Amelia Bloomer - Social Activism

Social Activism

Amelia Bloomer edited the first newspaper for women, The Lily. It was issued from 1849 until 1853. The newspaper began as a temperance journal. Bloomer felt that as women lecturers were considered unseemly, writing was the best way for women to work for reform. Originally, The Lily was to be for “home distribution” among members of the Seneca Falls Ladies Temperance Society, which had formed in 1848. Like most local endeavors, the paper encountered several obstacles early on, and the Society’s enthusiasm died out. Bloomer felt a commitment to publish and assumed full responsibility for editing and publishing the paper. Originally, the title page had the legend “Published by a committee of ladies.” But after 1850 – only Bloomer’s name appeared on the masthead.

In 1848, Bloomer attended the Woman's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls. In 1849, Bloomer began publishing her views on temperance and social issues in her own bi-weekly publication, The Lily. While the newspaper initially focused on temperance, Bloomer came under the influence of temperance activist and suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton who contributed articles on the broader issues of women's rights. The newspaper contained a broad mix of contents ranging from recipes to moralist tracts, including topics such as marriage law reform and higher education for women. In publication through 1853, The Lily eventually had a circulation of over 4,000. This newspaper is believed to have been a model for later periodicals focused on women's suffrage.

Bloomer, describing her feelings as the first woman to own, operate and edit a news vehicle for women, wrote:

It was a needed instrument to spread abroad the truth of a new gospel to woman, and I could not withhold my hand to stay the work I had begun. I saw not the end from the beginning and dreamed where to my propositions to society would lead me.

In her publication, Bloomer promoted a change in dress standards for women that would be less restrictive in regular activities.

The costume of women should be suited to her wants and necessities. It should conduce at once to her health, comfort, and usefulness; and, while it should not fail also to conduce to her personal adornment, it should make that end of secondary importance.

In 1851, New England temperance activist Elizabeth Smith Miller (aka Libby Miller) adopted what she considered a more rational costume: loose trousers gathered at the ankles, like women's trousers worn in the Middle East and Central Asia, topped by a short dress or skirt and vest. The costume was worn publicly by actress Fanny Kemble. Miller displayed her new clothing to Stanton, her cousin, who found it sensible and becoming, and adopted it immediately. In this garb Stanton visited Bloomer, who began to wear the costume and promote it enthusiastically in her magazine. Articles on the clothing trend were picked up in The New York Tribune. More women wore the fashion which was promptly dubbed The Bloomer Costume or "Bloomers". However, the Bloomers were subjected to ceaseless ridicule in the press and harassment on the street. Bloomer herself dropped the fashion in 1859, saying that a new invention, the crinoline, was a sufficient reform that she could return to conventional dress.

Bloomer remained a suffrage pioneer and writer throughout her life, writing for a wide array of periodicals. She led suffrage campaigns in Nebraska and Iowa, and served as president of the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association from 1871 until 1873.

Although Bloomer’s work was far less renowned than her contemporaries were, she made many significant contributions to the women’s movement — her ideas of dress reform and her work in the temperance movement were notable. Moreover, The Lily was a voice for many women reformers such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. It spoke on many issues such as dress reform and the need for enfranchisement for women.

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