March was Women’s History Month. I went to the White River Museum to see the displays about the past working women. The museum also had information and books on the subject of women’s voices in the past. I found this story interesting and thought I would share it. It’s about a woman that stood up to wear pants.
The revolution of 1789 was fought by the poor and most of them women. All over Europe, the poor revolted against the rich. The people worked long hours in filthy conditions for scraps of food and a place to live. They marched down the streets and demanded fair wages, bread, and soap.
With each new revolution, ruling men took away the rights of women so they couldn’t form clubs or take part in politics. Times were hard and sickness everywhere. Crops were failing and people were hungry. This is the world Marie Suize lived in. She was one of ten children and she wanted a better life.
In France of 1849, a poster advertised about the riches of mining gold in California. Marie Suize followed her brother to America for a chance at a better life. They arrived in California and took a steamboat to Sacramento. From there, they rode mules to the mining camp of Amador County. The miners were eager to see a woman, but they expected Marie to cook and clean for them. Marie had other ideas and told them no. She wanted to dig for gold like her brother.
There were standard dress codes for women in those days. After mud filled her shoes and soaked through her skirts, Marie had a terrible time getting to the gravel area. The miners laughed at her. Marie went back to her shack and put on her brother’s extra pair of pants and one of his shirts. She pinned up her hat and smashed a hat over her head. She pulled on some tall boots and strode through the mining area. The men were shocked at her attire. A lady wasn’t supposed to dress that way. The few women that came to camp, snubbed her because she wore pants. It was illegal for a woman to wear pants. It was considered “cross-dressing.” Marie worked as hard as the men in mining for gold and eventually they accepted her. They nicknamed her, “Marie Pantalon.”
Marie struck it rich. She invested in shares of mines and she also bought some land. She prospered by making wine on her land with a friend. Marie opened a wine shop in San Francisco and a liquor store in Virginia City, Nevada. Marie loved the freedom of wearing pants, but the law was firm. One day, she drove her wagon to Virginia City to check in on her store. She was reported by some gossipers and arrested for wearing pants. Marie was fined five dollars and instructed to wear lady’s attire.
Her adventure caused a protest during the Women’s Suffrage Movement and they organized a meeting to express their indignation. Many of the ladies in California did not approve of Marie’s pants. The Women’s Movement was afraid they would lose their fight for the vote if they appeared to want their freedom too. They thought of Marie as an embarrassment. So by the time she returned to Amador County, Marie was arrested for wearing pants. Her fellow miner friends supported her. They coaxed the judge into dropping the charges, as it was a waste of time and to go hunting instead. Marie lived out her days in that town and wore her pants. She wore a dress though, whenever she left her county.
Back in the 1970’s, girls also fought for the right to wear pants to school. The dress code had been for girls to either wear a dress or a skirt to their knee caps, until the law was changed. Women are strong and will always fight for what’s right.