Friday, April 10, 2015

The Story of the First Woman Candidate for US President in 1872

Victoria Woodhull, who ran for President in 1872, an activist for women's rights and labor reforms, Woodhull was also an advocate of free love, by which she meant the freedom to marry, divorce, and bear children without government interference.

Even more amazing is that she did it almost 50 years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 gave women the right to vote. On Election Day, November 5, 1872, Victoria Woodhull couldn’t even vote for herself.
Woodhull went from rags to riches twice, her first fortune being made on the road as a highly successful magnetic healer[1] before she joined the spiritualist movement in the 1870s.[2] While 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[3]), her role as a representative of these movements was powerful. Together with her sister, she was the first woman to operate abrokerage firm on Wall Street, and they were among the first women to found a newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly, which began publication in 1870.[4]
At her peak of political activity in the early 1870s, Woodhull is best known as the first woman candidate for the United States presidency, which she ran for in 1872 from the Equal Rights Party, supporting women's suffrage and equal rights. Her arrest on obscenity charges a few days before the election for publishing an account of the alleged adulterous affair between the prominent minister Henry Ward Beecher and Elizabeth Tilton added to the sensational coverage of her candidacy. She did not receive any electoral votes, and there is conflicting evidence about popular votes.
Many of the reforms and ideals Woodhull espoused for the working class, against what she saw as the corrupt capitalist elite, were extremely controversial in her time. Generations later many of these reforms have been implemented and are now taken for granted. Some of her ideas and suggested reforms are still debated today.
Born in 1838, Victoria California Claflin was the seventh of 10 children who lived in an unpainted wooden shack in Homer, Ohio, a small frontier town in Licking County. Her education lasted less than three years between the ages of eight to eleven. According to Myra MacPherson, Victoria’s latest biographer (The Scarlet Sisters: Sex Suffrage and Scandal in the Gilded Age was published last year and focused on both Victoria and her younger sister Tennessee), Victoria claimed that she had never spent even one year in a schoolroom. MacPherson, whose look at the sisters’ lives is as entertaining as it is sad, writes that their mother, Annie, was a “slattern” who was “described by all who met her in later life as an unpleasant old hag.” Their father, Buck, was, if possible, worse: a thief, a child beater, “a one-eyed snake oil salesman who posed as a doctor and a lawyer.” The lives of the six surviving children were “filled with Dickensian debauchery.” Victoria was forced by Buck to travel in his painted wagon and work as a revivalist child preacher and a fortune teller; Tennessee, with whom Victoria would collaborate closely throughout her life, worked as a “magnetic healer”; and both were made to perform as “faith healers” and “clairvoyants who spoke to the dead.” Their lives were tumultuous, impoverished, unpredictable and nomadic.
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