December 29 - Pants Arrest!

Posted on December 29, 2017

On this date in 1852, in Boston, Massachusetts, a young woman was arrested for wearing pants.


Emma Snodgrass was a 17 year old from New York. Her father was apparently a well respected man with money - either a police captain or an assistant police captain.

It's very interesting to note that news reports constantly harped on the fact that, when Snodgrass was was discovered wearing men's clothes, she was arrested and sent home to her father. There was definitely an idea that her father owned her, in a way. There was probably also an expectation that a police officer would be able to control his daughter.

But...apparently he could not!

Snograss had already shocked Bostonians several other times by "donning the breeches" - she had already been sent off to her father several other times - but she kept showing up in Boston for another round of sightings, arrests, newspaper articles, and home-to-father.

Everyone was talking about her. People wondered why she "rejected" women's clothing. 

These were typical women's clothes of the 1850s.

Why WOULDN'T a young woman want to reject all that cloth?
Check out the men's clothing below. Even the formal wear is tons
and tons and tons easier to get around in - to sit and walk in.

But this particular arrest, the December 29, 1852, arrest, was a bit different. This time, Snodgrass was accompanied by another woman wearing pants.

Harriet French was disguised as - and had apparently worked for several years as - a boy. She'd worked on a steamboat, and she had worked as a bartender. When asked why she wore men's clothes, she pointed out that she could get along better as a boy, and she could earn more money as a boy.

All through history - and probably everywhere in the world -
a few women have disguised themselves as men in order
to join armies, hold jobs, or for many other reasons.

Fair points, indeed. But French was sent to the "House of Industry" - a sort of workhouse or poor house, almost a prison. Newspaper reporters noted that Snodgrass was merely carted home, but French was treated more harshly. One reporter wrote that it "is the difference of breeches without money, and breeches with."

Aren't we all - men as well as women - glad that our laws and society are more equal now? And that appearing in public "in a dress not belonging to his or her sex" is no longer illegal? 

Of course, we can - we must - do even better!

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