jenness_miller_headline Whether or not to use cosmetics would be a social and feminist issue in the 1910s and 1920s; however, in the late 1800s the hot button issue for women was dress reform. Many women were tired of being laced into corsets so tight that their health was permanently impaired. Corseting could result in damaged or broken ribs and difficulty in breathing (often the shortness of breath was mistaken for the symptoms of tuberculosis). And the romantic fainting and swooning spells which required households to have smelling salts on hand were not so romantic when you consider that they were the result of restricted lung capacity. There is also compelling evidence that some women used corsets as a way to terminate an unwanted pregnancy! corset_damage_2 Internal organs rearranged. Sometimes a tight laced corset was a requisite for employment. Women who were employed in dress shops, and therefore required to model the latest fashions, were often subjected to the most painful restraint. The following quote appeared in the Chicago Tribune on November 3, 1907: “The girls are laced up till they are nearly cut in two. Locked corsets are used, the key being kept by the manageress, and the corsets being worn night and day.” milleraj Mrs. Alice Jenness Miller Photo – Univ of Pennsylvania One of the proponents of dress reform for health and aesthetic reasons was Mrs. Alice Jenness Miller. On April 5, 1889 Mrs. Miller appeared at the Los Angeles Theater to give a demonstration of her comfortable dresses and undergarments to the women of the city. According to newspaper accounts it was standing room only in the theater when Mrs. M. took the stage. Men were shooed out of the place so that the reformer could model her undergarments without embarrassment. Miller addressed the crowd and told them that the trunk of clothing that she used for her demonstrations had gone missing, and she made a snarky comment about the incompetence of the men in charge of the trunk. Her remark made the women in the audience chuckle knowingly and when the laughter had subsided Miller launched into her lecture. The women in the audience need not have been worried that Miller’s presentation would suffer as a result of the missing trunk – she was a trooper. She arrived on stage wrapped in a cloak which she dropped dramatically to the floor, revealing a fetching divided skirt which she referred to as leglettes! Divided skirts were gaining in popularity due, in part, to women becoming more interested in participating in sports. Just try to play tennis or ride a bicycle wearing a giant floor length cage under your heavy full length dress – I dare you. Foot binding in China was an extreme version of fashion as oppression – somewhat less obvious were Western fashions such as a bulky bustle and tight corset. Women may not have been kept in cages with iron bars, but their mode of dress kept them in captivity just the same. petticoat with bustle Mrs. Miller advocated a freedom of dress that would be healthful to women, while remaining aesthetically pleasing to all. Her presentation at the Los Angeles Theater was a hit (and she would return a few more times over the years). A Los Angeles Times reporter observed that “All women cannot be of the almost ideal height and weight that distinguish Mrs. Miller, but all, large or small, may carry themselves according to healthful and natural laws…” Amen to that.