In the mid-1800s, she became the first woman to own, operate and edit a news publication for women, in a time where it was rare for women’s writings to even be published. She stubbornly agreed to only be married if the word ‘obey’ was left out of wedding vows; a demand to which her husband acquiesced. A notable contributor to the women’s movement in her own right – her ideas of dress reform and temperance were significant – though her greatest achievement may have been providing a voice for other, more famous, women’s suffragists. But, she may be most remembered for a simpler work: the wearing and coining of women’s bloomers.
She’s Amelia Jenks Bloomer, a women’s suffragist, temperance leader and pseudo-clothing designer, and she’s one of 10 historically significant women the Flathead County Democratic Women’s group would like to better introduce area residents to. The group is hosting “Notable Heroines of America,” a question-and-answer styled production on Thursday, Jan. 31 and Friday, Feb. 1 at the KM Theatre in Kalispell.
If you’d previously only associated “bloomer” with a bygone era of dress, you’re not alone. Many of the women playing roles in the production knew little if anything about some of the show’s characters. As they practiced last week, they delighted, and often laughed, at the tidbits they picked up from each other’s portrayals.
It’s a form of educational entertainment they hope their audience will find interesting as well.
“I think education is lacking a lot today in entertainment; everything is fluff or violent. It doesn’t make you think, it just hits you in the face,” Mary Reckin, the newly elected president of FCDM and the production’s director, said. “This is about discovery and education, and we’ll drink a little wine and have a little food, and it’ll be fun.”
The show’s “heroines” range from household names and historical favorites like Eleanor Roosevelt and Jeanette Rankin to less known, but perhaps no less influential, women like Mary McLeod Bethnue, a leader of the black women’s club movement and educator, or Evelyn Cameron, an 1800s Montana photographer. While attendees may know the basic pedigrees of many of the women, they’ll likely be surprised at what they didn’t learn in high school history books, even about the biggest names of the show.
“I chose her (Bloomer) because I thought she would bring life to this show and because she was really pulling for us women,” Toni Wells, the actress playing Bloomer, said. “And it’s amazing what can be learned from hearing her story.”
Wells is one of the few women in the production with significant acting experience. For many, the show will require them to take the stage for the first time and enact an attribute they applaud their characters for – conquering fear.
But, the local women seem up to the task. Bolstered with photocopies, books and online resources, they’ve learned their heroines’ personalities and achievements in and out. Local radio personality Leah Lindsey will question each woman individually, before opening the show up to audience questions at the end.
Catered wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served before Thursday’s show at 6 p.m. and a dessert reception will follow. Friday’s show, which is performance only, begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 for Thursday’s show, and $15 for Friday’s performance.
Reckin offers another selling point for the show in jest: “It’s January. What else is going on?” Though it’s unlikely she, or the group will need to rely on that. Tickets sold at Books West in downtown Kalispell were sold out two weeks before the show, prompting the addition of a Friday showing just this week.
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