Sending a Message

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In 1851, Elizabeth Smith Miller wore an outfit inspired by a trend she had seen in Europe where women had taken to wearing Turkish pants under their skirts. Such an outfit was so much less restrictive that layers of petticoats, steel hoops, and corsets.

Miller's cousin Elizabeth Cady Stanton decided to try it out and her neighbor and friend Amelia Bloomer began to promote the new look in her newspaper, The Lily.

The outfit became to be known as the "Bloomer Costume" after Ameila and it was to become a symbol of women's rights. The outfit was promoted as being beneficial to women's health and was popular with feminists and suffragists. It was, however, also often ridiculed in the press.

The Daily Alta California reported in June 1851:
"The Latest Fashion –The N. Y. Herald thus treats the latest style of ladies dress – a style which appears to be making considerable progress in the Eastern States as well as in California, where we are somewhat familiar with similar exhibitions of female taste: ..."

Here in Santa Cruz County, Eliza Farnham described wearing "the Albanian Costume" in a letter to New England friends in November 1850.

In an undated letter to the same mutual friends, circa 1850-1851, Georgina Bruce Kirby wrote: "I luxuriate in the unparalled [sic] freedom of turkish pants & tunic with frequent rides on horseback ... By the way it is my belief that this modification of the Turkish & Albanian dress which Mrs. F[arnham] & I find so convenient will eventually become the fashion here for you see we are amenable to no vulgar public opinion & – I say it with all due modesty – we are the people of the place ..."

In January 1852, the Sacramento Daily Union wrote: "An eastern journal says Mrs. Farnham has been seen in California shingling her own house, rigged in full Bloomer costume."

Dalily Alta California, August 30, 1851

As the suffrage war raged, the suffragists were having a problem. Their "masculine" styled attire was proving to be a weapon against them. Anti-suffrage sympathizers mocked them. They began pitching the suffragists as anti-womanhood. They needed to send a different message!


Yellow Ribbons
In 1867, Kansas suffragists adopted the state symbol of the sunflower. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were in the state at the time as Kansas was considering a state suffrage referendum. They adopted the sunflower as the symbol of suffrage and hence yellow became the symbolic color of the suffrage movement. Suffragists and supporters were urged to “show your colors” by wearing yellow ribbons, buttons, and sashes.

Yellow Ribbons

Click to see the yellow ribbons at

At the opening of the Santa Cruz County Convention of Women Suffrage in May 1896: "The ladies of the Santa Cruz Political Equality Association wore a tiny bow of yellow ribbon as their special insignia while all the visiting ladies were distinguished by a bunch of yellow flowers at the girdle of a modest corsagiere of the same hue."

Watch the play Yellow Ribbons, based upon historical events in 1896 Santa Cruz.

Suffragist versus Suffragette

In Britain, the suffragists were known as suffragettes. In the early 1900s, they began to use militant and disruptive tactics. American suffragists sought to distinguish themselves by their non-violent, milder, more conciliatory methods.

"The spectacular and violent methods adopted by the band of English "suffragettes," as the women suffragists are called, has been much condemned, yet the result of it will probably be that the women of Great Britain in a lump will get the ballot long before those of the "free" United States." Santa Cruz Sentinel, February 27, 1907.

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Purple, White, and Yellow - Loyalty, Purity, and Hope

The British suffragettes used the colors green, white, and violet, which stood for “Give Women the Vote,” while also representing dignity, purity, and hope.

American suffragists replaced green with gold to honor the use of the sunflower in the 1867 suffrage referendum campaign. Purple would come to stand for loyalty, white for purity, and gold for hope.

In addition, white dresses were less expensive and stood out in contrast against the men wearing dark suits. Today, women continue to wear the color white to pay tribute to the suffragists and the continued fight for women’s rights.

Suffragists wanted to send the message that giving women the vote in no way would affect their womanhood. They dressed modestly and enhanced their attire with suffrage jewelry, sashes, "rosettes," corsages, and hats.

Hats became an important symbol, because every woman wore one outside of the home all of the time. Men, however, removed their hat when indoors. And so as more women lobbied in Congress, the more hats became a suffrage tool - a symbol of incursion into a man's world.

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