Amelia Bloomer

Temperance, Woman Suffrage and Dress Reform Advocate

Amelia Bloomer
Amelia Bloomer. Interim Archives/Getty Images

Amelia Jenks Bloomer, an editor and writer advocating for women’s rights and temperance, is known as a promoter of dress reform.  "Bloomers" are named for her reform efforts.  She lived from May 27, 1818 to December 30, 1894.

Early Years

Amelia Jenks was born in Homer, New York. Her father, Ananias Jenks, was a clothier, and her mother was Lucy Webb Jenks.  She attended public school there. At seventeen, she became a teacher.

  In 1836, she moved to Waterloo, New York, to serve as a tutor and governess.

Marriage and Activism

She married in 1840. Her husband, Dexter C. Bloomer, was an attorney. Following the model of others including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the couple did not include the wife’s promise to obey in the marriage ceremony. They moved to Seneca Falls, New York, and he became the editor of the Seneca County Courier. Amelia began writing for several local papers.  Dexter Bloomer became the postmaster of Seneca Falls, and Amelia served as his assistant.

Amelia became more active in the temperance movement.  She also was interested in women’s rights, and participated in the 1848 woman’s rights convention in her home town of Seneca Falls.

The following year, Amelia Bloomer founded a temperance newspaper of her own, the Lily, to give women in the temperance movement a voice, without the domination of men in most temperance groups.

  The paper started out as an eight-page monthly.

Amelia Bloomer wrote most of the articles in the Lily.  Other activists including Elizabeth Cady Stanton also contributed articles.  Bloomer was considerably less radical in her support of women’s suffrage than her friend Stanton was, believing that women must “gradually prepare the way for such a step” by their own actions.

She also insisted that advocating for temperance not take a back seat to advocating for the vote.

The Bloomer Costume

Amelia Bloomer also heard of a new costume that promised to liberate women from the long skirts that were uncomfortable, inhibited movement and were dangerous around household fires. The new idea was a short, full skirt, with so-called Turkish trousers underneath – full trousers, gathered at the waist and ankles. Her promotion of the costume brought her national renown, and eventually her name became attached to the “Bloomer costume.”

Temperance and Suffrage

In 1853, Bloomer opposed a proposal by Stanton and her collaborator, Susan B. Anthony, that the New York Women’s Temperance Society be opened to men. Bloomer saw the work for temperance as particularly important a task for women. Succeeding in her stand, she became the corresponding secretary for the society.

Amelia Bloomer lectured around New York in 1853 on temperance, and later in other states on women’s rights as well.  She sometimes spoke with others including Antoinette Brown Blackwell and Susan B. Anthony.  Horace Greeley came to hear her talk, and reviewed her positively in his Tribune.

Her unconventional costume helped attract larger crowds, but the attention on what she wore, she began to believe, detracted from her message.

So she returned to conventional women’s attire.

In December of 1853 Dexter and Amelia Bloomer moved to Ohio, to take up work with a reform newspaper, Western Home Visitor, with Dexter Bloomer as a part owner. Amelia Bloomer wrote for both the new venture and for Lily, which was now published twice a month at four pages. The circulation of the Lily reached a peak of 6,000.

Council Bluffs, Iowa

In 1855, the Bloomers moved to Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Amelia Bloomer realized that she could not publish from there, as they were far from a railroad, so she would not be able to distribute the paper. She sold the Lily to Mary Birdsall, under whom it soon failed once Amelia Bloomer’s participation ceased.

In Council Bluffs, the Bloomers adopted two children and raised them.  In the Civil War, Amelia Bloomer’s father was killed at Gettysburg.

Amelia Bloomer worked in Council Bluffs on temperance and suffrage. She was an active member in the 1870s of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and wrote and lectured on temperance and prohibition.

She also came to believe that the vote for women was key to winning prohibition. In 1869, she attended the American Equal Rights Association meeting in New York, which was followed by the splintering of the group into the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association.

Amelia Bloomer helped found the Iowa Woman Suffrage Society in 1870. She was the first vice president and a year later assumed the presidency, serving until 1873. In the later 1870s Bloomer had cut back considerably on her writing and lecturing and other public work.  She brought Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to speak in Iowa. She died in Council Bluffs at age 76.

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Amelia Bloomer." ThoughtCo, Oct. 23, 2017, thoughtco.com/amelia-bloomer-temperance-and-dress-reform-advocate-4108776. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2017, October 23). Amelia Bloomer. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/amelia-bloomer-temperance-and-dress-reform-advocate-4108776 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Amelia Bloomer." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/amelia-bloomer-temperance-and-dress-reform-advocate-4108776 (accessed November 19, 2017).