Anna Jenness Miller preached the gospel of sensible dress for women

It is possible that when Anna Jenness Miller made a featured appearance at the Wells Corset Studio at 13th and G Streets NW in November 1918 – at the foundation’s annual clothing store sale – some in Washington did not remember her. The newspaper advertisement announcing her attendance helpfully noted that she was an “authority on women’s issues”.

She was much more than that. At the turn of the 19th century, Jenness Miller was one of America’s most interesting women: an author, lecturer, suffragist, publisher, inventor, leader in the effort to liberate women from clothing. restrictive, a business executive and a real estate magnate. She has developed elegant buildings in some of the more expensive neighborhoods in the district.

And yet, had you ever heard of her? Answer The man had not, until he heard from Chris Leinberger, who lives in a beautiful building developed by Jenness Miller at 2339 Massachusetts Avenue NW. Lamented Leinberger: “She was lost to history, but what a lady.”

In effect. Anna Jenness – her family called her “Annie” – was born in 1859 in New Hampshire. She came of a distinguished stock, related on her mother’s side to Olivier Wendell Holmes (senior and junior) and abolitionist Wendell Phillips. She attended Emerson College.

Jenness Miller was someone who wondered why things were the way they were and what it would take to change them. For example, why were American women encouraged to torture themselves with cage-like corsets, don yards of bulky fabric, and carry a heavy protrusion called bustle?

She traveled the country lecturing on the subject of “dress reform”, asking rhetorical questions such as: “What is in this cumbersome aggregate of long skirts worn by women of all classes? social, with endless complications of curls, puffs, and a weight that is death to health and happiness, and prolonged usefulness, that women must continue in this slavery?

Jenness Miller was among the reformers who attacked the problem from within. She advocated changes in women’s underwear, recommending looser corsets. Even better, women could ditch the corset altogether in favor of one-piece union suits.

As for outerwear, she designed slit skirts. His sister, Mabel Jenness, wore one in 1890 during a highly publicized New York horseback ride. Mabel refused to ride in the side saddle – it was bad for the spine, she argued – so she dressed in a ‘bifurcated’ skirt, rode her horse like a man. Some viewers were shocked.

Anna married an Indiana haberdashery merchant named Conrad Miller. But rather than throw out her name, she just added hers. And it seems when her company went bankrupt, she gave him a job at her growing publishing business. In 1887, she founded a magazine that covered sensitive fashion and other topics, eventually naming it after herself: Jenness Miller Monthly.

She received a patent for a method of lacing boots that eliminated the fidgety button-and-hook method. Next, she designed a type of low-top boot that she thought would help women with “tender” feet. A newspaper ad in The Washington Post noted, “They are shaped and angled to allow the ball of the foot to lie flat and give joints and muscles free play, and offer just the exact width and length for avoid binding the foot or cramping. toes.”

Jenness Miller has written at least eight books, including one titled “Mother and Babe.” This contained general parenting advice, as well as patterns that mothers could use to sew their own maternity clothes. She was a mother herself, of a daughter named Vivianewho posed for photos wearing Jenness Miller’s designs.

Readers might have been surprised to find among the diet and exercise tips in “Mother and Baby” a chapter titled “When Women Should Refuse Motherhood.” In it, Jenness Miller described various scenarios in which a woman might not want to have children, including “when she doesn’t love her husband” and “when her husband’s approaches elicit instinctive protest.”

Jenness Miller wrote, “No man has the right to force a woman to have a child because she is his wife. Wife is a sacred obligation, and the bond of marriage is degraded when it becomes a chain of slavery to drag a woman’s mind and body into involuntary captivity.

Jenness Miller was widowed in 1910. She continued to be active in the suffrage movement, participating in the 1913 suffrage demonstration in Washington which was disrupted by male hooligans. (She later testified to Congress that DC police refused her request to shield protesters from voting rights.)

And Jenness Miller bought and sold property along Embassy Row. She acquired a few houses after they were built. Others she developed herself. They included one at 23rd Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW, near Sheridan Circle, called Wendell Mansions. The name of the chic building, now a cooperative, comes from this illustrious branch of his family.

Jenness Miller died in 1935 in New York. It is hoped that she would be happy with the progress the women have made since then, although it is likely that she would still find room to improve.

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