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The Nineteenth-Century Women's Dress Reform Movement

Document 7

       Quite an agitation occurred in 1852, on woman's costume. How can you, it was said, ever compete with man for equal place and pay, with garments of such frail fabrics and so cumbrously fashioned, and how can you ever hope to enjoy the same health and vigor with man, so long as the waist is pressed into the smallest compass, pounds of clothing hung on the hips, the limbs cramped with skirts, and with high heels the whole woman thrown out of her true equilibrium. Wise men, physicians, and sensible women, made their appeals, year after year; physiologists lectured on the subject; the press commented, until it seemed as if there were a serious demand for some decided steps, in the direction of a rational costume for women.  Fathers, husbands, and brothers, all joined in protest against the small waist, and stiff distended petticoats, which were always themes for unbounded ridicule. But no sooner did a few brave conscientious women adopt the bifurcated costume . . . than the press at once turned its guns on "The Bloomer," and the same fathers, husbands, and brothers, with streaming eyes and pathetic tones, conjured the women of their households to cling to the prevailing fashions.  As some of those who advocated the right of suffrage, wore the dress and had been identified with all the unpopular reforms, in the reports of our conventions, the press rung the changes on "strong-minded," "Bloomer," "free love," "easy divorce," "amalgamation." I wore the dress two years and found it a great blessing.  Yet such is the tyranny of custom, that to escape constant observation, criticism, ridicule, persecution, mobs, one after another gladly went back to the old slavery and sacrificed freedom to repose.

--Excerpt from Elizabeth Cady Stanton, "Reminiscences," History of Woman Suffrage,
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, eds. 1881

14.  According to Stanton, how did the press try to discredit the Bloomer outfit?

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15. How did Stanton and other women respond to this male criticism of the Bloomer outfit?

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