Victoria Woodhull crafted a life for herself from pretty raw materials. She traveled from an abusive childhood to a very aristocratic end but the life in the middle? Ah, that is the part were she was a woman ahead of her time.
Victoria California Claflin was born on September 23, 1838 to Reuben Buckman (Buck) and Roxanne (Annie) in the very sweet town of Homer, Ohio. Buck was an abusive scoundrel, Annie a mentally unstable religious zealot and Victoria’s childhood of abuse, poverty and lack of much of an education became even more of a struggle when the fine townsfolk of Homer shoo’d the Claflins away.
To support the family, Buck taught Victoria and her sister, Tennessee, a valuable life skill by putting them in front of audiences all over the Midwest as spiritual healers, clairvoyants, fortune tellers, sellers of magical elixirs…and we can only speculate what else. Even Victoria’s marriage at 15 to the dashing and charming Canning Woodhull wasn’t an escape–he was a womanizer, addict and all around crappy husband. After their son was born a year later the family moved several times, Victoria took a series of jobs to help them survive while her husband did as little as possible even while he was delivering their second child (it’s a gross story) (oh, yeah, we tell it.)
Escape from this life came in the form of one Colonel James Blood. He believed like she did, saw the world the way she did and, most importantly, made her happy.
When Victoria and crew including her sister, Tennie, moved to New York they began by earning money the way they always had, but since they were able to tell fortunes (or read people), they must have known that Cornelius Vanderbilt would come into their lives, right? Known that with his mentoring (is that what the kids are calling it these days?) Tennie and Victoria would make quite a bit in the stock market. But if they had known what would happen after Victoria got involved with the suffrage movement do you think they would have stayed? Maybe, but Victoria wasn’t a very conventional suffragist (Victoria wasn’t a conventional anything), and while the suffragists were talking about the best way to bring equal rights to women, Victoria was living that life.
Victoria, deep in thought about…we have no idea
Victoria and Tennie were the first two female stockbrokers in New York, Victoria was the first woman to speak before a congressional committee, they began a newspaper, Victoria started a speaking career and, oh yeah, she announced her candidacy for president.
Like we said, not very conventional. Her platform, to our ears, sounds the opposite of radical: women’s rights, equal rights for equal pay, aid to the poor, and legislation to help women who were trapped in marriages by a society that failed to see the way they were treated. Okay, so “Free Love” sounds to our ears what it did to the Victorians, but all Vicky wanted was to get government out of her bedroom.
So many errors occurred between announcing her candidacy to election day 1872 that even a skilled politician today wouldn’t have been able to overcome them: Support, then a slow backing away from the suffragists, constant badmouthing by the Beecher sisters, lawsuits, a juicy scandal involving a high profile minister, a kooky and greedy extended family…and an arrest right before election day that sent both Victoria and Tennie into jail.
She didn’t stand a chance. But she knew that going in her candidacy was symbolic and after it was all over, after Victoria moved on to a life of downright upstanding citizenry in England, Victoria knew that she had gotten her message out. The country was 48 years away from women voting, 144 years from the first woman nominee from a major party, and the US is still trying to legislate love but by thinking far ahead of her time, but in 1872, Victoria Woodhull wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and even that was ahead of its time.
Time Travel with The History Chicks
The grand mama of Victoria sites (well, the great, great, great step-granddaughter of them anyway) head over to Victoria-Woodhull. com, Victoria Woodhull Spirit to Run the White House has Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly archives, Victoria Woodhull Presidential Library and enough reading to keep you busy for a very long time from a distant relation of Victoria’s.
Whaaa? The 19th Amendment didn’t give all women the right to vote? Well, it did, sorta, but states moved quickly to take that right away from native Americans and women (and men in some cases) of color. Here is a really great (read:eye opening) timeline of Voting Rights History in the United States.
Speaking of eye opening: Literacy rates in Early America are probably higher than you thought.
Quick review of female US presidential candidates if you don’t want to read a whole book (below.)
Information about the Fox Sisters (and a lot of other creepy stuff, it’s the website of the American Ghost Society.)
Eugenics, Anthony Comstock and Victoria Woodhull. Light reading. No, not really, but more in-depth intel about those obscenity charges that kept her in jail on voting day.
When you are in Wichita, Kansas check out Old Cowtown (place Beckett talked about), they do have a very impressive list of events. The Steampunk Expo that started at Old Cowtown has moved on to a different venue, it’s in November and you can learn more about it here, Emerald City Steampunk Expo. (Thanks for that heads-up, Robert!)
An in-depth look at the colorful history of the Ludlow Street Jail in New York from Atlas Obscura, and an article from The Bowery Boys about notorious Boss Tweed’s time (and end of time) in the jail and a bit about Great Jones street.
The documentary narrated by Kate Capshaw with Gloria Steinam commentary:An upcoming documentary about Victoria, The Coming Woman, is in editing, it’s a labor of love project so follow along with the Rau Sisters to it’s completion.
And, finally, how Beckett saw the Claflin kids (please don’t let that be cussing subtitles in some language we don’t know):