September 23, 1838 – June 9, 1927
Victoria Woodhull was a contemporary thinker who many felt was well before her time when she ran for President in 1872. Although most of America has never heard of her, she was a well-known name and face during her time. Victoria was an advocate for many contemporary ideas such as free love, equal rights, 8 hour work days, graduated income tax, social welfare programs, and profit sharing.
Born and raised in Homer, Ohio, she was born into a family that was down on their luck. She was married at the age of 15 and had two children. With a very uncharacteristic move for 1864, she divorced her husband who was an alcoholic. Two years later, she married again to James Harvey Blood and made the move of her life to New York. There she and her sister, Tennessee Celeste Claflin, became spiritual advisers to the railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt.
With the backing of Mr. Vanderbilt, the sisters opened a brokerage house on Wall Street becoming the first female stockbrokers. After their business became hugely successful, the sisters started the first female run newspaper, Woodhull and Claflin Weekly. The paper covered controversial topics that were near and dear to their heart: equal rights, sex education, women’s suffrage, free love and vegetarianism. To say the least, Woodhull was ahead of her times in regards to most of her causes.
Using her well-known name and money, Victoria did good for the community as well. She saw no difference between prince or pauper and was known to donate her time and money to those that were hungry, care for those that were sick, and visit those in prison. She was a champion for free thought as well; her newspaper was one of the first in the country to reprint the Communist Manifesto in English.
In 1872, she was elected to be the presidential candidate for the Equal Rights party. Among her supporters were trade unionists, women’s suffragists and socialists. Although women were not allowed to vote until 1920, women were allowed, by law, to run for office. Woodhull was soon attacked, not on her issues, but instead on a personal level being called everything from a witch to a prostitute and most prominently being accused of having an affair with a married man. Through the first flood of attacks, she stood strong and didn’t “fling mud” during the campaign. After some time, it became obvious that she needed to attempt to justify her private behaviors in public. In doing so, she exposed her main attackers’ hypocrisy, who happened to be a famed and well-loved family (Beecher-Stowe), by sending out an expose of the man’s affair with a married woman. Instead of dropping their attacks, the Beecher-Stowe family enlisted the help of the United State marshals and the YMCA. Due to all the controversy surrounding the Woodhulls, they were evicted from their home during this time and soon after Victoria Woodhull, her husband and sister were arrested for mailing obscene material. This kept her out of attempting to vote and forced her to miss the election.
She was released from prison and all charges were dropped six months later. Victoria Woodhall divorced her second husband and moved to Britain in 1878. There she married a wealthy banker and stayed involved and active in the women’s suffrage movement until her death in 1927.
Although she is considered the first female presidential candidate, historians question the legality of that claim – most prominently, the fact she was under the age of 35 which is the mandated age to qualify for the presidency.