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BLOOMERISM

COMES TO HASTINGS!



Here is a slightly disparaging newspaper report of a feminist lecture on rational dress held at the Swan, High Street Hastings. It is transcribed verbatim from The Hastings & St Leonards News, 12 November 1851.



The denizens of our sober town were started out of all sense of propriety on Wednesday evening by a lecture on this most awful "social-ism," at the Swan Assembly Room. A Miss Atkins addressed a crowded meeting on Bloomerism, for about three-quarters of an hour, amid mingled applause an laughter.

The lecture was announced for half-past eight, but the audience manisfested symptoms of impatience before the time was up for the lady to appear. At the time set, Miss Atkins made her appearance, attired in the new costume, and wearing a Bloomer hat jauntily placed on one side of her head, giving her, with her smiling and rather pretty face, what the ladies called a "wicked look". She certainly appeared in no respect at a loss for confidence - joining merrily in the laughter which many points of her lecture readily provoked.

Miss Atkins began by referring to the innocent and bloodless revolution now taking place in woman's costume, and procededed to notice the absurdities manifested in different ages in ladies' dress. Most of the foolish fashions she censured had been produced to hide deformities. The patches work under a former reign in the face, the monstrous hoops once encircling the body, the high-heeled shoes of our grandmothers, were all samples of such follies. Our present queen was one day walking by the sea-side, and whether to keep it from the wind, or from whatever other cause, her Majesty tied ther veil under her chin. This was reported - and in a week from that time everybody in the land who wore a veil tied it under her chin, too. It only needed some distinguished person to set a fashion, and, no matter how silly or injurious, it was sure to be speedily and generally followed.

It would scarcely be believed (said the lecturer) by future generations, that the women of the nineteenth century crushed their ribs, destroyed their lungs, and entailed consumption on their offspring, by the custom of tight lacing! [Much applause.] We need not wonder at the absurd ambition of the Chinese ladies to pinch their feet into a baby's size, when women in England deform themselves as they do by tight-lacing. No man of sense admires a pinched-up frame. Look at the gems of statuary art in the British Museum and in the Crystal Palace: the admiration of the world were these, but there was no tight laced-up Venus among them.[Hear, hear.]

The inconveniences of the long dress were next reviewed. In rainy and dusty weather it was equally in the way. It was also extravagant; and therefore was a question for husbands as well as wives - for fathers as well as daughters. It was objected that the short dress and trousers were immodest. "Is it so?" said the lecturer (putting herself into an exhibitory open-armed posture, that the dress might be fully seen by the audience, and eventually getting, by request, on the table, for still further exhibition, amid thundering peals of laughter, and cries of "bravo" &c.) "Is it immodest?" said Miss Atkins again - answering the question herself by shewing the superiority of the costume even in this respect. She held that if ladies had less about their heels, and more on their ususally-exposed bosoms, the change must be for the better. Some objected to the trousers. It was a fact that nine out of ten ladies wore them now; and what harm could there be in having them a few inches longer?

Several extracts were here read from Planché's British Costumes, to shew the absurdity of many olden fashions. And then followed an energetic and woman-like appeal to woman: "shall we, or shall we not, be allowed to judge for ourselves? Why should men dictate to us? We never dictate to them - even if they should choose to wear a half-a-chimney-pot on their head, and call it a hat!" [Loud laughter.] "We can tell the men that we mean to do as we please. [Cheers and renewed laughter.] If the men so much admire the long dress, let them wear it a few days, and see how they would like to be enslaved by it. After the medical testimonies which we have given to shew the injury done by the present fashion, we must say, that if the men want it kept up, it can only be from a wish to get rid of us. [Laughter.] Let us wear the short dresses, then, my sister countrywomen, to live as long as we can - if it be only to tease them." [Renewed laughter.]

The ladies were advised next to try the dress indoors at first. After a few days' trial, she was quite sure they would have no wish to go back to the slavery of the old fashion. "Why should we be deprived of the dress allowed even now to young girls? Why should not the sun of our girlhood shine on us for ever? She remembered with joy the unrestrained freedom of her earlier days, before fashion deemed her old enough to be entrammelled with an unsightly and inconvenient garment. Let women be resolved on a reform - regardless of surrounding scorn and derision. When woman became a reformer, society was soon changed. [Hear, hear.] It was great folly to be influenced by other people's opinions so much in matters of dress. "Be independent, and have what dress you like; let Mrs. Grundy say this or that as she pleases."

It was the duty of the gentlemen to hear before they condemned. They should think how many of God's loveliest handiwork were hurried into a premature grave by the present fashions - think on the importance of woman, who had to rear the future hopes of England, having a right moral and physical training, - and be at least willing to give a new dress a fair hearing. [Cheers.]

The fair orator gave an interesting account of Mrs. Bloomer and her opinions, closing with an energetic peroration and those rather hackneyed lines, "Hereditary bondswomen!" &c, &c.

The prevailing feature of the entertainment was one of comicality, the really intellectual or useful being quite secondary. It was, in fact, rather a performance than a lecture; and the audience departed much refreshed by that natural medicine, which "shakes the hypochondria from one's ribs, and the cobwebs from one's brains" - videlicet, good hearty laughter.

Miss Atkins was announced for a second lecture on the following evening (last night). As we were going to press at the time, we have nothing to say about it.

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