In the last election, Hillary Clinton was celebrated as if she were the first woman to run for president, however this could not be farther from the truth because the first woman to run for president was the infamous Victoria Woodhull.
Victoria was a key person in the suffragist movement due to many of her achievements. Her accomplishments opened new jobs up to women. She was one of the most interesting women in history. She was one of the most influential women during the suffrage movement because she managed to be the first female to be a stock broker, to address congress, and to run for president, all while running a newspaper, in spite of her being born into a family of impoverished and abusive con artists. Victoria Claflin was born on September 23, 1838, to Buck and Roxanne Claflin. She was the seventh child out of ten. Buck and Roxanne raised their children with some very peculiar values. Her parents instilled in her the cunning charm of a con artist with the deep spiritualism of an evangelical revivalist.
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“By the time she and her sister, Tennessee, were in their early teens, their family was staging medicine shows at which one of the brothers sold cancer “treatments” and the parents hawked an “elixir of life” with a picture of the attractive Tennessee on the bottle.” (“Woodhull, Victoria (1838–1927)”). Her father’s “Life Elixir” was a powerful combination of liquor and laudanum, an alcoholic mixture made of morphine. During these shows, Buck would declare Victoria and Tennessee clairvoyant. In 1853, she married Dr. Canning Woodhull, a physician. Canning moved her out to California where they had two children together, Byron and Zula.
Canning became a drunk, which made Victoria take odd jobs to pay for her husband’s alcohol addiction and to take care of her kids. Eventually, she left California and Canning to return to her family in Ohio. “Back in Ohio, she found that Buck’s miracle cancer cure — mutton fat and lye –had burned off a woman’s breast and Tennie had been indicted for manslaughter. Another sister, Utica, had become addicted to the Life Elixir she had helped brew and was now a nymphomaniac” (King). The Claflin clan moved to Chicago. There Buck started and ran a prostitution house for some of his daughters. Victoria started a booth as “Madame Holland,” a spiritualist “doctor”.
Colonel James Blood, a civil war soldier, brought his wife in to Victoria to be helped. However, he fell for Victoria, and in 1864, Victoria ran away to New York City with her new husband James Harvey Blood, a civil war veteran, and was reunited with Tennessee later. In New York, Victoria, James, and Tennessee decided to go after Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. Cornelius Vanderbilt played a key role in the two girls becoming the first female stock brokers. Vanderbilt was a big believer in spiritualism and had a weakness for the Claflin sisters. He even proposed to Tennessee, which she promptly turned down and married his younger cousin. “Bamboozled by Victoria, who massaged his psyche, and Tennie, who aimed lower, Vanderbilt staked them to a brokerage for women investors” (King). In 1870, Victoria and Tennessee were tired of working under men and wanted to open their own brokerage firm.
“Early in 1870 Woodhull and her sister decided to open a brokerage firm of their own, quite undeterred by the fact that, as Susan B. Anthony complained, Wall Street men stared at every woman on the pavement except the apple sellers.” (Gordon). Vanderbilt was not a feminist by any means, however his sense of humor lead him to give the girls seven thousand dollars as backing to start their firm, Woodhull, Claflin and Co.In 1870, using profits from their brokerage firm, the sisters started another business, a newspaper this time. They called it Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly.
“By this time their home had become a sort of literary salon that attracted many well-known radical intellectuals. Many friends from this circle contributed to the paper, which articulately supported such controversial goals as equal rights for women, free love, and socialism.” (Victoria C.
Woodhull). In 1872, their paper became the first to publish an English version of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx. The paper gave Victoria a new way to have her voice heard. She often talked about and endorsed free love, birth control, and open marriages, which were very controversial topics during her time. She also used this new medium to speak on suffrage. In 1871, Woodhull became the first woman to address congress.
Her appearance was the first time a woman was heard before ” such a high congressional committee”(Victoria C. Woodhull). She spoke to the House Judiciary Committee about women’s rights. A congressman, Benjamin Butler, helped her write her speech. She asserted that when black men were given the right to vote in the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments, women were included. When Victoria spoke before congress: Leaders of the National Woman Suffrage Association were present in the galleries, and her modest, attractive demeanor charmed even the most rigid moralists among them. Her revolutionary words, however, were at variance with her manner.
She declaimed boldly that “we mean treason; we mean secession … we are plotting revolution … we will overthrow this bogus Republic and plant a government of righteousness in its stead.” (“Woodhull, Victoria (1838–1927)”).