Lesson Plan

Dress Reformers and Their Fight for Equality – 19th century Heroines

Chromolithograph:  Print shows a man and a woman wearing knickers and bloomers, standing with a bicycle between them, shaking hands.
Chromolithograph from 1895 showing a man and a woman with a bicycle, with 19th century fashions in the background.
Library of Congress


In the mid-19th century, society expected women to wear long and heavy skirts and tight corsets.  If they were cooking, carrying a baby, or working in a mill, this clothing could become dangerous.  In the early 1850s, Elizabeth Smith Miller introduced a new clothing style that allowed freedom of movement and decreased hazards.  Learn how this style of dress not only provided freedom of movement, but also became a symbol of women’s rights.


Review the accepted clothing standards for women in the 19th century. Review images of women working in the home, working as teachers, and working in textile mills. Review copies of The Lily, which carried articles about the Bloomer costume. Read Elizabeth Cady Stanton's description of how she was introduced to the clothing style in her autobiography Eighty Years & More, pages 200-201.


Step 1. Click on the links for pictures of women from the 1850s. Download, print, and distribute.


Step 2. Discuss how your class would like to dress for these activities.


Step 3. Click on the links for Elizabeth Smith Miller and Amelia Bloomer. Download, print, and 



Step 4. Click on the images of the Bloomer costume. Download, print, and distribute.


Step 5. Discuss how people who dress differently are viewed today.


Park Connections

The Bloomer costume became a symbol of the Women's Rights Movement in the early to mid 1850s. Elizabeth Smith Miller, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony wore the costume during this time period.


Clothing, skirt, corset, Bloomer costume, "The Lily"