BY ANNIE CRENSHAW
Mrs. Amelia Jenks Bloomer gave bicycling-minded women a new look. And, new comfort and freedom.
The “bloomer” outfit consisted of a short dress or jacket-and-skirt extending below the knee, worn over loose-legged trousers gathered at the ankles. It was designed like women’s trousers worn in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Mrs. Bloomer was an advocate of women’s rights and temperance, and she wasn’t just a pretty face who gave her name to a controversial 19th century garment. She became the first woman to own, operate and edit a newspaper for women.
Women had been restricted by societal constraints and overbearing laws that prevented them from having the same rights as men for centuries. CENTURIES and CENTURIES.
Mrs. Bloomer, and a few other members of the gentler sex here in the good old U.S. of A., thought that restriction was a bad practice.
The general fear circulating amongst the population that women’s roles and rights might change was real.
My goodness, if women changed the entire fashion world and sports world by insisting on participating in activities like bicycling, what if they even thought of being allowed to VOTE?
We all know the end of the “women and bicycles” story.
Alabama’s Governor William W. Brandon must have appreciated getting the women’s vote when he was elected in 1922. I don’t think he cared if his supporters wore blouses, braces, bloomers or britches.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Read “How the 19th-Century Bicycle Craze Empowered Women and Changed Fashion,” by Hannah S. Ostroff (The Smithsonian Institution, 2018).
And, take a glance at the interesting article: “The Road to Women’s Suffrage was Ridden on a Bicycle,” by Katrina Rossi (2019).
Bicycles were here to stay.
“What is generally alluded to as the ‘bicycle mania,’ has ceased to be a mania and has now settled down to be a regular thing,” reported The Selma Times in March 1879.
“A few years ago there was not a single bicycle in the United States,” stated The Greenville Advocate editor in May 1882. “Now, according to the New York Herald, there are over 12,000.”
“Several large manufactories are building the machines,” The Advocate article continued, “and they are so overwhelmed with orders that any one who wants a bicycle not found in the small stocks now has to wait for one or two months.”
“The business has been greatly stimulated within the last year by the opening of city parks to bicycle riders; but the want of good roads, except in the older parts of the country, tends to confine the use of bicycles to the larger cities and to New England and the Middle States.”
Aha, there we have it – good roads!
As the Encyclopedia Britannica describes those historical events: “As bicycles gained popularity in the United States, an organization called the League of American Wheelmen began calling for improved roads on which to ride. In 1892 the league published Good Roads Magazine to further their cause, and within three years it reportedly had a million subscribers.”
“Particularly notable and influential was a pamphlet published by the league, ‘The Gospel of Good Roads: A Letter to the American Farmer’ (1891), which emphasized the ways in which better roads would serve farmers and make it easier to get crops to market, families to church, and children to schools.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
Learn more about Butler County history with membership in The Butler County Historical & Genealogical Society, P. O. Box 561, Greenville, AL 36037. Read more about Butler County’s Beginnings here – http://sites.rootsweb.com/~albchgs/, and, look for BCHGS on Facebook.