According to an informal and completely unscientific survey, five out of the eight women who work in the RBMSCL’s reading room are wearing pants today. This might not be the case were it not for the efforts of Amelia Bloomer, early feminist and fashion pioneer, who celebrates her 192nd birthday today.
To honor Amelia, we quote from a 6 August 1851 letter from University of North Carolina chemistry professor Benjamin Sherwood Hedrick to his future wife, Mary Ellen Thompson (from our Benjamin Sherwood Hedrick Papers).
Remarking on current cultural matters from his position at the Nautical Almanac in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he writes:
There is something said every day or two about ‘Bloomers.’ I have seen several of them and like them. The young ladies have changed the fashion of putting up their hair, combing it up and back, something like what is vulgarly called a ‘cow-lick.’ I do not like it.
Professor Hedrick’s progressive opinion on the bloomer suit was not widely shared. Witness the chorus of “The Bloomer’s Complaint,” a charming song also from 1851:
I’ll come out next week, with a wide Bloomer flat
Of a shape that I fancy will fright them,
I had not intended to go quite to that,
But I’ll do it now, only to spite them—
With my pants “a la Turque,”
And my skirts two feet long
All fitting of course, most completely
These grumblers shall own after all, they are wrong,
And that I, in a Bloomer, look sweetly,
And that I, in a Bloomer, look sweetly.
Thanks to Mitch Fraas, RBMSCL Research Services intern, for suggesting this post.