Victoria Woodhull: The first female presidential candidate
With former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton vying against Senator Bernie Sanders as the Democratic nominee in the coming US elections, we’re reminded that Clinton wasn’t the first woman to run for the US presidency– rather it was Victoria Woodhull in 1872.
Woodhull was also the first female Wall Street broker (together with her sister), published her own newspaper, and was the first woman to address a congressional committee.
Woodhull’s run for presidency was 136 years before Clinton’s first candidacy in 2008 against now-President Barack Obama. and 50 years before the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920 that gave women the right to vote.
Ironically, she couldn’t even vote for herself in that election of 1872.
Victoria Woodhull: Small beginnings
You wouldn’t have thought a frontier-town girl like Victoria Clafin– born September 23, 1838– would have made such an impact on women everywhere and throughout history.
After all, she came from a poor large family (the 7th of ten children, of which only six survived), was only educated for three years, had a mother who was described as unpleasant and whose father was a “snake-oil salesman who posed as a doctor and a lawyer.”
She became close to her sister, Tennessee. She married the philandering Canning Woodhull, when she was 15 years old, whom she later divorced– though she retained her married name.
She then ended up marrying Colonel James H. Blood.
Victoria Woodhull’s accomplishments
Because Victoria and her sister had been involved in the spiritualist movement of the 1800s, they got to meet Cornelius Vanderbilt in New York City, who provided them funds for the first woman-run stock brokerage company.
As a result, they were able to set up Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly in 1870 where they expressd their ideas on social reforms. These include women’s suffrage, birth control, and free love.
She also became a strong supporter of women’s rights after attending a female suffrage convention in 1869 and publicly spoke on behalf of women’s suffrage to the point of addressing the House Judiciary Committee in 1871.
Speaking before Congress, she declared that women already had the right to vote under the 14th and 15th amendment because women are citizens: “the citizen who is taxed should also have a voice in the subject matter of taxation.”
Sadly, the House committee rejected her petition to pass “enabling legislation” but her move gave her the credit to become a leader among the suffragists.
Victoria Woodhull runs for president
In 1872, she helped establish the Equal Rights Party to help her run for the position of US president: the first woman to do so. For vice-president, the party sought abolitionist Frederick Douglass but the latter campaigned instead for Republican Ulysses Grant.
Unfortunately, she was heavily criticized for this by the press as well by prominent people at the time.
What’s more, when she had an article published in her newspaper about the adultery of popular preacher Henry Ward Beecher, the preacher’s supporters were able to have Victoria and Tennessee jailed for sending obscene material via the mail.
The two spent a month in jail but they were eventually not found guilty. Unfortunately, the damage had been done and she spent election day incarcerated.
Victoria Woodhull and Hillary Clinton
What’s interesting is that once more, a woman is running for president.
Prior to this, no female candidate had been selected by either the Democratic or Republican parties (though Clinton almost clinched the deal in 2008).
It’s interesting to note that women have been picked to run for the vice-presidential seats: Geraldine Ferraro in the 1984 elections for the Democratic Party and Sarah Palin in the 2008 elections for the Republican Party.
However, they were never elected as well.
It makes us wonder: will we ever see a woman president in our lifetime?