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Sun, 09.23.1838

Victoria Woodhull, Activist, and Feminist born

Victoria Woodhull

*Victoria Woodhull was born on this date in 1838. She was a white-American leader of the women's suffrage movement.

Victoria California Claflin was born the seventh of ten children (six of whom survived to maturity) in the rural frontier town of Homer, Licking County, Ohio. Her mother, Madame Roxanna "Roxy" Hummel Claflin, was born to unmarried parents and illiterate. She had become a follower of the Austrian mystic Franz Mesmer and the new spiritualist movement. Her father, Reuben "Buck" Buckman Claflin, Esquire, was a con man, lawyer, and snake oil salesman. He came from an impoverished branch of the Massachusetts-based Scottish-American Claflin family, semi-distant cousins to Massachusetts Governor William Claflin.

While many historians and authors agree that Woodhull was the first woman to run for the presidency, some disagree with classifying it as a true candidacy because she was younger than the constitutionally mandated age of 35 (Woodhull's 35th birthday was in September 1873, seven months after the March inauguration). However, newspaper election coverage does not suggest age was a significant issue; this may be because few took the candidacy seriously. An activist for women's rights and labor reforms, Woodhull was also an advocate of the freedom to marry, divorce, and bear children without social restriction or government interference. "They cannot roll back the rising tide of reform," she often said. "The world moves."

Woodhull twice went from rags to riches, her first fortune being made on the road as a magnetic healer before she joined the spiritualist movement in the 1870s. Authorship of many of her articles is disputed (many of her speeches on these topics were collaborations between Woodhull, her backers, and her second husband, Colonel James Blood.  Despite her ethical problems, her role as a representative of these movements was powerful. Together with her sister, Tennessee Claflin, she was the first woman to operate a brokerage firm on Wall Street, making a second and more reputable fortune. They were among the first women to publish a newspaper in the United States, Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly, which began publication in 1870.

Woodhull was politically active in the early 1870s when she was nominated as the first woman candidate for the United States presidency. Woodhull was the candidate in 1872 from the Equal Rights Party, supporting women's suffrage and equal rights. Her campaign was also notable for the nomination of Frederick Douglass as the vice-presidential candidate; he did not take part in the convention, acknowledge his nomination or take an active role in the campaign. His nomination stirred up controversy about mixing whites and blacks in public life and fears of miscegenation. The Equal Rights Party hoped to use the nominations to reunite suffragists with American Civil Rights activists.   

The exclusion of female suffrage from the Fifteenth Amendment two years earlier had caused a substantial rift between the groups. A check on her activities occurred when she was arrested on obscenity charges a few days before the election. Her paper had published an account of the alleged adulterous affair between the prominent minister Henry Ward Beecher and Elizabeth Richards Tilton, which had rather more detail than was considered proper at the time. However, it all added to the sensational coverage of her candidacy. Victoria Claflin Woodhull, who ran for President of the United States in the 1872 election, died on June 9, 1927.

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