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In 1851, fashion met activism when suffragist Amelia Jenks Bloomer rocked the world with a new look that revolutionized life for women. The loose-fitting blouse and baggy “bloomer” pants were a radical change from heavy dresses and bone-crushing corsets that caused health problems and restricted female freedom.
One hundred years after the passage of the 19th Amendment, Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory unveils a new exhibit that salutes the Bloomer Girls who followed Jenks’ lead by challenging stereotypes and helping women win the right to vote. The exhibit, Bloomer Girls: Baseball, Bikes, and the Battle for Ballots, opens March 6, 2020 and runs through March 31, 2021.
Bloomers put “movement” into the women’s movement, empowering women to participate in physical activity while fostering growth in their independence. The knee-length, loose-fitting pants liberated the Bloomer Girls brave enough to wear this daring and sometimes ridiculed fashion. They exercised their new freedoms with gusto, tackling activities that had previously been discouraged or just too difficult and unsafe, such as riding bikes and playing baseball.
Between 1890 and 1930, the Bloomer Girls teams played semi-professional baseball and traveled the country challenging men’s teams. Increased bike riding by women, made possible by bloomers, inspired suffrage icon Susan B. Anthony to declare in 1896, “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling . . . it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel . . . [Bloomers] are the proper thing for wheeling . . . A woman doesn’t want skirts and flimsy lace to catch in the wheel.”
The Bloomer Girls exhibit showcases a typical bloomer outfit alongside the type of heavy, restrictive dress that women had been previously wearing. Also on display is a Wolff-American safety frame bicycle (circa 1897) on loan from the Little Congress Bicycle Museum in Tennessee.
The exhibit will also feature a rare photograph of a female baseball player from around the year 1900, when the Bloomer Girls baseball teams were touring and playing throughout the U.S. The woman in the photograph is not wearing bloomers because it was a formal portrait, but a baseball bat is positioned inches from her hand. The letters B.B.C. – which stood for Base Ball Club – are prominently featured on her outfit, which also includes a sporty ballcap.
“It’s a given today that women in this country can be athletic, professional, and independent. But it wasn’t all that long ago that they couldn’t even run errands on their own, or vote. Bloomers were a game-changer for gals. When you see a little girl riding her bike, or a woman running for president, we hope you’ll remember the Bloomer Girls who helped the women’s movement blossom,” said Anne Jewell, Vice President and Executive Director of Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory.