On the evening of May 12th in 1851, there was a meeting on the sleepy streets of Seneca Falls, New York, that would change history.
Three of the major forces of the 19th century women’s rights movement happened to be attending the same anti-slavery meeting. Walking home from the event, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was hosting the night’s anti-slavery speakers for dinner, came upon her friend Amelia Bloomer and one of Bloomer’s friends. There, on the street corner, Bloomer introduced Stanton to Susan B. Anthony.
In her memoir Eighty Years and More, Stanton recalled that she “liked her thoroughly.” However what Anthony didn’t like so much was not being asked to Stanton’s house for dinner with the organizers of the earlier meeting. Stanton wrote, with the wound of the slight probably long healed-over, “[Susan] has never forgiven me, as she wished to see and hear all she could from our noble friends.”
Anthony had been involved with the abolition and temperance movements, but as women — with little power in the mid-19th century — she and her colleagues weren’t making much headway. But she was also a teacher, and worried that her students could never achieve their full potential in a country with such a low regard for girls and women. She sought out Stanton, as one of the most influential leaders of the emerging women’s rights movement, and together the two worked tirelessly for more than half a century.
For her part, Bloomer was also a major supporter of women’s rights — and her preferred brand of activism required sensible clothes. Though she didn’t invent it, for a time she promoted a new, more comfortable clothing style in magazine articles and in her newspaper for women called The Lily. The new style was somewhat based on the idea of Middle Eastern women’s dress, which consisted of loose fitting pants gathered at the bottom worn under a short skirt. Bloomer eventually returned to more conventional dress, but “bloomers” have been named for her ever since.
In 1998, sculptor Ted Aub, a professor of art and architecture at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, was commissioned to create a statue in honor of the 150th anniversary of the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention. His bronze statue, “When Anthony Met Stanton,” was unveiled in 1999, overlooking the Seneca River and just down the street from Bloomer’s house. It’s also not far from Stanton’s house on Washington Street, the site of that dinner party snub so many years before.