Women Who Love Their Slacks Owe Amelia Bloomer a Thank You

Black and white photograph of Amelia Bloomer shows a woman with a plain face, a stern expression, wearing her curly hair up (possibly in a bun behind her head) and wearing a high collar with a white neck scarf.

Women, do you love being able to wear slacks or jeans or a dress whenever you feel like it? If you do, thank Amelia Bloomer. In the 1840s, stylish women wore tight corsets and full-skirted floor-length dresses that caused health and safety concerns. Amelia didn’t intend to start a fashion. She was an advocate for women, an early suffragist, an editor, and a social activist. But when she published how much more comfortable and manageable her “Turkish trousers” were, the style became a craze. 

Early Life

Amelia Jenks, born on May 27, 1818 in Homer, New York, U.S. was one of the youngest in her large family of at least six siblings. Little else appears to be published of her childhood. 

She attended a few years of formal education before she became a teacher in Homer. 

In 1835, the seventeen-year-old moved to Waterloo and live with her newly married sister, Elvira. Soon after that, she became the live-in governess for Oren Chamberlain’s three youngest children. 

She worked there when she met Dexter Bloomer, a law student, and the editor and co-owner of the weekly Seneca County Courier. In a 1839 note discovered in Amelia’s autograph book, he humbly asked to be “numbered in the list of her favored friends.” 

Historical Note #1

The term alcoholic did not exist when, on April 2, 1840, six drunkard friends met at Chase’s Tavern on Liberty Street in Baltimore, Maryland. They pledged to be teetotalers (total abstinence from alcohol) and vowed to support each other in staying sober. Dubbed the Six Reformed Drunkards, they toured the country and gave passionate lectures against the evils of alcohol. 

Women flocked to the cause. Why? They or their children often suffered abuse at the hands of men who’d had too much to drink. Without rights, they had little to no relief from that abuse. Reformed Drunkards became the heroes of society.


Amelia married Dexter on April 15, 1840, at the Waterloo home of John Lowden by the Presbyterian minister. According to some sources, the marriage ceremony did not include the word obey because Dexter, a Quaker, considered Amelia to be his equal and followed the Quaker tradition. Other sources say its removal was because of Amelia’s commitment to the cause of women’s rights. 

The newlyweds went to the Seneca Falls home of Isaac Fuller (Dexter’s partner and co-owner of the paper) for their wedding reception. One source said she gave an impromptu temperance lecture that night. That source also quotes a note by Dexter that the newlyweds took up residence with Fullers until they could establish their own home.

In July, Amelia became ill with a debilitating fever. She stayed at Avon Springs near Rochester, New York through August. 

By October first, Amelia and Dexter found and settled into a home of their own. 

Getting Involved

Amelia grew very active in church charities. She sewed clothes for the needy, opened her home to several orphans, and helped raise money for church improvements. 

She never doubted that teetotaling was right. She volunteered for the local temperance society and lectured the inebriated whenever and wherever she encountered them.

 Dexter, who had continued to edit his weekly paper and opened a law practice, encouraged her to use her writing to express her fervor for social reform. He gave her an office at the paper. She started a regular column that covered a wide range of social issues. 

Women’s Rights

In 1848, Amelia attended the two-day Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. She did not sign the Declaration of Sentiments.

When Amelia attended a meeting of the Ladies Temperance Society in the Mynderse Block that summer, she suggested publishing a temperance newspaper. The membership eagerly agreed. The society’s president suggested the name, The Lily, and chose Amelia and Anne C. Mattison as the editors.

The Lily

A notice appeared 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.” 

Ms. Mattison and the society soon realized publishing a newspaper was a greater responsibility than they understood and gave up the idea. Amelia could not throw off that responsibility “so lightly.” They already had “considerable money on subscriptions” at 50¢ per year and she feared people would say one couldn’t expect more of a woman than to give up. So she assumed the entire editorial and financial responsibilities.

Amelia published the first issue of The Lily: A Ladies Journal, Devoted to Temperance and Literature in January 1849. It may have been the first newspaper in America to be edited entirely by a woman. 


Dexter was elected Postmaster for Seneca Falls in 1849 and appointed Amelia his assistant. 

In 1851, Amelia introduced Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Susan B. Anthony, setting into motion a long-standing partnership between the two activists.

Historical Note #2

A pencil drawing of four women in full-skirted, floor length dresses with high collars.

Women’s clothing in the mid-1800s called for a tiny waist and full skirted, floor-length dresses. For middle- and upper-class American women, this meant squeezing themselves into corsets and wearing six to eight petticoats to make their skirts full enough. Their clothing alone weighed up to 15 pounds, put pressure on their hips, and made movement difficult. Tripping on stairs, hems soiled from sweeping along filthy streets, overheating, impaired breathing, and injuries from the whalebone stays and the lacing of their corsets were common complaints. 

An editor of the Seneca County Courier thought women could avoid all those things by switching to “Turkish pantaloons and skirt reaching a little below the knee.” 

About that time, a cousin visited Elizabeth Cady Stanton wearing that outfit. Stanton started wearing that style of clothing as well.  

Bloomers Are Born

Black and white image of an 1850s woman wearing Turkish pantaloons beneath a full knee-length skirt.

In February 1951, an editorial written by a man supported this new style of dress for women. It was the same writer who’d previously opposed women’s suffrage and the Seneca Falls Convention.

Amelia, who had become a well-known public speaker supporting women’s suffrage, responded in her paper, The Lily. She chided him for supporting dress reform, but not women’s rights.  

Soon after, Amelia figured she should practice what she preached and donned one of the new outfits herself. She publicized her action in The Lily, an article that included engravings of herself in the outfit.

Hundreds of cartoons and articles appeared across the country parodying and ridiculing the dress and the women’s rights movement by implication. They christened the new dress the “Bloomer Costume.” But women were interested. Many wanted the pattern for the pantaloons. The Lily’s subscriptions grew from 300 in 1849 to 4000 in 1853.

Westward Ho

In 1853, Amelia and her husband moved from New York to Mount Vernon, Ohio. There she assisted her husband on the Western Home Visitor and continued to publish The Lily. 

Through her newspaper, Amelia campaigned aggressively for the vote, equal educational opportunities, and alterations in inheritance laws. Her writing style left no doubt as to her views on these and other related subjects.

The Bloomers moved to Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1855. Amelia tried to keep The Lily going, but the lack of printing facilities and the poor postal connections on the frontier made it too difficult. She sold The Lily to Mary B. Birdsall of Richmond, Indiana. Ms. Birdsall didn’t have a comparable talent or drive and the paper soon went out of business.

Life on the Frontier

After the move to Iowa, Amelia became far less active on the national social reform scene. Her interest in reform kept her active in state organizations. 

She abandoned the “short dress” in Iowa because the high winds annoyed and mortified her by blowing her skirts over her head and shoulders. By this time, hoop skirts were the style. She found the hoops light and pleasant to wear. She also worried that by wearing the shorter style, more people discussed the length of her skirt than discussed the important issues of the day.

During the Civil War (1861-1865), Amelia started a relief organization, the Soldier’s Aid Society of Council Bluffs. 

In 1869 she represented Iowa at the American Equal Rights Association meeting in New York City. She served as the President of the Iowa Suffrage Association from 1871 to 1837.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer died on December 30, 1894, at 76. They buried her at Fairview Cemetery in Council Bluffs, Iowa.


Photograph a sculpture depicting Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, and Susan B Anthony (in that order) with Stanton and Anthony about to shake hands.

In 1975, Amelia was inducted in the Iowa Woman’s Hall of Fame. 

Her home in Seneca Falls, New York, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1995.

In 1999, they placed a sculpture by Ted Aub, “When Anthony Met Stanton,” in a spot overlooking Van Clef Lake in Seneca Falls, New York. The sculpture memorializes the day when Amelia introduced Anthony and Stanton

From 2002 until 2020, the American Library Association produced an annual Amelia Bloomer List. It listed recently published books with significant feminist content for younger readers. They renamed the list in 2020 when the committee learned Amelia refused to use The Lily to oppose the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. 

On July 20 each year, the Episcopal Church remembers four American saints, Amelia Bloomer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Ross Tubman. 

In Conclusion

Some articles report that Amelia Bloomer was a humorless woman. One called her a busybody. An orphan who reportedly grew up in Amelia’s home said her foster mother demanded perfection. And her refusal to print a protest against the Fugitive Slave Law was not her best moment.

Flawed or not, Amelia Bloomer left an enormous impact on the world. Her paper, The Lily, revealed to women how the customs and laws of the day limited them. It gave them an open forum to express and share views, to publicize and analyze their developing philosophies and reforms. It helped the women’s rights movement communicate and grow.

Amelia had strong convictions about the ability and right of women to have a voice in social and political matters, to work in a field of their choice, and to be equal and safe in their positions. In her own words, she had “no thought of setting a fashion.” Yet, she had the courage to stand up and act upon her convictions when others maligned and ridiculed her. 

The next time you pull up your slacks, or jeans, or whatever outfit you feel like wearing, tip your hat to the memory of Amelia Bloomer, who paved the way.


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