She was the first woman to run for president of the United States.
Was your first thought about the candidate running in 2016? Wrong!- the first American woman to run for President was Victoria C. Woodhull, in 1872.
This little know figure was but a footnote in the history books, but she was certainly ahead of her time, had great courage and conviction, and changed the trajectory of the women’s suffrage movement.
Many history books on the 72 year long movement for American women’s suffrage leave Woodhull out entirely, and yet, she was the first women to address a joint committee of congress in 1871, arguing that women, as citizens of the nation, had a right to vote based on the 14th amendment to the constitution.
Born in Ohio in a poor and abusive family of n’ere do wells that would make the Beverly Hillbillies look like aristocrats, her family was once run out of town with a collection taken up by the townsfolk.
She married at 15 to escape her family life, only to find her charming husband become a drunk who visited brothels. Woodhull was a “spiritualist” who could communicate with spirits for guidance. She advised numerous women in post Civil War society who had suffered from abuse and violence from men.
Woodhull felt the spirits were calling her to a “become a ruler of her people”
Now, a fascinating historical fiction novel about Victoria Woodhull has been published, “Madame Presidentess” by Nicole Evelina.
Evelina credits a post on social media as inspiring her to write the book. She saw a black and white photo of a woman from the 19th century, and the caption read “ Known by her detractors as “Mrs. Satan”, Victoria Claflin Woodhull, born in 1838,married at age 15 to an alcoholic and womanizer. She became the first woman to establish a brokerage firm on Wall Street and played an active role in the woman’s suffrage movement. She became the first woman to run for President of the United States in 1872. Her name is largely lost in history. Few recognize her name and accomplishments.”
The book is a powerful good read. It opens a window into the disparity in social freedom between men and women in late 19th century America. Woodhull, as the heroine of the novel, is not really a sympathetic character, yet she is without doubt a most unique and colorful character, and clearly a ‘self-made’ woman who blazed new trails. The book has already won recognition. The 2015 Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction gave the book first place in the Women’s US History category for 2015, even before the book was formally published.
The twelve pages of author notes at the end of the book are fascinating, and clearly layout what is fiction and what really happened, according to written records. After doing her research, remarked Evelina, “ So much of her family’s antics and Victoria’s own actions are more grandiose than I could ever invent.”
History books, such as “Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony- A Friendship that Changed the World” by Penny Colman paint Victoria C. Woodhull as a scandal that tainted the woman’s suffrage movement by the association with a “Free Love” doctrine.
Susan B Anthony first learned of Woodhull when she read a newspaper announcement that Woodhull would be addressing a joint committee of congress, on the same day that the National Woman Suffrage Convention was to convene in Washington, D.C. Both Stanton and Anthony attended the session and were impressed by Woodhull. They asked her to speak at the convention that evening.
As Colman relates in her book,
“Thrilled by Victoria’s fiery rhetoric, Elizabeth declared that she was “a grand, brave woman, radical alike in political, religious, and social principles.” Susan, however, was becoming wary of Victoria. She suspected that Victoria had attached herself to the suffrage movement in order to advance a personal ambition that she had recently revealed – to run for president of the United States”
Woodhull did run for president, and lost. She later was accused of sending obscene materials in the mail, and spent time in prison before being acquitted. She moved to England, and married her third husband, a wealthy banker.
While Elizabeth Cady Stanton was visiting her daughter in London in 1891, she met with Woodhull. Victoria had endured “great suffering,” Elizabeth wrote in her diary. “May the good angels watch and guard her.”
Let’s Celebrate Our History!