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Victorian Dress Reform

Mary Edwards Walker (1832-1919) yearned to become a physician and to work as one, but, of course, in a sad story we’ve heard too many times, she met barriers every step of the way. Medical schools would not accept her because she was a woman; physicians wouldn’t accept her in their practice, same reason. She eventually did find work as a doctor and, despite more obstacles, helped save many lives during the Civil War. She received the Congressional Medal of Honor for her contributions.

sed lifelong health problems as well as the heavy and restrictive petticoats and skirts that restricted movement. The long, full skirts and sleeves along with the open fires in the kitchens spelled disaster for many women whose clothes caught fire. The movement was international and had supporters in other countries around the world.

Of course, those who elected to wear more sensible clothing were subjected to ridicule and harassment everywhere they went. Consequently, most reforms were made in the underwear, which could be worn under clothes

and not visible. One lasting effect was the union suits or long johns for both women and men.

The movement eventually phased out in the 1920s along with the corset and the massive dresses. It might be fun to suggest a resurgence to battle the high-heeled or spike shoe. I don’t wear them and the people who do are free to make better choices without fear of ridicule and harassment.

Many of us remember having to wear flimsy dresses to school in zero-degree weather. The boys were in warm trousers and sturdy shoes. The heartless school policy-makers saw no problem with this.

What to wear to school and later, to work was a daily problem until I settled on a work uniform of long-sleeved shirt, jacket, and simple straight skirt, all of which I found at Goodwill.

I could go on and on raging against the fashion industry and the idiotic social restrictions that afflict all of us, but you’ve got your own grievances, I’m sure. I’ll conclude with a shout-out for the courage of those who supported the Dress Reform Movement.


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