1890s Business Women Challenged Fashion Standards

Several unidentified women sitting at typewriters in Omaha, Douglas County, Nebraska, in 1939.


The invention of the typewriter changed the way American business and government prepared written materials. Jobs for “typewriters,” as operators of the new machine were first called, were soon created, and women were quick to apply for and fill them. These first female typists found that entering the business world changed their job expectations, home duties, and even their mode of dress. The Lincoln Daily Call, on June 24, 1891, reported a fashion innovation for businesswomen in an article titled “Women in Trousers.” The Call told its Nebraska readers: “At a recent meeting of the Woman’s National Council at Indianapolis it was resolved that the women in business, the typewriters, should have a change in dress and the discussion showed that the bloomer costume was to be outdone if the expressed sentiment of those present counted for anything.

The New York Tribune draws this picture of the coming reform.

We fear that we should not touch on the question of the business dress for women, resolved on at Indianapolis, but as it seems probable that there is to be a radical change, the matter is too important to pass over in silence. The typical business woman is the typewriter, and the executive board of the conclave at Indianapolis, has declared that her dress must be changed, and has appointed a committee to draw up plans and specifications and report at the meeting next year. Indeed, the question was talked over in the council and a pretty accurate guess can doubtless be made as to what the report of the committee will be. The skirt is going to be discarded. In the council a mighty current, like an intellectual gulf stream, set from skirts toward trousers. The committee will report next May, and a year from now, if all goes well, the business women of the country will be wearing trousers… They may be baggy trousers; there may be trimming and passementerie down the sides and accordion plaiting around the ankles; but they will be trousers nevertheless. Bright colors may be introduced: they may not be made up wholly from one kind of cloth; the two divisions into which all trousers naturally divide themselves may-we know not-be made in different colors; but they will remain trousers notwithstanding. The gentle, bewitching swish of the typewriter’s skirts is falling upon the ears of lower New York for the last times; in a few months there will be only the silent, business-like trousers. But need we repine? It does not seem necessary. It matters not how woman, business or homekeeping, is arrayed; she will remain incomparable. As well say that it affects the beauty or the fragrance of a rose to transfer it from a china to a bronze vase. We welcome business woman’s trousers. And we congratulate her; she will at last have a pocket.

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

The Story of Richi Ugai:  Making the American Dream Possible for Future Generations of Japanese-Americans

The Story of Richi Ugai: Making the American Dream Possible for Future Generations of Japanese-Americans

Decoration Day

Decoration Day

Nebraska’s Japanese American History

Nebraska’s Japanese American History

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.