One Hundred Years of Woman Suffrage and Standing Up to the Patriarchy in Pants

You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer! – by Shana Corey, illustrated by Chesley McLaren, Scholastic Press, 2000

The right to dress as we choose may seem to pale in comparison to exercising the right to vote, but I wanted to write a short post about a bold pioneer, Amelia Bloomer.  While her super-wide leg garment seems almost comical today, she fought for the vote, but also for women to have clothing that allowed for comfort and freedom and movement.  She risked ridicule and stood up to bullies who wanted to continue the confinement of women in ridiculous and painfully restrictive clothing.  Shana Corey’s melodic text and Chesley McLaren’s gorgeously colored pictures bring Amelia to Bloomer into the world of young readers, or to anyone who loves a beautiful picture book with a powerful message: “Amelia Bloomer was NOT a proper lady,” and you don’t need to be one, either.

Amelia Bloomer was a suffragist. She was an activist, shown in her bright blue dress and she demonstrated for long-denied suffrage.  A two-page spread with pictures that convey her graceful and purposive movement shows Bloomer starting her own newspaper, hiring women, and focusing on their stories.  McLaren holds up to amused readers the ludicrous dresses which women were forced to wear, at least women whose social class spared them from grueling, unsafe, or tedious labor. Some of their skirts were literal cages, others so tight they were suffocating. The book’s design combines expressive script with curving letters and lively scenes of determined women.  When Amelia invents the prototype for women’s trousers, she pronounces her own work “Brilliant!”

Some of her fellow citizens “were aghast,” and one little boy, maybe just a surprised kid but possible a future mansplainer, cleverly calls out “You forgot your skirt, Amelia Bloomer!” But when women see how Bloomer is now free to run, jump, and generally control her own body, many are thrilled. One lovely picture shows Bloomer covered with fan mail, wanting information about how to design or where to buy the new women’s wear.  A bunch of men used colorful phrases like “Balderdash” to diminish Bloomer’s genius, while one particularly prescient one figures out the truth: “This can only lead to more rights for women.”

The book ends with scenes of both men and women wearing fun and flexible clothing: French sailor tops, flared pants, red ballet flats.  An informative “Author’s Note” explains how Bloomer became an activist, why practical clothing for women was an important part of the movement for women’s rights, and why courage and persistence are so important in achieving a goal.  We may have bigger struggles ahead of us today, including protecting the right to vote for everyone, but Bloomer’s creativity, strength, and defiance are a story which girls, and boys, need today.

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