The Scandalous and Revolutionary Victoria Woodhull | National Overview


Victoria Woodhull speaks as the Judiciary Committee of the Residence of Representatives receives a team of woman suffragists, January 11, 1871.(Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper/Library of Congress)

The 1st lady to run for president was infamous in her working day.

She was the initial girl to run for president, the initially to address a congressional committee, and the very first to personal a brokerage on Wall Street. She was also a con artist, a gold digger, and a scandal magnet. When she ran for president in 1872, she sat out Election Working day in a Manhattan jail, arrested on charges of obscenity. Victoria Woodhull was unquestionably a pioneer in women’s rights, yet her legacy is so messy and complex that she remains an outlier in feminist background.

She was born Victoria Claflin in 1838, into a squalidly lousy relatives in Homer, Ohio, a small frontier hamlet. Her sister Tennessee (referred to as Tennie C or just Tennie) arrived together seven years later on, and a 3rd sister, Utica, soon after her. In all there were being 10 Claflin youngsters, seven of whom survived into adulthood.

Their father, Buck Claflin, was a con person who marketed patent drugs as “the King of Cancers.” Their mom, Roxana, was an Evangelical Christian who spoke in tongues and ranted hearth and brimstone at the neighbors. Victoria and Tennessee had been still small children when Buck had them out accomplishing as spirit mediums and religion healers. Victoria was a darkish, ethereal magnificence, and practically spookily severe. She would claim to have visions of Jesus and Satan, and to get assistance from spirit guides who integrated Demosthenes, Alexander the Wonderful, Napoleon, and Juliet. Utica and Tennie have been easier types. Utica turned an alcoholic and drug addict. Tennie was blonde, bubbly, and carnal. All a few would use sexual intercourse to get what they required from guys. But with Victoria everything had to be taken to a increased degree. She did not just want adult men to motivation her and give her cash she desired them to admire, regard, and even adore her. She’d say or do practically anything to get that from them, and she was very good at it. Adult men didn’t just drop in like with her, they fell in worship of her.

The neighbors in Homer took up a assortment to fork out the Claflins to go absent. That was the start of a long time period all through which the spouse and children roamed the frontier like a tribe of gypsies, providing snake oil, staging seances, telling fortunes, and effecting miracle cures. At 15, Victoria eloped with Canning Woodhull, a drunk 2 times her age who marketed his individual “elixir of lifestyle.” After owning two young children with him, she divorced Woodhull but saved his name and could not shake him, even when she married the dashing Colonel James Harvey Blood, a Civil War hero, believer in spiritualism, and devout progressive.

In 1868 Demosthenes encouraged Victoria to move to New York. He even gave her an actual deal with, 17 Excellent Jones Street, in close proximity to the Bowery. Apparently the historic Greek orator understood that New York in 1868 was stuffed with dollars and war-profiteer millionaires hunting for means to invest it. Quickly Buck and Tennie and the entire clan piled into the home with Victoria. Buck despatched his daughters to bewitch Cornelius Vanderbilt, recognized as the Commodore for his vast empire of steamships and railroads. They easily charmed him. Victoria gave him current market forecasts that proved to be uncannily exact. Which is for the reason that lots of of her strategies came from a community of woman friends she and Tennie cultivated in the city’s brothels favored by adult males of finance. Tennie C cheered up “the outdated goat,” as she referred to as him, in other techniques.

Marriage to a worthless drunk experienced gotten Victoria interested in women’s liberation. But she had no patience for the women’s motion of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, which had been all over for a quarter of a century and completed minimal except to drop into two camps: a liberal group centered in New York, and a conservative, Boston-based 1. Pursuing customized, each group experienced picked a male figurehead. Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, the well known pastor of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights, represented the Boston team. Theodore Tilton, a Plymouth Church member, fronted the New York team. Tilton was wholly smitten with Victoria, as her adult men typically were being, and irrespective of getting a spouse in Brooklyn Heights, became her lover.

Victoria made the decision that gals desired not only the right to vote, but complete personal and economic emancipation. To that conclude — with the Commodore’s generous backing — she, Tennie, and Colonel Blood opened Woodhull, Claflin & Co., the initially girl-operate brokerage agency in Wall Road historical past. It was a gigantic feeling. Men thronged to the opulent workplaces on Broad Avenue, most just to gawk, though a separate entrance admitted ladies buyers.

That 12 months Victoria announced that she supposed to run for president in opposition to the incumbent, Ulysses S. Grant, in 1872. Females wouldn’t even have the vote for just about 50 many years. When the city’s newspapers taken care of her candidacy as an amusing novelty, she, Tennie, and Blood started out their very own newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly. Under the motto “Progress! Free of charge Thought! Untrammeled Lives!” it mixed economic information with a hodgepodge of radical politics and fringe social theorizing. In 1871, she tackled the Dwelling Judiciary Committee, talking out for women’s right to the vote.

The platform of Victoria’s Cosmo-Political Occasion integrated anarchism, Communism, spiritualism, and, most controversially, “free really like,” one of the hottest troubles of the Victorian period. When several listened to cost-free appreciate they believed it just meant absolutely free lust. Mainstream feminists mentioned it intended that a woman need to be free of charge to opt for whom she liked, and not be shackled in loveless and “indissoluble marriage” to a gentleman merely for fiscal aid. For her aspect, Victoria appears to have taken to absolutely free appreciate mainly because it was a respectable-sounding rationale for the way she and her sisters had often lived in any case.

It was her undoing. Victoria’s general public talking engagements now turned free-for-alls, mobbed to the rafters with raucous crowds that combined her enraptured supporters with her booing, hooting enemies. As her fame and infamy soared, gossip alleging Victoria and Tennie’s freely lustful techniques spread. Victoria did not assistance her circumstance when she permit a heckler at one of her speeches goad her into crying out in exasperation, “Yes, I am a free lover! I have an inalienable, constitutional, and purely natural appropriate to appreciate whom I may perhaps, to love as very long or as brief a period as I can, to alter that really like just about every day if I be sure to, and with that suitable neither you nor any regulation you can body have any right to interfere.” The heckler was her sister Utica, who was drunk and evidently jealous of her famed sibling.

Victoria was attacked from all sides as an adulteress, bigamist, heathen, whore. In Harper’s, the cartoonist Thomas Nast drew her as Mrs. Satan. On the Bowery, George B. Bunnell’s New American Museum put her effigy in its Dante’s Inferno display screen. Buyers left the brokerage. Advertisers fled the newspaper. The Commodore withdrew his assist.

Battered and likely broke, in Might 1872 Victoria acknowledged the presidential nomination of the Equivalent Legal rights Social gathering, a free coalition of feminists, spiritualists, and Communists. The party nominated Frederick Douglass as her operating mate. He never publicly acknowledged the honor, and she scarcely experienced time to get pleasure from hers. By June her landlords experienced turned her relatives out of their dwelling and her brokerage out of its business office. She requested Henry Ward Beecher to discuss out for her. A term from the terrific man may still have saved her, but he refused.

That was too a lot. She thought she realized a thing about Reverend Beecher that handful of outside the house the Plymouth Church leadership did: He experienced allegedly been accomplishing some absolutely free loving of his possess with some of his adoring female parishioners. One particular of them, Theodore Tilton’s spouse, Elizabeth, had develop into mysteriously pregnant while her spouse was lying around dying from a prolonged health issues. Then she miscarried a boy or girl, and she confessed. Tilton experienced been obtaining his have affairs, not just with Victoria, so he couldn’t participate in the aggrieved partner nicely. Plymouth church elders certain all parties to retain the story a magic formula for the sake of the ministry.

Victoria kept her powder dry until eventually a couple days just before the election. Then, in the November 2 concern of Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, she explained to what she experienced listened to about Reverend Beecher in excellent element and ignited the most important sex scandal of the century. Potential buyers clamoring for the information drove the cost of a solitary copy from ten cents to $40 by the conclusion of the 1st working day. Anthony Comstock, who was just setting up his profession as New York’s ethical watchdog, experienced Victoria and Tennie arrested on obscenity expenses.

They were being nonetheless in the Ludlow Street Jail on Election Day. Victoria was only on the ballot in a handful of states, and evidently got as well number of votes to be shown in the official count. They had been at last released at the finish of November and have been inevitably acquitted.

In the meantime a committee of Plymouth elders investigated Victoria’s expenses versus Beecher and observed the reverend blameless. They expelled Tilton from the church. Tilton filed a accommodate from Beecher for alienation of passion. The demo, held in the Brooklyn Town Courthouse from January into July 1875, was a large media circus. Neither side dared to set Woodhull on the stand, but it was universally recognized that she was the provocateur who’d dragged the complete regrettable business enterprise right before the public. For all the hoopla, the demo finished in a hung jury. Beecher’s status was completely but not seriously dented. Tilton’s existence and standing, having said that, were being in ruins. He fled the place for Paris, where by he died in 1907.

It all built Victoria so sick from exhaustion and pressure that at one issue her dying was publicly declared. She was nothing, nevertheless, if not a survivor. She rose and dragged herself to talking engagements all over the nation in 1875 and ’76. But the Victoria Woodhull who emerged like the phoenix from the ashes of her demolished daily life was a new and chastened individual. She claimed, outrageously, that she had under no circumstances advocated no cost appreciate, which she now damned as “abominable lust,” and spoke out for the sanctity and purity of marriage.

In 1876 she divorced Colonel Blood. The next year she and Tennessee moved to London. She did additional speaking and writing there, always the new concept about the sanctity of marriage and motherhood. London society under no circumstances warmed to her. The far more she denied her earlier, the additional the newspapers kept digging it all up all over again. But a London banker named John Biddolph Martin attended a person of her talks and, like so several males just before him, was helplessly enraptured. Martin was almost everything Victoria required in a person now: constant, respectable, wealthy, and worshipful. Since his loved ones strongly objected to the romance, it took him 6 several years to marry her. When he died in 1893 he still left her a handsome place manor in Worchestershire. Below she eventually appears to be to have uncovered the protection she desired and a measure of the respect she always craved. She played the stereotyped English country girl for the relaxation of her everyday living, involving herself in area flower displays and charities.

She lived on past the convert of the century and through the Wonderful War, by which time her scandalous earlier had eventually faded from memory. Tennessee died just before her, in 1923. Victoria died at the age of 88 in June 1927. It was two months just after Charles Lindbergh manufactured his transatlantic flight, and 7 many years following American girls eventually gained the correct to vote.

John Strausbaugh — Mr. Strausbaugh is the author of Town of Sedition: The Heritage of New York City For the duration of the Civil War and Victory City: A Historical past of New York and New Yorkers For the duration of Earth War II.





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