The Lily, the first newspaper for women, was issued from 1849 until 1853 under the editorship of Amelia Bloomer (1818-1894).
Published in Seneca Falls, New York and priced at 50 cents a year, the newspaper began as a temperance journal for “home distribution” among members of the Seneca Falls Ladies Temperance Society, which had formed in 1848.
Bloomer felt that as women lecturers were considered unseemly, writing was the best way for women to work for reform. The paper encountered a number of early obstacles and the Society’s enthusiasm died out, but Bloomer felt a commitment to publish and assumed full responsibility for editing and publishing the paper.
Originally, the title page had the legend “Published by a committee of ladies”, but after 1850 only Bloomer’s name appeared on the masthead.
Although women’s exclusion from membership in temperance societies and other reform activities was the main force behind the initial publication of The Lily, it was not at first a radical paper, its editorial stance conforming to the emerging stereotype of women as “defenders of the home.”
In the first issue, Bloomer wrote:
It is woman that speaks through The Lily…Intemperance is the great foe to her peace and happiness. It is that above all that has made her Home desolate and beggared her offspring… Surely, she has the right to wield her pen for its Suppression. Surely, she may without throwing aside the modest refinements which so much become her sex, use her influence to lead her fellow mortals from the destroyer’s path.
The Lily always maintained its focus on temperance. Fillers often told horror stories about the effects of alcohol. For example, the May, 1849 issue noted, “A man when drunk fell into a kettle of boiling brine at Liverpool, Onondaga Co. and was scalded to death.” But gradually the newspaper began to include articles about other subjects of interest to women, many from the pen of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, writing under the pseudonym “sunflower.” Her earliest articles dealt with temperance, child-bearing and education, but she soon turned to the issue of women’s rights, writing about laws unfair to women and demanding change.
Bloomer was greatly influenced by Stanton and gradually became a convert to the cause of women’s rights. She also became interested in dress reform, advocating that women wear the outfit that came to be known as the “Bloomer costume.” Stanton and others copied a knee-length dress with pants worn by Elizabeth Smith Miller of Geneva, New York. Although Bloomer refused to take credit for inventing the pants-and-tunic outfit, her name became associated with it because she wrote articles about the unusual dress, printed illustrations in The Lily and wore the costume herself.
The circulation of The Lily rose from 500 per month to 4,000 per month because of the dress reform controversy. At the end of 1853, the Bloomers moved to Mount Vernon, Ohio, where Amelia Bloomer continued to edit The Lily, which by then had a national circulation of over 6,000. Bloomer sold The Lily in 1854 to Mary Birdsall because she and her husband, Dexter were moving to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where no facilities for publishing the paper were available. She remained a contributing editor for the two years The Lily survived after she sold it. The Lily published its final issue December 15, 1856.
The Lily: A Temperance and Abolitionist Newspaper, spans 1849 to 1856.
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