July 1 – Happy Birthday, George Sand

Posted on July 1, 2016

It's actually hard to remember that, when I started school in the early 1960s, girls were not allowed to wear shorts or pants.

Let me repeat that: When I went to elementary school, age 5, up to middle school, sometime around age 13, we girls were not allowed to wear shorts or pants to school!

Even if it was cold and rainy. We wore dresses, and dresses back then were about knee-length. Of course, we were allowed to wear knee high stockings or tights, but trust me when I tell you that we girls still got chillier legs than did boys, because we weren't allowed to wear pants to school.

Another problem: playground play. There were these cool horizontal bars and monkey bars we could do tricks on. And there were these tall jungle gyms we could climb on. But when we did those things, our underwear would show. And we sometimes got comments and laughter and teasing because of our panties showing. Some girls just didn't use the bars or the climbing apparatus. The rest of us just put up with the teasing.

But boys didn't have to put up with the teasing or curtail their climbing and swinging and such. They didn't have to show their underwear! They got to wear pants!

Even though women and girls began to wore pants as far back as the 1930s, in some casual situations, it was not okay for females to wear pants to work, school, church, or many other situations until the late 1960s or early 1970s (depending on local rules)! Women and girls were expected to wear dresses or skirts and blouses for centuries and centuries, and even after the pants barrier was broken for hiking and picnicking, women were still expected to wear dresses, hats, and gloves for most activities, even decades later.

But there were always some women who broke that rule. In 1919, a Puerto Rican woman named Luisa Capetillo wore pants – and was sent to jail for her “crime.” Way before that, in the 1700s and 1800s, French women sometimes accompanied their soldier husbands on campaigns and wore uniforms similar to the men's uniforms – often with a “womanly” skirted addition.

In the mid-1800s, American women's rights advocate Amelia Bloomer promoted women wearing practical and comfortable clothes; bloomers were named after her.

Some American women who rebelled against society in several ways, like frontier scout Calamity Jane and Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, also rebelled by wearing pants.

And some women passed themselves off as men while fighting or working or even pirating.

Pirate Anne Bonny

Today's famous birthday, a French woman named Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, wore pants when (most) women just didn't, in the mid-1800s. 

She explained that men's clothes were sturdier, less expensive, and more comfortable. 

Wearing men's clothes allowed Dupin to go places were women were not allowed.

Dupin did more than just wear men's clothes – she also dared to enter the literary world, which was almost all male. She wrote novels and memoirs, reviews of others' books and articles about politics. She started her own newspaper. And she did most of the writing and publishing under her pseudonym George Sand.

(Even in recent times, many women adopt male “pen names.” And those who don't often use their initials rather than their first names. Ever heard of J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books? Or S. E. Hinton, author of The Outsiders? Both are women.)

Dupin (or Sand, whichever you want to call her) did face a certain amount of scandalized talk because of her clothing and lifestyle. But in her political writing, she came down on the “side” of poor and working-class people, which didn't make her popular with many upper-crust folks; and she wrote about women's rights, which made some men uncomfortable. Even in 2003, when there was talk about honoring Sand by moving her remains to the Pantheon in Paris, the idea of honoring her caused controversy!

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