May 10th in (Feminist) History

victoria-woodhull-by-bradley-26-rulofsonOn this day in 1872, Victoria Woodhull became the first woman nominated for president of the U.S., as a candidate for the Equal Rights Party (also known as the People’s Party, the Cosmo-Political Party and the National Radical Reformers). Her vice presidential candidate was Frederick Douglass, a former slave and abolitionist leader. Though she nominated him, he didn’t officially take part in the campaign, however his nomination caused controversy related to the “mixing” of races in public life, as well as miscegenation (ugh).

Victoria was an abolitionist and a suffragist, who fought for both women’s rights and labor rights. She appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to testify on behalf of woman’s suffrage, presenting the very simple argument that women already had the right to vote, because the 14th and 15th Amendments guaranteed the protection of that right for all citizens. Though she was anti-abortion (and is often cited by pro-life people), she believed that abortion should not be necessary if women had more freedom and were not placed into the position of having an “unwished-for child”; she also was a proponent of sexual-education for women. She and her sister, Tennie Claflin, were the first women to operate a brokerage firm on Wall Street, and they were also some of the first women to found their own newspaper; Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly. She was also known as an advocate of free love– by which she believed in the freedom to marry, have children, and/or divorce without interference by the government. A woman who had divorced her husband to end an unhappy marriage, and then married again, Victoria was a big supporter of her idea of “free love”; she railed against the idea of women being trapped into marriages, and of the way society stigmatized women who got divorced, but was so accepting of men who had mistresses and affairs.

“Yes, I am a Free Lover. I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can; to change that love every day if I please, and with that right neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere.” – Victoria Woodhall, November 20, 1871.

Her campaign was filled with sensational coverage, wherein she was lambasted for her views on free love, and accused of being a prostitute (of course). When a prominent minister named Henry Ward Beecher began to preach against her idea of “free love”, Victoria wrote and published an article about the fact that he was a married man having an affair with his parishioner, Elizabeth Tilton. Victoria’s account of the affair was meant to highlight the double-standard between men and women… and in a way, it did. Victoria’s article lead to the arrest of she, her husband, and her sister on charges of “publishing an obscene newspaper”, and though they were eventually acquitted on a technicality, Victoria was held in jail for months, preventing her from voting in the election.

Victoria tried several more times to be nominated for president, but never won. She eventually divorced her second husband, married a third, and ran a magazine called The Humanitarian with her daughter, Zula Woodhull. She retired after the death of her third husband, and passed away in 1927.

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