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Victoria Woodhull was recognized during her lifetime as a leader in the women's suffrage movement. She was the first woman to do many things. Woodhull was the first woman to own a Wall Street brokerage firm, the first woman to start and run a weekly newspaper. Woodhull got a lot of attention for her activities in labor reform and women's rights. She is remembered most for being the first female candidate to run for president of the United States. She was nominated by the Equal Rights Party that was dedicated to equal rights and supported women's suffrage. Woodhull ran for president in 1872.
She was born in Homer, Ohio, on September 23, 1838. Victoria Woodhull was the seventh of ten children. Her father's name was Reuben Buckman Claflin. He was known as a con man. Woodhull was very close to her sister Tennessee Celeste Claflin. This sister was seven years younger than Woodhull and the last child born in her family. Her family had to leave the town of Homer when her father burned down the family's gristmill. He attempted to collect on an insurance policy but his fraud was discovered. This is when Woodhull and her little sister became involved in the 1800s spiritualist movement. She became a popular medium. The two sisters would travel around and entertain audiences with their clairvoyant abilities. When Woodhull was 15, she married a man named Canning Woodhull. She became tired of his womanizing and physical abuse so, in 1864, the couple divorced.
Colonel James H. Blood
Woodhull met a man named Colonel James Harvey Blood when she did some public speaking. During the Civil War, he was part of the Union Army in Missouri. Blood was an educated man who was very polite and courteous. He believed in the doctrine of free love. Blood and Woodhull married in 1866. The couple settled in New York City in 1868. Woodhull's sister and a few other family members moved in with them. Woodhull then opened a saloon. It attracted the most intelligent and articulate radicals of the day. These people would meet to have intellectually charged debates. This is when Woodhull gained notoriety as a gifted conversationalist. Benjamin Butler was a former Union general in the Civil War and Massachusetts Congressmen. He and his friend Stephen Pearl Andrews shared Woodhull's vision of free love. They also supported women's suffrage and women's rights. They both became good friends with Woodhull and her husband.
First Woman To Own A Brokerage Firm
When Woodhull and her sister were working as spiritual advisers in New York City, they got a very special client. He was 76-year-old, Cornelius Vanderbilt. Known as a wealthy railroad magnate, his wife had recently died. Woodhull and her sister worked as mediums and helped Vanderbilt contact his dead wife's spirit. He also believed their talents helped him to obtain important financial insights from the spiritual world. Vanderbilt financed Woodhull and her sister's financial investments on Wall Street as well as providing them with important financial advice. The sisters started making money from the stock market. They decided to open their own brokerage house in 1870 with the financial backing of Vanderbilt. It was called Woodhull, Claflin, and Company. It was a huge financial success from using the New York Stock Exchange. Woodhull believed a woman's ability to make money was even more effective for protecting themselves against the brutality and tyranny of men. She believed it was even more important than the ability to vote.
First Woman To Own A Weekly Newspaper
Woodhull used some of the money she earned from the brokerage firm to start a weekly newspaper. On May 14, 1870, the newspaper called the Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly rolled off of the press for the first time. It would be published for the next six years. The publication's articles were dedicated to advancing the vision that women should live as equals to men in the family circle, political arena as well as the workplace. Woodhull demonstrated this in her own life. She was a married woman, the mother of two, and very successful in business.
Woodhull addressed the House Judiciary Committee in Washington DC concerning women's suffrage. She also gave lectures on Constitutional Equality that attracted thousands of people. Woodhull argued women already had the right to vote. She pointed out the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution granted the right to vote to all citizens and that gender was not specified in the amendment. Newspapers around the country reported on her appearance before Congress. Some of them had full-page engravings of Woodhull. She then became a recognized leader in the women's rights movement.
Run For US President
Woodhull announced her candidacy for President of the United States in 1871. This is 50 years before women were given the right to vote. There was no law that stated a woman couldn't run for office. She was nominated on May 10, 1872, by the Equal Rights Party. At the party's convention on Jun 6, 1872, her nomination was ratified. She did have some problems. Woodhull was younger than the constitutionally mandated age of 35. She did not get any popular votes or electoral votes. At the time, many people did not believe women were considered citizens.
Woodhull was demonized by the press for supporting free love. She decided to devote an issue of her newspaper to a story about an adulterous affair between a parishioner and a prominent Protestant minister. This story was considered a national outrage. U.S. Marshals arrested Woodhull, her husband, and sister. They were charged with publishing an obscene newspaper and taken to jail. This is how the first female candidate for President of the United State spent the 1872 election day. The election was won by presidential incumbent Ulysses S. Grant. Six months later, all three of them were acquitted on a legal technicality. Being arrested had cost them $500,000 in bail and fines. In 1875, Woodhull's husband Colonel Blood left her. The couple divorced in 1876. Their newspaper then stopped being published for good.
Woodhull and her sister left for England in 1877 to start a new life. She continued to give lectures. At one of her lectures, a wealthy banker attended. His name was John Biddulph Martin, and he started dating Woodhull. They were married on October 31, 1883. She began publishing a magazine under the name of Victoria Woodhull Martin. It was called “The Humanitarian.”
On June 9, 1927, Victoria Woodhull Martin died in Brendon's Norton located in Worcestershire, England. She was 89 years old.
© 2021 Readmikenow
Readmikenow (author) on October 16, 2021:
Femi, thanks. Woodhull was against legal or any type of obligation in relationships no matter how long-term. It was a bit hypocritical as she was legally married.
femi from Nigeria on October 16, 2021:
Interesting story, however I don't understand what you meant by ' free love"
Readmikenow (author) on October 14, 2021:
Miebakagh, thanks. I agree, she was a pioneer.
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on October 14, 2021:
A powerful read and well written. She's a piooner.
Readmikenow (author) on October 14, 2021:
Fran, thanks. Her story is one worth learning about.
fran rooks from Toledo, Ohio on October 14, 2021:
Mike, great article. She was an amazing woman, gifted in many ways. Lucky too with advice from a Vanderbilt. She was professional and had so many firsts in her life. Thanks for sharing.