In June 1863, at the height of the war, Harriet Tubman guided the Combahee River Raid, with 300 free black soldiers on three gun boats, liberating more than 700 slaves in South Carolina. She recalled that “coming on board the boat, I was carrying two pigs for a poor sick woman who had a child to carry and the order ‘double quick’ was given. I started to run, stepped on my dress, it being rather long, and fell and tore it almost off, so that when I got on board the boat, there was hardly anything left of it but shreds. I made up my mind then I would never wear a long dress on another expedition ... but would have a bloomer as soon as I could get it.”
Kate Clifford Larson’s fascinating biography, “Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero,” points out that the bloomer dress was a modified pantaloon that allowed more freedom of movement. It became a derisive term used by men who regarded suffragists “as literally wanting to ‘wear the pants.’” But for Tubman, “the Moses of her people,” the bloomer was highly appropriate.