January 28, 2013
This was a long road from Jan of 2011 when I first came across an incomplete pattern for an 1850s Bloomer gown that was copied from the original gown in the San Diego History Center’s costume collection. It was like discovering a treasure chest and everywhere I turned, I was finding jewels.
We originally had me set to stand behind the podium but the slideshow would be showing on the wall behind me, and as each photo is shown, I have a tendency to give more details on it than what I have on paper. So I need to look at them as its going. I ended up pulling up a chair facing it. Of course we had some minor technical problems with not knowing how to operate some of the equipment but it was minor and the show went on. I enjoyed the questions I got and the laughter I provided sometimes. Later the ladies attending said they were fascinated by this little know article of clothing and didn’t know the history behind a very important time that had a major effect on the way women would dress. We all have our predecessors much to be thankful for. Remember that next time you pull on your jeans.
After spending many hours on the internet and on emails contacting museums and historical societies for information on Bloomer gowns, on Amelia Bloomer, and its originator, Elizabeth Smith Miller, I was discovering a whole new world I didn’t know about. And I barely scratched the surface of women’s suffrage. These are the women I came to know: Amelia Bloomer
Three different historical societies sent me copies of newspaper articles, woodcut photos, and copies of documents they had on Bloomers. And each one would “introduce” me to someone else who might help in my search for another Bloomer gown in existence. As far as they knew, they had one of only two in collections that they knew of. They were all excited when I told them about the one in San Diego.
I was honored to meet via email a professor from John Hopkins University, Pamela Poulin, who wrote a thesis on Amelia and shared much of her information with me. She even extended an invitation for me to stay with her if I’m ever in upstate New York and she would give me a tour of the museums I’d been contacting and introduce me around. Very nice for someone you’ve never met!
Then she introduced me to a lady, Jody Luce, who portrays Elizabeth Smith Miller, who originated the bloomer pants and met Amelia Bloomer. She even lives in Miller’s historic home in Peterboro, NY. Jody is known as the Tailor of Peterboro too. We started sending information and photos back and forth and finding new tidbits for each other. And even funnier, at presentations we both did wearing our latest version of a Bloomer gown, we both had ended up wearing a walking boot on our leg from an injury.
I have to say I’ve felt very good with everyone helping me in my search, and I was even more happy when the San Diego History Center asked me to share what I learned with them in a presentation at the museum. It felt right that I should continue paying it forward and helping them share “how our past, present, and future are interrelated”.
Last October a date was set for me to present my “Amelia and Her Shocking Bloomers, and the Lost Pattern”, at the museum for Jan 28, 2013. During those few months I was still getting some photos and information sent to me that I managed to update my slideshow with for their presentation. As the date got closer, I was getting nervous. This was a big thing for me; something I would never had thought I’d be doing. The week before, I read my papers over and over to get familiar with them again. I rearranged my slideshow a few time, and a couple nights it even kept me awake with what a friend calls my “monkey-brain”. You know, its chattering around in your head and won’t stop? My husband said a professional would be able to do this presentation without having to read it from a paper. Well, I’m not a professional. I’m just a costumer who enjoys making historical-looking costumes for me and I’m not even a great seamstress. So I have to read from my papers. Its six pages long with a lot of information and I don’t want to miss anything.
Then I did some quick corrections on the closure of my Bloomer gown just knowing some “professionals” might be eyeballing it. Yikes!! It wasn’t perfect and I don’t claim it to be. But the pressure was on, especially when they told me the Costume Council had requested they change the time of my presentation from the normal evening hours to daytime so they could drive down from Los Angeles for it. Sadly this prevented many of my friends from attending since it was a weekday and during working hours. But my friends didn’t let me down. Some members from our San Diego Costume Guild were able to attend, and some from Costumer’s Guild West in Los Angeles drove down here for it. Thanks guys! I really appreciated that! But sadly again, the Costume Council didn’t make it down. So I’ve left the door open for the future if that ever works out for them.On the day of my presentation, I arrived two hours early so we could set up and have me get familiar with the digital projector, and make sure the room was set up as I wanted it. It was in a medium sized room with round tables set up, a podium with microphone and screen on the back wall. There was a long table for me to put out my photos and things I’d collected. I included an enlarged photo of Mary Thurston Stickney, the owner of the original gown, along with 8x10 photos of the gown I’d taken. I also put my copy of the Bloomer gown on display, and wore my newest version. The museum advertised this as a Fashion Talk & Tea, and they weren’t kidding. They did a very nice spread of afternoon tea sandwiches, scones, and fruit, along with some tea, and set the tables with china plates and cups. That rang the right bells with me since I love afternoon tea.
The next day I received this very nice thank you from the History Center:
San Diego History Center wrote: "Val, On behalf of all of us here at San Diego History Center, thank you for providing an engaging, enlightening, and informative talk about our 1851 Bloomer ensemble in our Costume & Textile Collection and the efforts you took to recreate this pivotal garment in the Women's Dress Reform Movement! Your presentation went a long way in helping us to achieve our mission here at the History Center, which is to help people of all ages learn about, and enjoy, the history of San Diego, and to appreciate how our past, present, and future are interrelated. We look forward to working with you and the San Diego Costume Guild on future programs and projects in the future. :-)
So how am I going to top this?