Dr. Mary Walker Wore Pants, Fought for Vote in 1800s

In February 1870, while visiting New Orleans on a speaking tour, the activist and medical doctor Mary Edwards Walker was assaulted and arrested by a police officer. As he twisted her arm and dragged her away, the irate cop hissed something to the effect of “Have you ever had sex with a man?”

He asked this because Walker was wearing what had become her standard uniform: men’s trousers under a knee length skirt and a top hat. Such progressive fashions were just one of the many ways Dr. Walker fought patriarchy circa the late-eighteenth-to-early twentieth centuries, and this was just one of the many situations in which Walker’s non-conformity inspired invective. But this manhandling by an angry man didn’t dissuade her then, nor would it in the decades that followed.

Walker, who was born in this day in 1832, had faced down such sneers for years, ever since she began wearing men’s trousers in her youth. Her parents, progressive Christians who taught Mary and her six siblings to always question authority, encouraged this rebellion. They didn’t subscribe to gender norms — her father did the “woman’s” work at their family farm in Oswego, New York — and believed that women’s wear was not just oppressive, but unhygienic.

Mary took these lessons to heart, and for the rest of her years she argued against corsets, long skirts and all other prescribed women’s wear that hindered their movement, physically and metaphorically. Wearing pants showed patriarchal America she wouldn’t be held down. She even wore pants at her 1855 wedding to Albert Miller, an event at which she refused to include the word “obey” in her vows. As she would say later, “[Men] are not our protectors. If you were, who would there be to protect us from?”

Continue reading

Found in the LOC: 29 Pics of Female Machinists, ’41-43

Earlier this month, I posted an incredible image of a woman working on B-25 bomber during World War II. That was just one of hundreds such images taken by Office of War Information photographer Alfred T. Palmer, though only a few dozen are color.

Here are 29 of those colorized images, some taken in Long Beach, others in Akron and others in Nashville, all between 1941 and 1943, and all showing how integral women were to the war effort: A quarter of the female population was working either on the home front or as part of the armed services during those years, only to be sent back to the kitchen when the men folk returned. It was an injustice, to be sure, but helped set the stage for the women’s rights movement in the decades ahead.

[That said, had men of that era really respected and appreciated women’s efforts in the war years and kept them on, perhaps the women’s rights movement wouldn’t have been necessary….]

Anyway, check out 28other great images after the jump. I’ve kept commentary to a minimum, but I must say some of the outfits here deserved a shout out. To some, commenting on women’s clothing may seem sexist, but what can I say? I’m a fan of fashion.

Above, a woman working on “Vengeance” dive bomber in Tennessee, 1943.

[And for more Found in the LOC, click here.]

Continue reading