Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Women's History Month: Victoria Woodhull


In honor of Women's History Month, I will be doing special posts in honor of women throughout history. One of which will be: every Wednesday in the month of March I will profile an extraordinary woman who you may not have heard of. Today's profile is on:

Victoria Woodhull

Name: Victoria Claflin Woodhull
DOB/DOD: September 23, 1838 - June 9, 1927
Nationality: American
Occupation: Broker / Newspaper Editor
What she was known for: Advocating for women's right and free love and being the first woman to run for President in 1872.

If anyone knows about Woodhull today, they might associate her name with that of her advocacy for free love or for her run for the presidency. However, she might be seen as a radical for her views on the rights of women, and how she expressed them. Her advocacy for free love stemmed from her views on marriages - how women were sometimes forced into loveless unions with no chance of escape. She forced in to light the hypocrisy of marriage in the 19th century: how a husband with a mistress was looked over as normalcy, but the wife was suppose to be dutiful and devoted only to her husband.

To expose her radical views, Woodhull and her sister, Tennessee, ran a paper called Woodhull & Clafin's Weekly, where they talked of sex education, free love, women's suffrage, short skirts, spiritualism, vegetarianism, all which were considered taboo.

In 1871, Woodhull spoke before the House Judiciary Committee, arguing that women had the legal write to vote as was stated in the 14th and 15th amendment that all citizens had the right to vote. Suffrage leaders like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton saw her as someone who could breathe new life into the movement. However, Anthony soon opposed her, feeling that Woodhull was too radical that she only harmed the movement.

In 1872, Woodhull announced her candidacy as President, with Frederick Douglass as her Vice President. To this day, it is argued if her candidacy was even legal, and if she can be counted as the first woman to run, seeing as how she was under 35 and was, well, a woman. Therefore: not a citizen. Even so, days before the election, Woodhull and her sister were thrown in jail for "publishing an obscene newspaper." They were acquitted six months later.

Woodhull practically went bankrupt through countless legal trouble due to 'inappropriate content' in her paper, thanks to Anthony Comstock. And after her part in the Tilton-Beecher trial in 1875, she eventually moved to England, where she married for the third time.

Woodhull is often overlooked as a player in the Women's Rights Movement. For what reasons, I can't guess. Even though she eventually gave up that life, she did make some impact, opening up people's minds to her views. Perhaps if she lived in a different time, she would have been more appreciated.

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There are a few biographies of Woodhull, some of them are a little more sensational than others. One that I can highly recommend is Other Powers by Barbara Goldsmith. It covers not just Woodhull's life, but the events around her, to help you see what she was involved in. It read almost as a fiction book, but there was no way anyone could make this stuff up!


Dazzling Mage said...

Awesome post on Victoria Woodhull. =)

Also, I have an award(s) for you!

Lisa said...

How have I never heard about Woodhull? Really, the first woman to run for president and I've never heard of her? Shamefully. Thanks for bringing her to my attention.