Lecture on Bloomerism
The lecture on Bloomerism at Miss Kelly’s theatre Dean Street, Soho, were continued on Tuesday evening. The price of admission having been reduced from that of the previous night there was a consequent augmentation of audience. The lecture was enlivened by the production of examples of some of the fashions of the present and also past generations on “living” models, which seemed to amuse the spectators very much. The American lady who lectured was attired as on the former night and was preceded, as before, by those who wished to exhibit in their own persons the advantage of the reformed dress. In a few words at the commencement of the lecture she briefly explained the reason of her appearance before them. Although, she said, she appeared before them to advocate a change in the fashion of dress it was because it involved a higher principle than had hitherto been mixed up in the question. It had previously seemed to her far too trivial a matter to occupy the mind of women, but when she explained to them that costumes associated with the name of Mrs. Bloomer she fancied they would agree that it was worthy of their consideration. In ancient times the use of decoration in the dress was awarded to those whom they most honoured. It was used to display dignity and in latter times it was used more for convenience and decency. The 19th century and particularly the year 1851 was associated and made remarkable for its advances and improvements and she trusted with these would be associated a change of dress for women. Gentlemen evidently favoured their (women’s) costume, for she saw that many of them patronized long cloaks very similar to the dress worn by Spanish ladies, so they could not accuse them (the women) of first usurping their brother’s dresses. She then adverted to the baneful affects of the compression of the waist; she was happy to find that, on this point, she had the support of the male sex. (Cheers.) But they must pardon them if they had been so long ignorant of the ill effects of this custom, for until lately very few were aware of its physiological effects. She had heard of some lecture that was given in London by a gentleman on the subject, but as it was with closed doors and some women were carefully excluded, they could not derive any benefit from it. How could they expect the heart or lungs to perform their power functions when they only allotted to them half the space provided by their great creator? They knew a watch or any other machine could not work except proper room was allowed for the works and how could they expect that the system of life could be carried on without the same proviso. She also argued that the compression of the spinal cord was more injurious to the nervous system. A physician in America had said, five years ago that very few women in that country were free from injury in this respect. They therefore considered this point worthy of the highest consideration in a reform of dress; and if they said that they, the women of America, would in this respect sin no more, they hoped they should meet with reciprocity in Great Britain. Improvement was the order of the day. Many improvements had in this year been introduced from America, which, if they adopted, they would have to pay for; but she thought that none, not even the wonderful lock-picking of Mr. Hobbs, or any of those in the exhibition, was so great as this one they offered them, namely, the change of dress and without cost. After explaining the economy of the dress she mentioned a visit she had paid to the exhibition, when she said everything was deserted, even the “mountain of light,” to look at the “Bloomers.” If she and her companion had stopped the whole day she believed nothing would have been looked at but them. Some of the gentlemen connected with the building came up and asked them civilly to retire, seemingly thinking that all their glory would be eclipsed and as they did not wish to constitute themselves the greatest lions of the day they complied with their request. But now she would show them the fashion of the present day. (A young girl here marched on the stage holding up her dress very high behind and wearing a bonnet and shawl.) She supposed if a woman appeared in a dress like this one she would be received with great applause. (Here she took off her bonnet and shawl and displayed an exceedingly low-necked dress.) (Mingled hisses and laughter.) This was a specimen of the modest style of dress (“No, no.”) If a young lady was not attired in this way she was very much mistaken. (“No, true”) She considered that from associations or fashion a dress was thought proper or improper. A Quakeress told her that when long sleeves were introduced they were thought very indecent among her sect because they had been accustomed to ware short ones. Short sleeves had become almost to be considered part of their religion and it took some time to disabuse them on the subject. Another proof of the morality of dress depending on habits was this – another Quakeress who had two young daughters, lived at Bristol and the entrance to their house was up a flight of steps; her son suggested that his sisters should wear drawers. The mother was highly indignant and said they should do no such indecent thing. (Mingled hisses and laughter.) She would have wished to have shown them a procession of all the past fashions, to show their absurdity, but she would only exhibit one. (Here another young girl entered, dressed in the fashion in which the Princess Charlotte is usually represented, namely, a very scanty and short white dress, with low neck and short sleeves; the waist almost under the armpits, encircled with a blue sash; and her hair all gathered in a knob at the top of her head. At this figure the audience fairly roared with laughter.) They saw the ludicrous effect of this dress at the present day, which proved her point – that the fashion of dress was merely conventional. It was no good talking of women’s rights if they were compelled to wear or not to wear a given dress.
The Times, Friday, Oct 17, 1851; pg. 8