Happy Birthday, Victoria Woodhull

23 Sep

Happy Birthday to one of my personal heroes, Victoria Woodhull.  Woodhull was the first woman to run for president of the United States in 1872 against the horribly corrupt and hypocritical Ulysses S. Grant with Frederick Douglass as her running mate — if only she had won!  She was also the first woman to hold a seat on the stock exchange. Woodhull also started her own political party, the Equal Rights Party and ran her own newspaper which published articles exposing the affair between Henry Ward Beecher and Elizabeth Tilton.  Our Woodhull also coined the phrase “Free Love,” and asserted that women should have governance over their own bodies–my what a novel idea.

Victoria and her sister  Tennessee Celeste  displayed psychic powers which their parents exploited in a traveling medicine and fortune-telling show.  Their “psychic power” caught the attention of  Cornelius Vanderbilt, who had a strong interest in Spiritualism, and he backed them in opening a successful brokerage firm in 1870.  There was speculation that Tennessee and perhaps even our Victoria were providing more than just spiritual guidance to our Cornelius.

In a letter from from Elizabeth Cady Stanton, dated April 15, 1871, Stanton reports her impression of Woodhull:

Dear Sir,

Have just returned from Philadelphia where I visited Lucretia Mott. Mrs. Woodhull had just spoken there and visited with many of your Quaker friends and me. We were charmed with her. I have not been associated with Mrs. W. as all my time this winter has been passed in the west, but all the women most interested in our cause feel that she’s a valuable addition. Neither Anna Dickinson1 or Kate Field has thought enough of our movement to make a speech on our platform; it ill becomes them to question the wisdom of Susan B. Anthony or myself in welcoming any one to our ranks who is ready to share our labors.

In regard to all the gossip about Mrs. W, I have one reply to my gentlemen friends. When the men who make laws for us in Washington can stand forth before all Israel and the sun and declare themselves pure, unspotted from all the sins mentioned in the Decalogue, then we will demand that any woman who makes a constitutional argument on our platform shall be as chaste as Diana. If all “they say” is true, Mrs. Woodhull is better than nine tenths of our Fathers, Husbands, sons, and woman’s purity amounts to little in the regeneration of the race as long as man is vile. Now if our good men will only trouble themselves as much about the purity of their own sex, as they do about ours, if they will make one moral code for men and women, we shall have a nobler type of manhood and womanhood in another generation than the world has yet seen.

When our soldiers went to fight the battles of freedom of the late war, did they stop to inquire into the antecedents of everybody by their side?

The war would never have been finished if they had.

Now although I believe Mrs. Woodhull to be a grand woman, I should be glad to have her work for her own enfranchisement if she were not. I think she would become a better woman by thus working and by assuming all the rights, privileges, and amenities of an American citizen.

Yours sincerely,

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Our Woodhull certainly puts women like Ann Romney, Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachmann to shame.  We certainly need her voice today during this serious backlash against women.

4 Responses to “Happy Birthday, Victoria Woodhull”

  1. Didion September 23, 2012 at 10:12 am #

    Yes! Woodhull is my homegirl! That woman was BAD ASS.

    You’re so impressive, Michael — I love it that you’ve taken on the role of a teacher at this site. I mean, outside of a history class, who mentioned Woodhull anymore? This is just wonderful stuff.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt September 23, 2012 at 10:16 am #


      Are you so kind and so supportive. You honor me, thank you. I have to confess, I have been in love with our Woodhull for many years and was fortunate to do research on her through an NEH Grant.

  2. Christine Noble September 23, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    I can always count on learning something new from you Michael. Now I know why Cafe 1872, just few blocks from the Susan B Anthony House here in Rochester, is named as it is.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt September 23, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

      How cool that you are next to the Cafe 1872. I hope you like our Victoria.

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