Seventh-day Adventists and the Reform Dress

Chapter 1—A Plea for Women

In the literature of that period there is abundant evidence of the truthfulness of Mrs. White’s arraignment of the current fashions in women’s dress. About three years earlier a spokesman for the unfortunate sex, when addressing a large audience in Washington, D. C., made the following plaint regarding the disadvantages and tortures of women: SDARD 1.1

“Women’s clothing is arranged with such an eye to inconvenience and burdensomeness, that if they go out at all it is under great disadvantage. if they should cross the threshold, they may dampen their feet and soil their skirts on the steps, and have their unprotected limbs chilled by the wind. If they wish to walk, they must wait till the dew is off the grass, and a sultry summer sun detracts from the benefit of it. If they work in the garden, more strength is expended on account of the dress than with the plants, for it not only is so arranged that they cannot make a motion easily, but it must be gathered up in their arms while they work with their hands. If they go to market they must carry skirts as well as a basket, for dew, dust, mud, or snow has to be cleared. If they ride they must be lifted in and out of the carriage, while they take care of their skirts, and even then they are often caught, and have to be extricated from them; and if, by accident, any danger comes to life or limb in carriage or on horseback, it is tenfold greater on account of such shackling garments....

“If they turn to the leafy adorned temple of nature to recreate, they must zigzag their way around every bush and log, in spending all their care on muslin instead of enjoying nature; and if they come to a fence the field beyond is forbidden ground to them, though it be all abloom with choicest flowers.”—Ellen Beard Harmon, Dress Reform: Its Physiological and Moral Bearing, (a lecture delivered at the Y.M.C.A. Hall, Washington, D. C., February 10. 1862, pp. 10, 11; New York: Davies and Kent, 1862).

For more than a decade voices of protest had been heard against the barbarous, health-destroying styles of dress imposed upon women by those who regulated the fashions. Eleven years earlier the Honorable Gerrett Smith, a member of Congress, declared: SDARD 1.2

“A reformation in the dress of woman is very much needed. It is indispensable to her health and usefulness. While in the prison of the present dress, she is, and ever will remain comparatively unhealthful and useless.”—Quoted by Mrs. M. Angeline Merritt in Dress Reform, Practically and Physiologically Considered, pp. 169, 170 (Buffalo: Jewett, Thomas, and Co., 1852).