Brow Beat

Meet the Ohio Teenager Who Scandalized the Nation by Wearing Bloomers to Church

An illustration from Puck showing a man and woman in 1890s bicycling gear. The woman wears red bloomers.
The accurséd garment.
Samuel D. Ehrhart / Puck / Library of Congress

As Slate’s Ruth Graham reported, the Christian community has recently been thrown into turmoil over the question of whether or not women should wear leggings in church. It is far from the first time the question of female fashion at worship services has been raised: Archbishop of Paris Léon-Adolphe Amette launched a crusade against décolleté in church a century ago this winter; and “To the Female Members of Christian Churches in the United States of America,” an 1832 letter from missionary Adoniram Judson excoriating immodest dress, was still getting reprinted as late as 1899. Which brings us to the summer of 1895, when a teenager and bicycle enthusiast named Ada Coleman scandalized the nation by wearing a pair of red bloomers to services at the Methodist church in Mason, Ohio, where she served as organist. Despite the national uproar—accounts of her outfit made papers from coast to coast—Coleman seems to have avoided falling into a bloomer-fueled nightmare of sin and dissolution. Within the year she had married the local Sunday school superintendent at the age of 17. This unbylined account of her bloomers escapade ran in the Buffalo Enquirer on July 30, 1895. –Matthew Dessem

BLOOMERS IN CHURCH.

Prayer-Meeting at Mason, O., Suddenly Broken Up

Miss Ada Coleman Appears in an Unusually Striking Costume

Special to the Enquirer.

Mason, O., July 30.—The good people of the Methodist church here received a shock last night and it is very doubtful if they will soon recover from it. Miss Ada Coleman, one of the belles of Warren County, the daughter of one of the wealthiest farmers in this section, and the organist of the church, marched down the center aisle of the church at 7:30 o’clock last evening, attired in red bloomers of the most fashionable cut.

For several weeks an epidemic of bloomers and baseball has engulfed this ordinarily quiet little town. A few days ago Miss Coleman, who is a leader and general favorite among the society belles of the town, appeared on a wheel in the main streets. She wore bloomers of the most pronounced type, red in color and trimmed gorgeously.

They were the first pair of bloomers the residents had ever seen, and the whole town turned out to see Miss Coleman ride. The fever spread and Saturday at least 10 young women appeared in company, attired in different colored bloomers. They rode to the kite-shaped track, took several spins, and then went to the baseball game.

The Rev. John Wordsworth, the pastor of the Methodist church, was at the game and saw the young women, who are all members of his congregation. He thought they were very sensible and applauded rather than chided them. He is a great baseball enthusiast.

On Saturday night a committee selected by the congregation called at his house and requested that he denounce the action of the young woman from the pulpit. He listened to them and said nothing. Sunday services came and Rev. Mr. Wordsworth never referred to bloomers. The members of the congregation waited anxiously for the grand denouement, but it came not, and the bloomers triumphed.

There was no end of gossip last night over the pastor’s stand and everybody turned out to the prayer meeting, expecting that something would happen, and it did.

When half past 7 o’clock arrived the church was crowded and the minister was waiting to begin services, but the organist, Miss Coleman, had not arrived. In a few minutes Miss Coleman rode to church on her wheel, wearing those red bloomers. As she strode down the center aisle of the church murmurs of “Oh, my! How shocking!” and “Mercy on us!” came from every quarter.

There was no prayer meeting for the congregation. They could not take their eyes off Miss Coleman’s red bloomers. While the old people shook their heads and sighed, the young ones giggled. The singing was very mild, and every other part of the customary service was neglected.

Soon many of the old people commenced to leave the church and others soon followed. The meeting was ended abruptly, and a sort of gloom settled down over the members, with the exception of Miss Coleman. Her work finished, she mounted her wheel and rode away as if nothing had happened.

The girls are with Miss Coleman, and they say it’s “bloomers even if they have to leave the church.”

The Rev. Mr. Wordsworth will undoubtedly uphold the young women in their action.