Clothes Make the Woman: William H. Walker’s Critiques of 1890s Fashion and Feminism in Life Editorial Cartoons

In the 1850s, women’s rights activists attempted to popularize a new fashion, known as “bloomers” because of one of its best-known advocates, Amelia Bloomer. The summer of 1851 saw scores of women wearing these loose-fitting pants inspired by Turkish pantaloons. Suffragettes were some of the most passionate enthusiasts of the new style, but soon felt that the attention being paid to their clothing was detracting from their message, and by the end of the Civil War, bloomers had fallen completely out of fashion.

The 1890s brought a revival of bloomers after the Woman’s Congress of the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 featured young women modeling various versions of them. When Annie “Londonderry” Cohen Kopchovsky wore bloomers for a bicycle trip around the world (1894-1895), female cyclists almost universally adopted some form of pants. Bicycling for Ladies (1896), for example, advised cycling in a shirtwaist and knickerbockers, and asserted that “Bicycling requires the same freedom of movement that swimming does, and the dress must not hamper or hinder.” As this suggests, there were changes in what women wore in water, too. Bathing costumes were becoming less voluminous and more practical, with the French style of the 1870s (a simple top and trousers) radically changing beachwear on this side of the Atlantic. By the 1890s more sporty suits made swimming, rather than merely dipping into the water or paddling, a real possibility.

Untitled cartoon showing a woman with a bicycle talking with a woman in a wet swimming costume, 1895. William H. Walker Cartoon Collection (MC068), Box 1.

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This Week in Princeton History for December 3-9

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, construction of the Halstead Observatory is underway, Gloria Steinem urges Princetonians to do something outrageous daily, and more.

December 3, 1867—The New York Tribune reports that Princeton’s Halsted Observatory is almost ready to have the telescope mounted. When mounted, it will be the largest telescope in the United States.

Halstead Observatory, ca. 1860s. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box AD05, Image No. 8669.

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This Week in Princeton History for September 28-October 4

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a prominent feminist urges Princetonians to support women’s suffrage, dorm residents struggle to keep warm, and more.

September 29, 1915—On the same day as President Woodrow Wilson is in town but refusing to answer reporters’ questions about whether or not he supports female suffrage, Beatrice Forbes-Robertson Hale, author of What Women Want: An Interpretation of the Feminist Movement, gives an address in Alexander Hall calling for American women to be given the right to vote.

September 30, 1939—Ralph Wood, a modern languages instructor at Princeton, arrives at Jersey City after a harrowing 18-day journey across the Atlantic with 200 other people on board a boat that normally holds 12, having fled Germany during the outbreak of hostilities that will soon be known as World War II.

October 1, 1976—Although the heat would normally have been turned on in the dorms in accordance with New Jersey law at the beginning of October, instead students read an announcement letting them know that it will be delayed until October 11 due to a national energy crisis. As temperatures dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night, students begin bundling up to keep warm.

Student_studying_with_scarf_1978_Bric

A student bundled against the indoor chill at Princeton University, ca. Fall 1976. Photo from 1978 Bric-a-Brac.

October 4, 1997—At least 15 Princeton students join approximately 500,000 evangelical men at an all-male prayer rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the “Promise Keepers” organization.

For last week’s installment in this series, click here.

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