Sue Young Histories

Victoria Claflin Woodhull 1838 - 1927

February 14, 2008

Victoria WoodhullVictoria Claflin Woodhull 1838 - 1927 was the first woman to run for the American Presidency in 1872, and she was also famous for her interest in free love (the Woodhull Freedom Foundation is still active today), spiritualism, homeopathy, suffrage, publishing, and for making millions of dollars out of the Stock Exchange, with her sister Tennessee Celeste Claflin, as the first female Wall Street brokers.

Victoria Woodhull lectured alongside Harriet E Adams Wilson.

In August 1877, Georgiana Tollemache Mount Temple and William Francis Cowper Temple met Victoria Claflin Woodhull and Theosophist ‘Colonel” Andrew Jackson Rogers (1828-1900) (James Gregory, Reformers, Patrons and Philanthropists, (Taurus Academic Studies, 2010). Pages 137-138. See also NB: I believe this is Andrew Jackson Rogers (1828-1900) though I am unsure why James Gregory names him as a Colonel, I note his Wikipedia entry does not mention any role he may have had in the American Civil War!) Victoria was accompanied by her sister Fanny and was in reduced financial circumstances at this time. Fanny offered her mesmeric healing to Georgiana Tollemache Mount Temple and Victoria lectured at St. James Hall possibly on eugenics? William Francis Cowper Temple was not impressed and refused her financial aid.

Just who was Victoria Woodhull anyway?” It seems a simple question, but Victoria was not a simple person.

She was conceived in 1837, during the frenzy of a religious revival in Homer, Ohio. Her father was an itinerant con man and a thief; her mother was illegitimate, illiterate and a religious fanatic. As a child, Victoria was raised in filth and squalor, beaten and starved, given little education and exploited in her father’s traveling carnival show as a clairvoyant and fortune-teller.

Unexpectedly, she demonstrated such powers as accurately recalling past events and predicting future ones, finding missing objects and people, and affecting cures. She also relayed messages from loved ones who had “passed over.”

From childhood, Victoria maintained that she was guided and protected by the spirits, who occasionally let her visit a utopian world in heaven unlike the chaotic, miserable world in which she lived. Like Joan of Arc, she listened to voices that told her she would rise from poverty one day to become “ruler of the nation.”

At 15, in order to escape her father’s brutality, Victoria eloped with an alcoholic doctor who fathered a retarded son and so botched the delivery of their daughter that the baby nearly bled to death. After five years, Victoria left him and struck out on her own.

Eventually, her belief in the spirits enabled her to form alliances with such powerful men as Cornelius Vanderbilt II, to become the first woman to own a Wall Street investment firm, to found her own newspaper, to speak before Congress demanding that women be given the vote and finally, to run for U.S. President in 1872 against the popular incumbent, Ulysses S. Grant, and the powerful newspaperman, Horace Greeley.

In short, she set America on its ear… Victoria, on the other hand, embraced a benign alternative medicine. She practiced homeopathy, a treatment begun by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann

322 East Broadway

In 1848, the address of William Radde’s Homeopathic Medicines and Books.

412 East Broadway

Here on May 10, 1872, the Equal Rights Party was founded, which ”advocated free love, birth control, vegetarianism, easier divorce laws and the end of the death penalty”—All Around the Town. The party nominated Victoria C. Woodhull for president—the first female presidential candidate of any U.S. party—and Frederick Douglass for vice president.

724 Astor Place East Broadway

The address of the Medical College for Women and Hospital for Women and Children, a homeopathic institution opened in 1862 with support from Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

John Humphrey Noyes rejected both conventional and revivalist sexuality. The latter, manifested in plurality of wives, liberalization of divorce, and marital abstinence, was indicative, for Noyes, of the sickly, unsound, and contaminated nature of contemporary American society.

All of these practices represented attempts to address the symptomatology rather than the pathology of conventional marriage and monogamic sexuality.

Americans suffered the effects of poor social hygiene, which found expression in emotional extremes—languishing affectivity on the one hand and febrile fleshiness on the other. But to the wise physician, these were merely superficial indications; the real source of the culture’s infirmity lay in the debilitation of the affections, especially the declining vigor of romantic love and the weakening of its primary institutional support, monogamous marriage.

For Noyes and the countercultural practitioners as well as for the more orthodox cultural homeopaths, appropriate therapy for society’s sexual ills lay in purifying the affections and establishing a foundation for “true love” in “true marriage”.

In the decade following ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony increasingly took the position, first advocated by Victoria Woodhull, that the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments actually did give women the right to vote.

They argued that the Fourteenth Amendment, which defined citizens as “all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” included women and that the Fifteenth Amendment provided all citizens with the right to vote.

Using this logic, they asserted that women now had the constitutional right to vote and that it was simply a matter of claiming that right. This constitutionally-based argument, which came to be called “the new departure” in women’s rights circles because of its divergence from earlier attempts to change voting laws on a state-by-state basis, led to first Anthony (in 1872), and later Stanton (in 1880), going to the polls and demanding to vote. Despite this, and similar attempts made by hundreds of other women, it would be nearly fifty years before women obtained the right to vote throughout the United States.

To the Editor of the New York Times: Excerpt from a letter by Victoria Woodhull after she attempted to vote in a New York City election in 1871. Universal suffrage for women did not occur until 1920.

Victoria Woodhull made her attempt to vote one year before Susan B. Anthony made her famous attempt.

"I have been refused the right of voting by the Democratic inspectors of my district, the Republican dissenting and desiring to receive my vote.

“Under the election laws of the State, the inspectors are, or I am, “guilty of felony” since either they prevented a legal voter from voting, or I attempted to vote illegally!

“And either they or I shall be convicted of the crime… ."

An exchange remarks:

“If the next generation of women do vote, will they be educated to the proper standard to do so intelligently? They seldom or never read political newspapers, history or works on political economy. It may be said that young men do the same.

“That may be; but from their earliest days they hold [conversational] intercourse with men, or hear them talking on such topics. Young women have no such opportunities; how, then can they, as a class, be educated up to a true voting standard?”

From the Baltimore Sunday Telegram of October 29:

“It is Victoria Woodhull who has been pronounced insane. Queen Victoria has only rheumatism in the foot.”

The nineteenth-century feminists, including Susan B. Anthony, Tennessee Claflin (Victoria’s sister), Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Victoria Woodhull and just about every other feminist who has left a record from that era regarding abortion were all staunchly opposed to abortion - which they uniformly referred to as “child-murder.”

These women were hardly afraid to speak their mind, having included the author of a new “women’s Bible” (Stanton), led the “free-love” movement (Claflin & Woodhull), became millionaires as stockbrokers (Claflin and Woodhull), and ran for President (Woodhull, with Frederick Douglass as her running mate).

Nor were these women unsophisticated about abortion, carefully distinguishing between abortion and contraception, and supporting the latter but not the former.

Isabella Beecher Hooker became involved with free love advocate Victoria Woodhull, who would take her to spiritual gatherings where Isabella became convinced she would lead a matriarchal government of the world. She even took the side of Woodhull against her own family.

Woodhull posted accusations towards Hooker’s half-brother, Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, accusing him of committing adultery with a woman named Elizabeth Tilton. Isabella was shunned for the rest of her life by much of her family for her actions. She was unwelcome to attend his funeral sixteen years after the publication of the accusations.

On May 14, 1870, she and Tennessee established a paper, (with money made from her brokerage days), Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, which stayed in publication for the next six years, and became notorious for publishing controversial opinions on taboo topics (especially with regard to sex education and free love).

The paper advocated, among other things, women’s suffrage, short skirts, spiritualism, free love, vegetarianism, and licensed prostitution. It’s commonly stated that the paper also advocated birth control, but some historians disagree.

The paper is now known primarily for printing the first English version of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto in its December 30, 1871 edition.

Victoria Woodhull and her sister Tennessee Claflin published _Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly_, and are credited with the first printing in the United States of Engel and Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. Suffrage organizations published magazines and newspapers that were owned, managed, and edited by women.

Victoria and Tennessee’s publication _Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly _broke an important story in 1872 that set off a national scandal that preoccupied much of the public for months. One of the most renowned ministers of the day, Henry Ward Beecher, had condemned Woodhull’s free love philosophy in his sermons.

But a member of his church, Theodore Tilton, disclosed to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a colleague of Woodhull, that his wife confessed to him that Beecher was committing adultery with her, and this hypocrisy provoked Woodhull to expose Beecher.

Ultimately Beecher stood trial for adultery in an 1875 legal proceeding that equalled, if not exceeded, the sensationalism of the O.J. Simpson trial a century later, holding the attention of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

… On Saturday, November 2, just days before the presidential election, U.S. Federal Marshals arrested Woodhull, her husband Colonel Blood, and her sister Tennie C. Claflin for sending obscene material through the mail. The sisters were held in the Ludlow Street Jail for the next month, a place normally reserved for civil offenses, but which contained more hardened criminals as well.

The arrest was arranged by Anthony Comstock, the self-appointed moral defender of the nation at the time, and the event incited questions about censorship and government persecution. Woodhull, Claflin, and Blood were acquitted on a technicality six months later, but the arrest prevented Victoria from attempting to vote during the 1872 presidential election.

The publication of the Beecher-Tilton scandal led Theodore Tilton, husband of Elizabeth Tilton, to sue Beecher for “alienation of affection” in

  1. The trial was sensationalized across the nation, eventually resulting in a hung jury…

In October 1876, Woodhull divorced her second husband, Colonel Blood. Less than a year later, exhausted and possibly depressed, she left for England to start a new life. She made her first public appearance as a lecturer at St. James’s Hall in London on December 4, 1877. Her lecture was called “The Human Body, the Temple of God,” a lecture that was previously presented in the United States.

Present at one of her lectures was banker John Biddulph Martin, the man who would become her third and last husband on October 31,

  1. From then on, she was known as Victoria Woodhull Martin. Under that name, she published a magazine called the Humanitarian from 1892 to 1901.

As a widow, Woodhull gave up the publication of her magazine and retired to the country, establishing residence at Bredon’s Norton… She died in 1927 at Norton Park in Bredon’s Norton, Worcestershire, West Midlands, England, United Kingdom.

Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis wrote A History of the National Woman’s Rights Movement with Victoria Claflin Woodhull, A History of the National Woman’s Rights Movement, for Twenty Years with Victoria Claflin Woodhull.

Victoria wrote Humanitarian Government, The Scientific Propagation of the Human Race; Or, Humanitarian Aspects of… , Lady Eugenist: Feminist Eugenics in the Speeches and Writings of Victoria… , Humanitarian Money. The Unsolved Riddle, The Rapid Multiplication of the Unfit.