The Day Girls Were Allowed to Wear Pants to School

by Jan on August 20, 2018

It was in the fall of 1969, we budding women shoved open the doors of Woodrow Wilson High School in Portland Oregon and strutted down the locker-lined, noisy halls with our heads held high, basking in a newly granted freedom. It was on this momentous day, at long last, women of every shape and size were allowed to hang up our skirts and dresses and wear pants to school. Previous to this day, girls were to look different than boys, and wearing pants would  be considered ‘un-lady like’…which I’m guessing was a quality we were to be aspiring toward…? On cold, stormy snow days were permitted to wear pants under skirts to walk to school. Once at school, we were to take off the pants until the walk home. 

And I do believe that on this one day, this historical day that we were allowed to put one leg in and then another, zip or button up, whether spoken or thought, in the minds of young ladies, courageous and spirited or self conscious and timid, the question,“Does this make my butt look big” was born.

Kidding aside, a few interesting facts I dug up as to the early history of women’s liberation from cumbersome clothing in America. 

  • 1851 Editor of the women’s newspaper, The Lily, New Yorker Amelia Bloomer introduces  “a new ladies’ garment comparing a skirt cropped at the knees over a billowy pair of trouser-like leggings”
  • Elizabeth Smith Miller is often credited as the first woman to wear pants. Miller was a suffragette.
  • Cady Stanton, leading suffragette wears the bloomers, but as their popularity grew she stopped wearing them out of concern they would diminish the serious efforts of the movement. 
  • 1874 in San Francisco the fight for dress reform continues.
  • 1892 Mrs. S.C. Smith strolls down Grove St. in San Francisco wearing a short, loose-fitting princess dress over lady’s riding trousers. Pictures published in the publishing the San Fransisco Call earned her support as helped fuel the battle for women’s rights…(

 but here’s my favorite story…                                                                                                     

It’s 1896. Mrs. Louise Cranston is angrily reprimanded  by her husband Tom after she orders a suit of bloomers, “You shan’t wear bloomers!” he exclaims. With her neighbor Mrs. Kynaston, they devise a plan to sway Tom’s decision and as he enters his home that evening, five women in sporty bloomers stand before him,  but to no avail. “Don’t speak to me of bloomers again”, he snorts, “…you may go to those women’s rights meetings if you want, and you may wear standing collars and men’s waistcoats, but you shall not wear trousers…” Louise agrees and vows to never mention bloomers again. “That’s a dear, good girl,” he replies and promises to do anything else she asks of him.

The plot thickens as Louise the next evening, asks Tom to make good on his promise and help her out with a task by having him put on an unfinished dress so she can pin and finish the hemming. He keeps his promise and reluctantly stands up on a table, dressed fully in women’s attire. But alas Mr. Kynaaston walks through the door (as pre-planned by Mrs. Kynaaston and Louise) and a humiliated Tom is snared in their trap. A bit of humor covers Toms embarrassment and he declares to Louise, “If you’ll call my promise off, you may have the bloomers or anything else you want”. Good Man. 

(Wild West Issue 2016 Pioneers and Settlers by Deanna Kerr).

and finally we arrived:

So there it is. Just a bit of enlightenment to remind us how far we have come, and the next time we attempt to squeeze into those skinny jeans, we can thank or blame it on those who went before.

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