on the streets in the new costume, felt that “having had part in the discussion of the dress question, it seemed proper that I should practise [sic] as I preached, and as the Courier man advised; and so a few days later I, too, donned the new costume.” [49] A neighbor described Bloomer at this time as:

thin, almost meager, in her proportions, short, with a small head and a dark complexion; not at all a handsome woman, rather plain, on the contrary, . . . [50] [but] she had a better figure for the dress than had Mrs. Stanton and looked better in the Bloomers than any other person I have ever seen wear them. For one thing she discarded the bonnet then universally worn and assumed a round hat, something like the sun and sea-side hats now worn! [51] (See Illustration 10.)

Amelia Bloomer

Amelia Bloomer in the “short dress,” c. 1852-1858
Photo: National Park Service

Bloomer publicized her actions in The Lily and included engravings of herself in the outfit, but had no intention of creating a national stir. The various newspapers around the country picked up on the story and christened the new dress the “Bloomer Costume.”

Their interest in it was not because they supported dress reform, but because the new costume lent itself so readily to caricature. Hundreds of cartoons and articles appeared parodying and ridiculing the dress, and the women’s rights movement by implication. Many women around the country were intensely interested in the subject, however, and The Lily‘s subscription list exploded from 300 in 1849 to 4000 in 1853. [52] Much of this support came from women wishing to learn more about the new dress, and asking where they might find patterns for it. The enormity of this public response caught Bloomer momentarily off guard, but recognizing that dress reform was obviously of great interest to thousands of women, she gave it hearty attention and coverage in The Lily. She wrote later that “at the outset, I had no idea of fully adopting the style; no thought of setting a fashion; no thought that my action would create any excitement throughout the civilized world, and give to the style my name . . . [had Elizabeth Miller] not come to us in that style, it is not probable that either Mrs. Stanton or myself would have donned it.” [53]

Feeling that she had a public responsibility now to support the dress, Bloomer wore it exclusively for the next six to eight years. [54] She began lecturing at this time on temperance and women’s issues, and always made it a point to wear the “short dress” for these presentations. Observing the huge crowds she attracted for these lectures across the state, an acquaintenance rather bluntly opined that “as she had not one requisite for an orator, either voice, manner, or anything particular to say, the whole attraction must have been the dress and the notoriety she had gained in wearing it.” [55] Bloomer’s response to this comment was, “If the dress drew the crowds that came to the temperance meetings to hear women speak, it answered a good purpose.” [56] Elizabeth Cady Stanton made some interesting remarks about the subject in a letter to Amelia Opie:

She [Bloomer] is evidently proud that this attire has been given her name. In fact, Mrs. Bloomer, who is very pious, is beginning to think that the dress is almost of divine origin and blames women who ‘dare to call down before herself the wrath of the Almighty for thus mutilating and destroying the work which came perfect from His hand.’ Of course I don’t go quite as far as this, but you must agree with me that take it all in all, Mrs. Bloomer and her little paper are, as you well say, ‘doing a good work. . . .’ [57]

In addition to her advocacy of dress reform, Bloomer intensified her involvement in temperance and women’s rights activities in the 1850s. As noted before, she began lecturing statewide on both subjects, and helped to form a woman’s state temperance society in 1852. [58] She freely introduced the subject of women’s rights into her temperance lectures; a practice not all of her audiences appreciated. Answering criticisms on this score, she wrote in The Lily in 1853:

Some of the papers accuse me of mixing Woman’s Rights with our Temperance, as though it was possible for woman to speak on Temperance and Intemperance without also speaking of Woman’s Rights and Wrongs in connection therewith. That woman has rights, we think that none will deny; that she has been cruelly wronged by the law-sanctioned liquor traffic, must be admitted by all. Then why should we not talk of woman’s rights and temperance together? [59]

when-sba-met-ecs-5_2-1

In May 1851 Amelia Bloomer introduced Susan B. Anthony to Elizabeth Cady Stanton as depicted in the life-sized bronze figures sculpted by Ted Aub. In “When Anthony Met Stanton” as in real-life, Bloomer and Stanton are wearing the “Bloomer Costume” which bloomer publicized in “The Lily.”
Photo: National Park Service

In addition to talking about temperance and women’s rights together, it was Amelia Bloomer who was responsible for first bringing together Susan B. Anthony, then a staunch temperance fighter, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. These two women became the team that molded and spearheaded the women’s rights movement for the next 50 years. Bloomer and Anthony were already acquainted with one another through their temperance work, and in the spring of 1850, Anthony was staying at the Bloomer house while attending an antislavery lecture in the village. After the meeting, the two women waited on a street corner for Stanton to pass, at which time Amelia Bloomer made the necessary introductions. Bloomer later wrote, “Afterwards, we called together at Mrs. Stanton’s house and the way was opened for future intercourse between them. It was, as Mrs. Stanton says in her history, an eventful meeting that henceforth in a measure shaped their lives.” [60]

Amelia Bloomer’s own life continued on its separate path with a hectic schedule consisting of post office duties, the editorship of The Lily, church work, lecture tours, and domestic responsibilities. In 1853, she and Susan B. Anthony travelled through the state with other feminist leaders on a highly successful speaking tour. Later that same year, she attended the National Woman’s Rights Convention in Cleveland, and then went on to lecture in Columbus, Indianapolis, Detroit, Chicago, and Milwaukee. In September, she attended an international temperance conference in New York City, and helped to organize the rival “Whole World’s Temperance Convention” when the women delegates were refused admittance to the original conference. [61]

Late in 1853, the Bloomers decided to leave Seneca Falls, and move to Mt. Vernon, Ohio, where Dexter Bloomer had purchased an interest in the Western Home Visitor. [62] As prominent members of the village scene, they were given a large send-off party in Union Hall organized by the Good Templars temperance society. Nearly five hundred persons attended the event, passing resolutions of regard and friendship for the couple, enjoying 10 tables full of refreshments, and dancing until the late hours of the evening. [63]

The Bloomers remained in Ohio for two years where Amelia continued to publish The Lily, as well as provide editorial assistance to her husband’s paper. [64] The Lily by this time had fully adopted a woman’s rights orientation, and Bloomer continued an aggressive campaign for the vote, equal educational opportunities, and alterations in the inheritance laws in its columns. She employed a vigorous and uncompromising writing style which left no doubt as to her views on these and other related subjects.

In 1855, the Bloomers moved again, this time to Council Bluffs, Iowa. The lack of printing facilities and poor postal connections on the frontier induced Bloomer to sell The Lily to Mary B. Birdsall of Richmond, Indiana. Birdsall, however, did not have Bloomer’s organizing talent nor her feminist orientation, and the paper soon went out of business. Various sources state the demise of The Lily in 1856, 1857, and 1858. [65]

Though Bloomer continued to contribute editorials to The Lily, she became less active on the national scene once she had moved to Iowa. She was very active in state organizations, however, serving as President of the Iowa Woman Suffrage Society in the 1870s, and representing that state at the American Equal Rights Association meeting in New York City in 1869. [66] It was also in Iowa that she finally abandoned the “short dress” after wearing it consistently and courageously for the previous seven to eight years. She wrote a friend her reasons for doing so:

After retiring from public life and coming to this land of strangers where I was to commence life anew and make new friends, I felt at times like donning long skirts when I went into society, at parties, etc., and did so. I found the high winds which prevail here much of the time played sad work with short skirts when I went out, and I was greatly annoyed and mortified by having my skirts turned over my head and shoulders on the streets. Yet I persevered and kept on the dress nearly all the time till after the introduction of hoops. Finding them light and pleasant to wear and doing away with the necessity for heavy underskirts (which was my greatest objection to long dresses), and finding it very inconvenient as well as expensive keeping up two wardrobes—a long and short—I gradually left off the short dress . . . .

There were other questions of greater importance than the length of a skirt under discussion at the time, and I felt my influence would be greater in the dress ordinarily worn by women than in the one I was wearing. [67]

She lived out the remainder of her life in Council Bluffs, continuing very active in local temperance and church efforts. She was also heavily involved in relief work during the Civil War through the Soldier’s Aid Society of Council Bluffs which she founded. She died of a heart attack in Iowa in 1894 at the age of 76. [68]

Along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer is Seneca Falls’ most acknowledged women’s rights advocate. It was through the columns of The Lily that many women first realized that there was indeed something inherently wrong in their position by custom and law. Bloomer provided an open, comfortable forum through which women could express and share their views, an opportunity not offered by the regular journals of the day. Without The Lily to act as their voice, the early women’s rights supporters would have had no way to regularly publicize and analyze their developing philosophy and concerns.

Amelia Bloomer’s life is also an important case history of how many women became involved in the women’s rights movement through earlier connections with antislavery or temperance causes. Almost every major figure in the movement began his or her career associated with the “acceptable” reform societies involving temperance or slavery. As the women began to see that they were not to be allowed to contribute to these causes as they wished, they began to realize that their position in society would make it impossible for them ever to utilize their full potential. Until their rights as women were secured, they were powerless to right the wrongs of others. Amelia Bloomer experienced this very process. Becoming interested in temperance work as a pious church woman, she soon grew impatient with the limited role she was allowed to play and took matters into her own hands with the publication of The Lily. Her increasing militancy on the women’s issue was simply the natural outgrowth of her thwarted attempts to effect change in other reform areas. This process repeated itself again and again with other individuals, thereby creating the resolute core of leaders who led the women’s rights movement through its earliest years.

Amelia Bloomer is commemorated together with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Ross Tubman in the calendar of saints of the Episcopal Church on July 20. Her home at Seneca Falls, New York, known as the Amlia Bloomer House, was listed on the National Register of Historic  Places in 1980.

Important Sources of Information and Suggestions for Further Research

1. The Life and Writings of Amelia Bloomer, Dexter C. Bloomer (Boston, 1895). This remains the best source of information on Bloomer, containing many quotes from her letters, speeches and editorials.

2. The Lily—The Seneca Falls Historical Society has a partial run available on microfilm. There is a complete run of all issues available at the Bird Library at Syracuse University.

3. Amelia Bloomer Collection—Seneca Falls Historical Society. In addition to the original manuscripts of some of Amelia Bloomer’s lectures, this collection contains a fair bit of information on her life in Iowa. There is little direct information from the Seneca Falls time period, but the later material does provide some clues as to Bloomer’s character and interests.

4. Bloomer’s Lily by Maria Temechko. A paper prepared in 1972 for the Seneca Falls Historical Society. A good short history of The Lily and the various causes it supported.

5. “The Lily—An Interpretation” by Warren N. Paul. A paper prepared for the State University of New York at Oswego. Copy at the Seneca Falls Historical Society. An examination of the development of the women’s rights orientation in The Lily.

End Notes:

1. Bloomer, Life and Writings, pp. 11-2.

2. Amelia Bloomer Autograph Book, Amelia Bloomer Papers, Seneca Falls Historical Society

3. Bloomer, Life and Writings, p. 13.

4. Ibid., p. 15.

5. Ibid.

6. Typescript copy of a letter from Amelia Bloomer to Isaac Fuller, dated March 1, 1862, Amelia Bloomer Papers, Seneca Falls Historical Society.

7. Bloomer, Life and Writings, pp. 17-8.

8. Ibid., p. 50.

9. Caroline E. Lester, “Mrs. Bloomer and Mrs. Stanton in Seneca Falls,” Seneca Falls Historical Society Papers, Centennial Volume, 1948, p. 130.

10. Edgar L. Welch, “Grip’s” Historical Souvenir of Seneca Falls, New York (Syracuse, 1904), p. 31.

11. Assessment Rolls – 1851, Seneca Falls Historical Society, Archival Collection, #29.

12. Bloomer, Life and Writings, p. 17.

13. Welch, “Grip’s”, p. 61-2.

14. The Water Bucket, July 15, 1842.

15. Bull, “Woman’s Rights,” p. 43.

16. Bloomer, Life and Writing, p. 21.

17. The Water Bucket, February 25, 1842.

18. Bloomer, Life and Writings, pp. 22-3.

19. Bull, “Woman’s Rights,” p. 44.

20. Bloomer, Life and Witings, pp. 39-40.

21. Seneca Falls Revielle, July 30, 1880.

22. Free Soil Union, August 8, 1848.

23. Bloomer, Life and Writings, p. 41.

24. Ibid., pp. 41-2.

25. Ibid., p. 42.

26. Warren N. Paul, “The Lily – An Interpretation,” unpublished typescript at the Seneca Falls Historical Society, pp. 8-9.

27. Bull, “Woman’s Rights,” pp. 53-4.

28. Seneca Falls Revielle, July 30, 1880.

29. Ibid.

30. Bloomer, Life and Writings, pp. 34-5.

31. Bloomer, Life and Writings, p. 48.

32. Stanton, Eighty Years, p. 200.

33. Bloomer, Life and Writings, p. 46.

34. The Lily, November 1, 1849.

35. Stanton and Blatch, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, pp. 38-9.

36. Ibid., p. 23.

37. Bull, Woman’s Rights, pp. 53-4.

38. Seneca Falls Revielle, July 30, 1880.

39. Bloomer, Life and Writings, p. 26.

40. Stanton and Blatch, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, p. 39.

41. Seneca Falls Revielle, July 30, 1880.

42. James, et al., Notable American Women, Vol. I, p. 181.

43. Mary Curtis, “Amelia Bloomer’s Curious Costume,” American History Illustrated, (June 1978), p. 15.

44. Bull, “Woman’s Rights,” p. 52.

45. Marie Irvine Hoover, “Mrs. Amelia Bloomer and My Early Recollections,” unpublished typescript in the Amelia Bloomer Papers at the Seneca Falls Historical Society.

46. Bloomer, Life and Writings, p. 16.

47. Stanton, Eighty Years, p. 201.

48. Ibid.

49. Bloomer, Life and Writings, p. 67.

50. Bull, “Woman’s Rights,” p. 52.

51. Ibid., p. 54

52. Maria Temechko, “Bloomer’s Lily” (1972) unpublished typescript in the Amelia Bloomer Papers at the Seneca Falls Historical Society, p. 12.

53. Bloomer, Life and Writings, pp. 67-8.

54. Ibid., p. 69.

55. Bull, “Woman’s Rights,” p. 56.

56. Seneca Falls Revielle, July 30, 1880.

57. Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Amelia Opie, September 30, 1851, Elizabeth Cady Stanton Papers, Library of Congress.

58. Bloomer, Life and Writings, p. 85.

59. Ibid., pp. 97-8.

60. Ibid., p. 54.

61. James, et al., Notable American Women, p. 180.

62. Bloomer, Life and Writings, p. 145.

63. Ibid., pp. 146-8.

64. James, et al., Notable American Women, p. 180.

65. Ibid. Paul, “The Lily,” p. 1. Temechko, “Bloomer’s Lily,” p. 17.

66. James, et al., Notable American Women, p. 181.

67. Bloomer, Life and Writings, pp. 72-3.

68. James, et al., Notable American Women, pp. 179, 181.

Originally Published:  National Park Service: Women’s Rights,  https://www.nps.gov/wori/learn/historyculture/amelia-bloomer.htm

 How to Cite this Article (APA Format): National Park Service. (n.d.). Amelia Bloomer – Publisher and advocate for Woman’s Rights. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/biography/bloomer-amelia/

 

One Response to Bloomer, Amelia

  1. Amy Jacobson says:

    I visited Gerrit Smith’s home this past summer. This is a wonderful article and a fantastic connection.

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