Victoria Woodhull

Victoria-Woodhull-by-Mathew-Brady-c1870

Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for President of the United States. There were a couple of problems with her candidacy, among which was that she was not yet 35 years old when she ran and, if elected, would not have been 35 even by the time of the inauguration. The inauguration would have been in March 1873 and she would have turned 35 the following September.

She was an advocate for women’s rights in general and, in particular, for the right to freely divorce. She also believed in women’s right to sexual self-determination, meaning that she thought married women should have a right to decline to have sex with their husbands—or anyone else. She once said “If Congress refuse to listen to and grant what women ask, there is but one course left then to pursue. What is there left for women to do but to become the mothers of the future government?”

She worked as a traveling healer, and then later co-owned a Wall Street brokerage firm (funded by Cornelius Vanderbilt) with her sister. She and her sister also founded a newspaper, called Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly.

She was nominated as the Equal Rights Party candidate for President in 1872 on a platform of women’s suffrage and women’s rights. She nominated Frederick Douglass as her running mate, but he didn’t ever accept or even acknowledge the nomination. She was arrested shortly before the election on charges of obscenity because her newspaper had published a story about a prominent minister who had an affair with a member of his church that had made headlines nationally. The story was published, at least in part, to point out her strong disapproval of the hypocrisy of a society that condoned married men having mistresses, but condemned women who did similar things. She was eventually acquitted.

She didn’t receive a single electoral vote in the election of 1872, and Ulysses S. Grant was elected president.  In 1886, she left the US and moved to England. She ended up marrying her third husband there, and she began advocating for reforming the education system to include kindergarten.

She was a controversial person, certainly. While she was at first accepted by the leadership of the suffrage movement—including Susan B. Anthony—she was later marginalized by them for her outspoken tactics and radical views. Biographers don’t seem to agree on what she believed in and what she didn’t, making her a curious historical figure even today.

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