Last weekend, I travelled to the village of Homer, NY, to do an author visit at the Phillips Free Library. While strolling down Main Street, I was delighted to come across this plaque:
|"Childhood home - Amelia Jenks Bloomer - Writer, Speaker & Activist - Temperance, Abolition and Women's Rights - 1818-1894
Amelia Bloomer’s childhood home is still privately occupied (the four Victorian-era mailboxes, two on either side of the door, suggest that the house was converted into flats some time ago) and there wasn’t any further information to be had that day, but it got me wondering.
|North Main St, Homer, NY
I’d never given much thought to the American suffragists as individuals. I knew the names of the most famous (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass and Victoria Claflin Woodhull, to start with). And I’ve mentioned Bloomer before, most recently in my post about women on bicycles.
|Illustration of a woman wearing the Bloomer costume. Image via National Park Service
But looking at her childhood home, I realized I didn’t know much about Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-1894). Here are some things I’ve learned in the past few days:
- Bloomer had only a few years of formal education, and as a young woman worked as a schoolteacher and a governess.
- She turned to journalism when her husband, Dexter Bloomer, encouraged her to write for his newspaper, the Seneca Falls County Courier.
- She began her public career as a temperance campaigner. Because temperance was a female-driven movement, she was thus exposed to other feminist ideas including women’s suffrage and abolition.
- The American women’s suffrage movement grew quite directly from the abolitionist movement: in 1840, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, they were denied seats on the floor because they were women. In response, they held the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848 in Seneca Falls, NY. As a consequence, Black abolitionist activists like Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass are also closely linked with women’s suffrage. The 1840s and 1850s must have been a heady time for progressive thinkers in America!
|THE LILY - A monthly journal, devoted to Temperance and Literature - Published by a Committee of Ladies.
|Amelia Bloomer in rational dress, ca. 1852-58. Image via NPS
|Ted Aub's life-sized bronze sculpture, "When Anthony Met Stanton". Bloomer, at centre, is introducing Susan B. Anthony (left) to Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Both Bloomer and Stanton are wearing rational dress. Image via National Park Service.
I've a lot more reading ahead of me but I can't help picturing a scene in which Harriet Tubman (a childhood hero of mine) and Amelia Bloomer meet...