Believe His Prophets


Reviewing the Past

It was about the middle of the nineteenth century that, here and there in our country, women with their heavy trailing or hoop skirts began to awaken to the fact that the clothes they were wearing had a decidedly detrimental effect upon their health. It was as though a new day were dawning, and a few brave individuals stepped forward to introduce a much-needed reform. This was not an easy thing to do, for previous to this time women had been accorded no “rights,” and in the matter of dress had always followed along as custom had decreed. The idea of a reform dress actually originated among progressive women in Europe, but was quickly championed in this country by many outstanding persons. Here in America we find that the dress reform was at first linked not only with health reform but also with temperance and rights for women. BHP 253.2

The first actually to wear a dress intended to bring about an improvement in women’s clothing was Elizabeth Smith Miller. Her father, Congressman Gerrit Smith, had been very outspoken in favor of this needed reform; so she had his support as well as that of her husband in this new venture. She wore the dress first on the streets of Washington, D.C., where it was hailed as quite an item of news in the press. After wearing it for about three months, Mrs. Miller went to Seneca Falls, New York, to visit her cousin, Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the honored women of the nation because of her efforts in the cause of women. BHP 253.3

Speaking of the advantages of the new dress in contrast with the inconvenience of the prevailing styles, Mrs. Stanton wrote: BHP 254.1

“To see my cousin [Mrs. Miller] with lamp in one hand, a baby in the other, walk upstairs with ease and grace, while, with flowing robes, I pulled myself with difficulty, lamp and baby out of the question, readily convinced me that there was sore need of a reform in woman’s dress, and I promptly donned a similar costume. What incredible freedom I enjoyed for two years! Like a captive set free from his ball and chain, I was always ready for a brisk walk through sleet and snow and rain, to climb a mountain, jump over a fence, and work in the garden, and, in fact, for any necessary locomotion.” Stanton and Blatch, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, vol. 1. Harper’s. BHP 254.2

The next to join these two women was Mrs. Amelia Bloomer. She was editor of The Lily, a monthly paper for women, published at Seneca Falls, New York. In her position she was able to give great publicity to the reform dress. In fact, her name was given to an adaptation of the new costume, although she insisted that the credit really belonged to Mrs. Miller. BHP 254.3

Some months after Mrs. Miller’s visit to Seneca Falls, Mrs. Stanton and Mrs. Bloomer, with others, visited Dr. Jackson’s health institute at Glen Haven, New York. Here they met Dr. Harriet Austin, who became an ardent promoter of the reform dress, and it was through her influence that the style was modified and became generally known as the American costume, concerning which Mrs. White says: BHP 255.1

“It consists of a vest, pants, and a dress resembling a coat and reaching about halfway from the hip to the knee. This dress I have opposed.” Testimonies for the Church 1:465. BHP 255.2

Dr. Austin and Dr. Jackson, as editors of the Water Cure Journal, gave prominence to this new style of dress. BHP 255.3

Later the reform was advocated in Laws of Life, successor to Water Cure Journal. In all sections of the country were to be found those who adopted the new style of dress. Also there were those who criticized and ridiculed any attempt to change the fashion of the day. BHP 255.4