cartoon showing woman in bloomers asking for permision to marry

Vintage Sexism: 1850s Cartoon Warns of Gender-Bending Power of Bloomers

In the mid-19th century, there was a feminist development for which I’m grateful pretty much every morning: bloomers arrived on the fashion scene. In the summer of 1851, American women dropped their corsets and petticoats as “boomer craze” swept the nation. 

Developed specifically to give women a more healthy style, bloomers obviously offered more freedom of movement as well — and they quickly became a symbol of the fight for women’s rights. As such, the trend attracted its critics. Editorials were written, public meetings were called, and cartoons depicted an outrageous world where bloomer-wearing women did all manner of manly things.

cartoon showing woman in bloomers asking for permision to marry

“Before I can entertain your proposal, and give my consent to your marrying my son, I must ask you, whether you are in a position – a – to – a – keep him in the style to which – a – I may say – he has always been accustomed? Ahem!” (Image credit: Punch)

In this one by John Leech for Punch magazine, a woman wearing bloomers asks her boyfriend’s father for permission to marry his son. In another, they even smoke and read newspapers!

h/t Pictorial

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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