Archive for June, 2017

Baseball’s Unsung Heroines

June 27th, 2017
Bloomer Girls circa 1919. Source: Library of Congress

Bloomer Girls circa 1919. Source: Library of Congress

While baseball is largely a male dominated sport today, the first team at any level to be paid to play baseball was an all-female African American team, the Philadelphia Dolly Vardens. The team played in long-sleeved calico dresses, high button shoes, and red jockey caps. The Dolly Vardens were paid to play baseball two years before the first men’s team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, formed in 1869. After Amelia Bloomer designed her famous Turkish-style pants, women donned the new clothes, took to the ball park as “Bloomer Girls,” and traveled the country competing against both male and female teams. Numerous women earned their living playing baseball from the 1890s until the early 1930s. Yet public opinion still reflected an entrenched belief that baseball was far too dangerous and strenuous for the “delicate” female constitution.

During the 1930s in Tennessee, Joe Engel, owner of the AA minor league team the Chattanooga Lookouts, was always looking for ways to fill seats at games. Engel, known as the “Barnum of Baseball,” frequently used publicity stunts as a way to get larger audiences into his stadium, as attendance dropped due to the financial hardship of the Great Depression. He caught wind of 17-year-old Jackie Mitchell and though he could garner more publicity for the Lookouts by signing her to the team. Mitchell was an all-around athlete who played multiple sports including tennis, basketball, and boxing, but her favorite was baseball. As a child, she lived next to future Baseball Hall of Famer Dazzy Vance who coached her on the “drop ball” pitch which she used while playing for an all-girls team in Chattanooga. On March 25, 1931, Engel signed Mitchell to the Lookouts and promoted his team as the only professional baseball team with a female pitcher. One week later, Mitchell was called to the mound in her first professional game.

Jackie Mitchell in uniform. Source: Library of Congress

Jackie Mitchell in uniform. Source: Library of Congress

During the 1930s, it was common for major league teams to play exhibition games against minor league affiliates. On their way back to New York from their Spring Training facility, the New York Yankees stopped in Chattanooga on April 2, 1931 to play an exhibition game against the Lookouts. Pitcher Clyde Barfoot started the game for the Lookouts, but was pulled by the manager after giving up hits to the first two Yankees hitters. Mitchell was called into the game to face the next two hitters in the lineup: Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Mitchell’s first pitch to Ruth was a ball. Ruth then swung and missed the next two pitches and was caught looking for strike three. Gehrig struck out swinging on three consecutive pitches. Mitchell only had the “drop ball” in her pitching repertoire, but she used it successfully to strike out two of the greatest hitters in baseball history in just seven pitches. The crowd of 4,000 gave her a minutes-long standing ovation. She walked the next batter, though, at which point Barfoot returned to the game to replace her – and ended up losing 14-4.

Babe Ruth was not happy about the outcome of his at bat against Mitchell. He allegedly yelled at the umpire, kicked the dirt, and threw his bat after being called out on strikes. After the game, Ruth is quoted as saying, “I don’t know what’s going to happen if they begin to let women in baseball. Of course, they will never make good. Why? Because they are too delicate. It would kill them to play ball everyday.” Major League Baseball Commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, took Ruth’s side on the issue and voided Mitchell’s contract to play with the Lookouts, claiming baseball to be “too strenuous” for women.

Jackie Mitchell with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe Engel. Source: Library of Congress

Jackie Mitchell with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe Engel. Source: Library of Congress

Major League Baseball officially barred all women from the game on June 21, 1952. The All-American Girls Softball League was formed in 1943 and eventually became the 600-player-strong All-American Girls Baseball League (AAGBL) which played for twelve seasons. These teams were immortalized in the 1992 film, A League of Their Own, and the AAGBL finally dispelled the belief that the sport is not “too strenuous” for women.

After the AAGBL dissolved in 1954, few women were able to break the gender barrier. Toni Stone, Connie Morgan, and Mamie “Peanuts” Johnson played alongside men in the Negro Leagues, but a significant female representation in the sport has yet to materialize. In 1998, minor league pitcher Ila Borders became the first woman to win a professional game, but still could not break into the majors and retired two years later. In 2014, Mo’ne Davis became the first African American girl to play in, the first girl to pitch a winning game in, and the first girl to pitch a shutout game in the Little League Baseball World Series. As of 2017, she continues to be a rising star in the sports world and, although no one knows what the future holds, many believe she will be the first woman to play on a Major League Baseball team.


Originally published as “Baseball’s Unsung Heroines” by Cathy Pickles, April 9, 2012 and “Historical Women Who Rocked: Jackie Mitchell” by Elissa Blatmann, April 2, 2013.

Updated and republished by Kenna Howat, Program Assistant.


Biking, another American pastime, was influential in the women suffrage movement. Click here to read about the history of women and bicycles.


Further Reading:


Pedaling the Path to Freedom: American Women on Bicycles

June 27th, 2017

Although it seems very unlikely, bicycles had a revolutionary impact on the women’s movement of the early 20th century. Bicycles promised freedom to women long accustomed to relying on men for transportation. Suddenly, the relatively inexpensive and readily accessible technological innovation gave women more control over where they went and when.

Bicycles took American consumers by storm in the 1890s. At the turn of the century, trains, automobiles, and streetcars were growing in use in urban areas, but people still largely depended on horses for transportation. Horses, and especially carriages, were expensive and women often had to depend on men to hitch up the horses for travel. While horses were cheap to maintain in rural areas, owning a horse in a city was expensive, with extra costs for housing in stables and the upkeep of the animals. Surrounded by inefficient and expensive forms of travel, bicycles arrived in cities with the promise of practicality and affordability. Bicycles were relatively inexpensive and provided men and women with individual transportation for business, sports, or recreation.

Changes in style

The first wave of the women’s rights movement was well underway by the peak of the American bicycle craze in the 1890s. The bicycle, in many ways, came to embody the spirit of change and progress that the women’s rights movement sought to engender. In 1895, Frances Willard, leader of the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, published a book entitled A Wheel within a Wheel: How I learned to Ride the Bicycle, which chronicled her quest to learn to ride the bicycle late in life to aid her deteriorating health. Although she died just three years later, Willard’s reflections on bicycle riding encouraged others. She decried the cumbersome and restrictive fashions of the day and called for more sensible and practical fashion for female bicyclists. Willard wrote:

“A woman with [bustle] bands hanging on her hips, and dress snug about the waist and chokingly tight at the throat, with heavy trimmed skirts dragging down the back and numerous folds heating the lower part of the spine, and with tight shoes, ought to be in agony. If women ride, they must…dress more rationally… If they do this, many prejudices will melt away. Reason will gain upon precedent and ere long the comfortable, sensible, and artistic wardrobe of the rider will make the conventional style of women’s dress absurd to the eye and un-durable to the understanding.”

Bike messenger in bloomers for the National Women’s Party Headquarters. Source: Library of Congress

Bike messenger in bloomers for the National Women’s Party Headquarters. Source: Library of Congress

Women soon found that the traditional dress of corsets, bustles, and long voluminous skirts impeded the supposed ease of bicycle travel. As Willard foreshadowed, this prompted a change in women’s fashion including lighter skirts, bloomers (sometimes known as divided skirts), or even trousers to allow for a less cumbersome ride. Bicycle riding came to embody the individuality women were working toward with the suffrage movement. It also gave women a mode of transportation and clothing that allowed for freedom of movement and of travel.

 Independence and self-reliance

Bicycles came to symbolize the quintessential “New Woman” of the late 19th century. The Progressive Era was a time of great social and cultural change in the United States and the “New Woman” embodied this change. Images reflected many of the new opportunities for careers and education that were becoming available. The “New Woman” was deemed to be young, college educated, active in sports, interested in pursuing a career, and looking for a marriage based on equality. She was also almost always depicted on a bike.

Credit: Frederick Burr Opper Source: Library of Congress

Credit: Frederick Burr Opper Source: Library of Congress

In an 1895, at the age of 80, suffragist leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton claimed that “the bicycle will inspire women with more courage, self-respect, self-reliance…” Stanton predicted the power of the bicycle in transforming the lives of women, realizing that the independence women were gaining because of this invention would allow for growth in other areas of their character. Having the ability to be fully self-reliant, often for the first time in their lives, would encourage women to be more courageous in other areas, such as demanding voting rights. Stanton’s friend and fellow suffragist leader, Susan B. Anthony, echoed Stanton’s sentiments. At 76, Anthony opined, “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

Women today, especially in the developing world, are gaining this same feeling of freedom and self-reliance as the “New Woman.” Bicycles allow women an escape from sexual harassment too often encountered on public transportation and provide an inexpensive means of travel in countries where access to automobiles and public transportation are limited. Multiple aid organizations donate bicycles to women as a means of liberation and teach them the skills to fix their own bike so they do not have to rely on men for help. Almost 200 years after its invention, bicycles continue to have a positive impact on women’s lives.


Originally published May 1, 2012.
Updated and republished by Kenna Howat, Program Assistant, June 2017.


Grilling, another American pastime, has long been considered a male dominated arena. Click here to read about why women should be just as involved in grilling activities as men.



To Grill or Not to Grill?

June 27th, 2017

The image of a woman outside grilling might raise some eyebrows. Today grilling is still considered to be a largely male pursuit and is a remaining bastion of stereotyped gender roles for women and men: “women cook, men grill.”

The stereotype is so pervasive that the Land O’ Lakes Company issued a press release a few years ago that probed this mysterious “female grilling phobia.” According to a study commissioned by the company, “more than 84 percent of women would be at least a little nervous or afraid to use the barbecue grill on their own.”

Why do women then fear the grill? After all, our foremothers have been cooking over fires from time immemorial! How did this stereotype gain popularity and why do we seem to be buying into it?

Advertisers and marketing companies have been selling us the notion of grilling as a backyard “male sport” since the 1940s. Ads often showed women were more suited to kitchen cooking and men more equipped for “rugged, outdoor cooking.

Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Even in today’s commercials we still see these tried and old stereotyped depictions of men as the designated grill masters.

Elizabeth Karmel is working to change this stereotype. She is on a mission to get “Girls at the Grill.” She created the group to encourage girls and women to get in on the fun of grilling and outdoor entertaining. Karmel listed these five reasons why women should grill:

  1.  It’s fun!
    “Why do you think the guys kept it to themselves all these years?!”
  2. It tastes great too
    “Grilling is the best way to cook, bar none. There is no other cooking technique that gives you this much flavor for your effort. The natural caramelization and signature smokiness enhances almost every food. My motto is, ‘If you can eat it, you can grill it!’”
  3. Easy clean-up
    “Cooking outdoors is relaxing, casual and stress-relieving – just like a vacation! And the bonus is you get a great homemade meal with very little effort and almost no clean-up!”
  4. It’s does the body good
    “Seriously, grilling is intrinsically healthy. You aren’t sautéing in a lot of butter and oil, and you don’t need heavy sauces to give the food flavor. Grilling naturally intensifies the inherent flavors of the food, making it burst with flavor.

Meats, poultry and fish are a given, but the real transformation is with vegetables and fruit. Grilling turns vegetables from something you know you are supposed to eat to something craveable that you can’t stop eating. If you are accustomed to eating steamed asparagus, try it grilled and you will never eat it any other way!”

  1.  A cook-out is always a party
    “…And girls love parties! Whether you are grilling for just a few friends, or a crowd, cooking outdoors makes everyone happy and once your neighbors smell the grill, chances are they’ll invite themselves to join in the fun!”
Photo Credit: Fletcherjcm

Photo Credit: Fletcherjcm

So ladies, to grill or not to grill: that is the question?


By Sydnee C. Winston, Project Coordinator
Originally published May 2013

Updated by Jeanette Patrick, Program Manager
June 2017


Interested in finding out about another American past time? Click here to read about the woman who struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

Summer 2017 Women’s History Events

June 22nd, 2017

Coming to the DC area? Here are some Summer 2017 Women’s History Events

There are many wonderful museums in Washington, DC that have planned terrific women’s history programs this summer. Some of our favorites are listed below.

Walking Tours with National Women’s History Museum

National Women’s History Museum is excited to offer two unique walking tours. Women of Civil War Alexandria discusses women’s roles during the Civil War in Alexandria, Virginia. In Their Footsteps: Woman Suffrage follows the route of the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession through DC and discusses the struggle for equality and the right to vote that lasted over 72 years. Private tours are also available.

Click here to buy tickets.

The Hello Girls: America’s First Female Soldiers in War Abroad – and at Home at the Smithsonian

Join historian Elizabeth Cobbs as she discusses her newest book The Hello Girls. Her book tells the story of the first women to serve in the United States Army as part of the Signal Corps during World War I. Dr. Cobbs will be interviewed by Cokie Roberts to discuss the significance of the Hello Girls’ contribution to the Allied victory in World War I and the progression of women’s rights. The Hello Girls will be available for signing. Member pricing available. Charter Members contact to receive the promo code.

Click here to buy tickets.

Women of Mount Vernon Tour at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Learn about some of the incredible women who lived and worked at Mount Vernon during George Washington’s time as well as the women who came later and were instrumental in saving and preserving Washington’s beloved home.

Click here to buy tickets.

Records of Rights at the National Archives

America’s founding documents – the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights – are icons of human liberty. But the ideals enshrined in those documents did not initially apply to all Americans. Women, one of the largest groups of United States citizens, could not vote until 1920. Nevertheless, records from as early as 1804 show women organizing and striving for full equality. The exhibition showcases original and facsimile National Archives documents.

Click here to learn more.

196 Countries Solo, As A Woman

June 10th, 2017

At some point in our lives, we become inspired and almost transcended by the actions of others whom we look up to with awe. Some of us so much so, that we want to march to the beat of their drum, to frolic in their footsteps, and to taste the air that they breathe. Everything I had done in my life prior to Expedition 196, was with the intention that I had the ability to do anything men could do. I never wanted to succumb to the notion that; “just because I’m a woman, I’m automatically limited.” Flash forward to July 24th, 2015, my biggest fear was literally stepping foot on to the plane, and flying 38,000 feet in the air and over the Pacific to destination number one, Palau. At the bottom of my list of fears, was kidnapping, and that fear didn’t resurface until I was in country number 196: Yemen. Ironically, the prominent fear of kidnapping wasn’t that of my own, but of what others around me were telling me.

Credit: Cassie De Pecol

Credit: Cassie De Pecol

Research and tactical knowledge was what I needed to make this Expedition a success, and through research, came motivation and yearning that inevitably drove me to pursue this odyssey. Amelia Earhart, someone I’ve always looked up to, had been a woman of courage, fortitude, and unforgiving passion to forge her own path. Prior to my departure, when I was researching women who have traveled the world, there was one woman in particular who’s story really struck a chord. There’s a fascinating story about a woman named Jeanne Baret, who was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. It baffled me that someone could do such a thing and stay safe, let alone as a woman in the mid 1700’s, with no modern technology. But the fascinating thing about it was that she did it dressed as a man. I wondered if this classified being able to have the bragging rights to say that she circumnavigated the world as a woman, but at the same time, you have to give her an immense amount of credit for being so crafty as to do so dressed as a man. How quirky yet meaningful in the way women viewed travel back then.

Credit: Cassie De Pecol

Credit: Cassie De Pecol

Back in 1890, Nellie Bly raced around the world in 72 days. Her story resonated with me because she broke Jules Verne’s fictional record of 80 days. She persisted as a journalist and female explorer, while at the same time being tested by her male counterparts as she attempted to get her story out there. What she did was intriguing to me in that sense as she paved the way into history.

Credit: Cassie De Pecol

Credit: Cassie De Pecol

There are some unavoidable conflicts that are impossible to avoid as a woman due to our genetic makeup, which scares me. With that said, the fear that we instill in our minds as women of something bad happening to us if we do something alone, is immense to the point of unnecessarily extreme fear. As women, it’s crucial to always be aware of our surroundings and know the dangers, but let us not allow fear to hold us back from pursuing anything from our dreams to the other side of the spectrum; what only men have done up until this point. Moving forward, I believe that it’s not necessarily group strength, coming together as women, but finding the strength within each and every one of us enough to love ourselves and have confidence enough to know ourselves and allow the fires within us to shine through our movements and actions, in a positive and influential way. Too often, we seek strength from others, when in truth; the strength we seek can be found within ourselves. Women, both young and old, are at the greatest advantage to push boundaries, test current limitations, and strive forward to shift our world in a positive direction for women empowerment. With each “risk” we take as individuals, be it traveling to 196 countries or strengthening our institutions with female driven power, we enhance and educate our world, leaving behind a legacy for future generations of young women. This is what is vital towards crafting a powerful future for womankind and adventurers alike.


By Cassie De Pecol  |  Expedition 196


Credit: Irvin Rivera | Graphics Metropolis

Credit: Irvin Rivera | Graphics Metropolis

Cassie De Pecol is a 27-year-old woman from the USA who in July of 2015, took off on a 196 country solo expedition in an effort to break a Guinness World Record to be the fastest person and first woman on record to travel to every country in the world. In February of 2017, she did just that. While spending the 18-month journey as a global Peace Ambassador and sustainable tourism advocate, she spoke to over 16,000 university students around the world across 40 countries, discussing the importance of women’s achievement and responsible tourism which encompassed the planting of trees to offset her carbon footprint, and collecting water samples to test for micro plastics. She broke two Guinness World Records; ‘Fastest Person’ and ‘Fastest Female’ to travel to every sovereign nation and will be publishing a memoir, launching a non-profit, and releasing an educational documentary in the near future. A triathlete and student of Krav Maga, Cassie’s goals have always been fitness/health focused, and during her travels she made it a priority to train as well as partake in distance races.Cassie hopes to inspire women of all ages and specifically future generations to pursue their passions through travel and living a healthy lifestyle.


Follow Cassie on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat: @cassiedepecol. Find her on Facebook, YouTube, and her website

Cassie De Pecol isn’t the only one encouraging women to spend time outside. Click here to read about a group that has been doing so for over 100 years


Female Adventurers

June 10th, 2017

For centuries, women have been told to stay home, take care of the cooking and cleaning, and don’t push the boundaries. Read about seven incredible women who challenged stereotypes and paved the way to give thousands of women the chance to spend time in the great outdoors.

Want to learn more about Cassie De Pecol’s trip around the world? Click here.

What Did Girls Want? Independence, Challenge, and a Cool Uniform

June 10th, 2017

Just over one hundred years ago, in 1916, a newly published book encouraged girls to build electromagnets, study the aerodynamics of flight, and send messages using Morse code. It instructed girls in the mechanics of pitching a tent, building a campfire, and using a compass. In a society that adhered to Victorian beliefs that there were “boy” activities and “girl” activities, emboldening girls to become knowledgeable and proficient in non-traditionally feminine skills was somewhat radical.

What was the title of this revolutionary publication? How Girls Can Help Their Country: A Handbook for Girl Scouts. The author was Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA.


Low was introduced to scouting in Great Britain, becoming close friends with Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, and his sister Agnes Baden-Powell, who founded a sister organization. The overwhelmingly positive reaction of girl to becoming British Girl Guides encouraged Low’s belief that all girls would benefit from scouting. She formed the first American Girl Scout troop in Savannah in 1912.

The turn of the 20th century saw many changes and challenges old ideas. Women increasingly confronted social conventions that discouraged them from going to college, finding constructive work, or participating in civic life. In a changing world, many parents feared that scouting would encourage girls to become tomboys. Low and the women who helped her to establish troops understood the challenges but also the potential rewards. “If you asked her daughter [why she wants to participate],” Low said talking about the rewards of scouting, “She would probably reply, ‘Because Girl Scouts have real Fun. “But,” she continued, “if I were to analyze the result of Scouting I would tell that mother that the most valuable asset her girl would gain is a sense of Individual Responsibility . . . brought about by Team Work.” Girls who embraced scouting did so precisely because it was a creative program that recognized changing roles.


The 1916 Girl Scout Handbook was the second American edition. It expanded upon the requirements for earning awards and changed the name from merely “proficiency” badges to “merit” badges. While girls earned badges that reflected traditional women’s roles, such as Child Nurse, Invalid Cooking, and Housekeeper, several others required deep exploration of technical and scientific concepts, i.e. “boy” stuff. Girls responded to the opportunity in droves.

Merit Badges


Two Savannah, Georgia troops in 1912 with 18 girls had grown to 70,000 members nationwide in 1920. At Girl Scouts’ silver anniversary in 1937, more than 430,000 girls were enrolled. Girl Scouts numbered over 2.8 million scouts and adult leaders in 2014. Today’s girls honor Low’s mission to foster their individual growth, character, and self-sufficiency.


By Elizabeth L. Maurer
Director of Program
Originally published March 2016

Find out why author Sandra Weber thinks it is so important women spend time outdoors. Click here.


Further Reading




Women Outdoors: Q&A with Sandra Weber

June 10th, 2017


Sandra Weber of Elizabethtown, New York, has authored ten books and several magazine articles about history, women, and the Adirondack Mountains region. In addition to her writings, Sandra is also well-known for her dramatic portrayals of Adirondack women such as Mary Brown, Inez Milholland, Jeanne Robert Foster, Kate Field, and Martha Reben.

Program Assistant, Kenna Howat, interviewed Weber about her experience with and writings of adventuring outdoors.

Why do you think it is important for women to spend time outdoors?

I think it helps with the health of your mind and the health of your body, and the two work together. Activities such as hiking, canoeing, biking, or whatever outdoors activities you enjoy, they help you develop self-reliance and self-confidence in what you can do and what you can accomplish in all areas of life.

Source: Sandra Weber

Source: Sandra Weber

In your book Two in the Wilderness you went on a long hiking trip with your daughter. Why did you decide to do that?

Well, I had been hiking a lot of the Adirondack high peaks and mostly doing that with my husband and two young daughters. But I realized that when we would go backpacking, my husband would generally use the stove, carry more of the gear, erect the tent, etc. I think that sometimes when a man is around we just tend to let them fall into that role. I realized that I really wanted to prove to myself, and to demonstrate to my daughters, that women are capable of handling the outdoors life. So I decided to force myself to take over that role and prove that I could be self-reliant, and so could my 11-year-old daughter. Also, I really wanted an opportunity for just the two of us to be alone, hopefully to bond but at least to see what would develop as we experienced this 11-day backpacking adventure together.

How did your daughter feel about the whole trip?

She was kind of excited about it at first, partly because she knew we would be writing the book about it. But when the day came to actually start the trip, she was uncertain. In her first journal entry, she wrote:

“My name is Marcy and I am 11 years old. This is my journal for a hiking trip I am taking with my mother. We will walk 60 or 70 miles and be gone for almost two weeks. I know I will miss my friends and my cat. Mom really wants me to go on this trip. She thinks it will be fun. I think this trip is going to be annoying and boring.”

So that’s how she felt when we set out but along the way she began to have a really wonderful time. And I think she proved to herself how strong and how independent she was. She even did some solo canoeing and kayaking. By the end she wrote a little poem in her journal about not wanting to go back to town. She liked being out in the woods and having the freedom to just roam and explore wherever she wanted.

What obstacles did women historically face in adventuring outdoors?

Oh, so many! It begins with the clothing. I mean, imagine trying to hike or bicycle in a corset and a long dress and other encumbrances; it’s just impossible. Or even riding horses, because you were told you had to ride side saddle. So one of the first things women had to combat was fashion; they had to change what was acceptable for women to wear.

They also faced the prejudice of society—the idea that a woman should be meek, a woman should be mild, a woman shouldn’t do anything to get excited or anything that requires her to use her muscles. Women had to break away from that idea and prove that physical exercise wasn’t going to harm them. There is a famous quote about if a woman rides a bicycle it’s somehow going to affect her health and she’s not going to be able to have babies. There was a lot of that kind of thought around in those days. In the Adirondacks, women who tried to go out hiking, camping, or boating were called maniacs by proper society ladies.

Source: Sandra Weber

Weber hiking in period dress. Source: Sandra Weber

You hike in period clothing occasionally, don’t you?

I do. I started writing a book about Mount Marcy, the tallest mountain in New York State at 5,344 feet, which isn’t enormous compared to other mountain ranges, but for out here it’s pretty tall. I was writing all about the history and as part of that I did a lot of research about the first women who climbed it, which no one had really investigated before. I found myself wondering ‘Well, what was it really like for them to climb in their long dresses and all of this kind of thing?’ So I sewed a long dress and I climbed Mount Marcy in it. It wasn’t too cumbersome; I kind of enjoyed it, actually. I had read how they had pinned up their dresses a little bit when they were going up hills so they wouldn’t trip on the front of the dress. I did that and I found it to be very helpful. I did, however, wear modern boots because I have knee problems. I can’t imagine doing it in the kind of shoes that they wore.

Mount Marcy as seen from Mount Haystack. Photographer: Daniel Tripp Source: Wikimedia

Mount Marcy as seen from Mount Haystack. Photographer: Daniel Tripp Source: Wikimedia

I have climbed six or seven times in different long-skirted outfits. So when I took the trip with my daughter she said, “Mom, when we go over Mount Marcy can I wear a long dress too?” I said, “okay” and I found a long skirt to fit Marcy. So we both climbed over Mount Marcy in our long dresses in the rain. We passed a ranger that day who looked at us in bewilderment and asked, “What are you doing?

What are some lessons modern American women can learn from those who adventured before them?

I’ve also studied the women suffrage movement, and, of course, we can learn from their strategies of organizing, of publically protesting, being out in the streets. Not always yelling or shouting but sometimes just being silent sentinels, just standing on the sidewalk holding up a sign. But they never gave up; they stood day after day after day no matter whether it was raining or snowing. I think their persistence is quite inspirational. Even though there were so many against them, they knew that they were fighting for something that was worth fighting for and that eventually they would inspire others to realize that. Many times, these women had nothing to rely on but their own spirit. That spirit—I think it comes from self-reliance and from confidence in their cause.

What do you want women to know from reading your books?

I want women to know that there were women out there being active outdoors and doing things that were unconventional at the time—whether picketing or pedaling. That doesn’t tend to get written about very much. Ten or fifteen years ago there just weren’t very many stories about the women in history, what they were doing, what they were accomplishing. Part of what I’m doing is trying to recover that history and let it be known what these women were doing and what they struggled against. I hope to inspire women today to not be afraid to do things that are unconventional, not be afraid to look weird or crazy because you want to do something that you feel is important. I hope they don’t take no for an answer, that women go ahead and try things, experiment.

I love to see young girls get outdoors and embrace their curiosity about nature. I also admire women in their seventies, eighties, and even nineties who are still hiking and canoeing. I think it is fantastic to see women of all ages experiencing the out-of-doors.

Interested in reading more about seven more women who pushed boundaries? Click here.


Books by Sandra Weber. Available for purchase at

  • Two in the Wilderness: Adventures of a Mother and Daughter in the Adirondack Mountains (Photos by Carl Heilman)
  • Breaking Trail: Remarkable Women of the Adirondacks (co-author, Peggy Lynn) Profiles of twenty-five extraordinary mountain women from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
  • Mount Marcy, The High Peak of New York Comprehensive history of the highest mountain in New York State.


NEWEST book by Sandra Weber:

The Suffrage Statue: Adelaide Johnson’s Portrait Monument to Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in the U.S. Capitol (Available from McFarland & Co., 2016)


Visit her website Follow her on Facebook or email her at


From Bloomers to Bikinis: An Evolution of Women’s Swimwear

June 1st, 2017

Summer is officially upon us and has brought with it an age-old and universal tradition: swimming. As the sun heats up city pavements and raises temperatures to dizzyingly high degrees, we crave water’s cool refreshment. Whether a dip in the community pool, a swim in the ocean, or skipping through the gushing water of a burst fire hydrant, there is one essential garment that we all need—a swimsuit.

4th Century Mosaic with women wearing “Bikinis” Credit: Public Domain
4th Century Mosaic with women wearing “Bikinis” Credit: Public Domain

Swimsuits, in their modern-day incarnations replete with spandex and lycra, may seem like a relatively recent fashion invention. They are anything but! In fact, the first documented use of a swimming costume was in a 4th century Roman mosaic at the Villa Romana del Casale, which depicted women who wore what look like modern day bikinis.

It appears, according to historical record, that swimwear went through a dry season in the centuries that followed, especially after the fall of the Roman Empire. The fashion wouldn’t be resurrected until 1687, when English traveler Celia Fiennes wrote about the popular bathing costume of that era.

Woman using a bathing machine in Germany c. 1893 Credit: Public Domain

Woman using a bathing machine in Germany c. 1893 Credit: Public Domain

Women in the 17th century used bathing gowns, often made of canvas with huge sleeves that filled up with water so as to not reveal her shape. Bathing gowns were used for public bathing, which was believed to possess healing and therapeutic power. Modesty was of the upmost importance when bathing and bathing machines were employed to ensure privacy. The machines were carriages that rolled out into the water. A typical “swim” was really a short dip in the water with women and men relegated to separate sides of the beach.

Bathing became a recreation by the middle half of the 19th century and it sparked the start of a new age of swimwear as Americans flocked to the beaches for some fun in the sun. Swimwear from this period consisted of bloomers and black stockings. Although swimming had become a recreation, it was still thought that women should refrain from too much of it. By the late 19th century, swimming had evolved into an intercollegiate and Olympic sport, making it more acceptable for women to participate in this particular forum. The “Princess” cut with its blouse and trousers became popular in the 1880s and by the beginning of the 20th century, swimsuits began to expose a little more skin—though, not too much. Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman was arrested in the United States for indecent exposure in 1909 for wearing a one-piece suit that exposed too much skin.

In the 1920s, swimsuits were made with lighter fabric and included shorts which exposed women’s legs. Over the next two decades, swimsuits transformed into more form-fitting pieces that exposed the arms and legs but covered most of the midriff. By the end of World War II, tow-piece swim suits were starting to appear on beaches culminating in the two-piece bikini making its debut in 1946, daringly modeled by French dancer Micheline Bernardini. America was slow to accept the bikini’s bold navel-bearing style and it wasn’t until the early 1960’s that bikinis exploded onto the pool and beach party scene. Bikinis of this era covered the majority of the bust-line and the bottoms stretched the entire length of the form from just below the navel to the top of the thigh.

Esther Williams modeling a swimsuit in 1945 Credit: Yank: the Army Weekly

Esther Williams modeling a swimsuit in 1945 Credit: Yank: the Army Weekly

Since the 1960s, swimsuit styles have continued to evolve, with new fashion trends appearing on the beach each summer. We’ve come a very long way since the days of bloomers and black stockings! So this summer, as you step into your favorite swimsuits, think about what our foremothers had to endure at the beach, so that we can wear what we want today.


Originally Published Fall 2013 by Sydnee Winston, National Women’s History Museum Staff

Updated May 2017 by Kenna Howat, Program Assistant

To read more about the history of fashion click here.


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