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1852- Emma Snodgrass is arrested in Boston, MA for wearing pants

December 29, 2022

While in the modern era, a woman wearing pants is a common, accepted sight. However, in 1852, such a sight was one that caused alarm for much of the citizenry in Boston, Massachusetts.

Snodgrass Breeches Boston

Raised in New York by her father, a Police Captain, Emma Snodgrass was a young woman who would find herself in custody many times throughout the 1850s. These arrests were short-lived, as Snodgrass was either being released the next day on the promise that she would no longer commit the moral crime of wearing the "habiliments of the other sex" or remanded to the custody of her father back home in New York. Of particular note, however, was her arrest on December 29th of 1852, as she would find herself arrested alongside another violator of this particular law, Harriet French.

Harriet French

On this particular day, Snodgrass was found with a tobacco-chewing friend going by the name of Charley. This friend, as it happened, was actually a woman by the name of Harriet French. French had first donned pants out of a desire to earn more money, as women were restricted in the potential workplace roles they could inhabit and were often paid far less than their male counterparts. For a time, this had worked, and she had found employment in a variety of roles, including working on a steamboat and as a bartender.

Unfortunately for her, the courts soon demonstrated their differential treatment between those who were born into a high station and those born to a low one. After the courts separated the two friends, Emma was once again sent back to her father in New York, while French was sentenced to work at the local House of Industry, which essentially functioned as a labor camp for the poor.

Emma Snodgrass's Legacy

Emma Snodgrass quickly became somewhat of a celebrity, with nicknames ranging from "foolish girl who goes around in virile toggery" or the "wanderer in man's apparel." Newspapers published her sightings, which were equivalent to today's Elvis sightings.




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