One of the main rhetorical weapons for the women’s movement, in their bid for dress reform were the thousands of incidents involving the large hooped skirts that contributed to the death or injury of women (Mattingly). One of the major incident which was used as rhetorical fodder in the quest for dress reform was the sinking of the British transatlantic passenger liner RMS Atlantic. On the 1st of April, 1873, The Atlantic sank off the coast of Nova Scotia killing 562 people. With the exception of one small boy, all the women and children on board the ship drowned. The women’s movement made full use of this incident, citing the dresses of the women as the reason for their deaths. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps quoted the survivors of the sinking as saying:
“Every effort was made to assist the women up the masts and out of danger till help arrived, but they could not climb and we were forced to leave them to their fate” (Mattingly)
The woman’s rights and temperance advocate Amelia Bloomer advocated the wearing of a knee length skirt and Turkish pantaloons for women. This costume became associated with her in the public mind as the ‘Bloomer’ and after an initial welcome run was generally ridiculed in the press (Nelson). The popularity of the bicycle finally made the Bloomer acceptable to the public and mass publications presented variations of the Bloomer as appropriate manners of dress for women bicyclists (Mattingly).
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