#89: Victoria Woodhull

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Victoria WoodhullVictoria Woodhull was born Victoria Claflin in 1838 in Ohio. She was one of many children, her father a gristmill operator and get-rich-quick schemer. Victoria spent much of her childhood traveling with her family, working sometimes as a fortuneteller. She rarely if ever went to formal school.

At the age of 15, Victoria married Dr. Canning Woodhall and she soon after had her first child. For several years, she and her family continued to travel and she continued to tell fortunes and sell medicines. Canning was an alcoholic, and in 1864, after having another child, Victoria divorced him.

In 1966, Victoria got married again, this time to Colonel James Harvey Blood, a noted "free love" radical. She and Blood then moved to New York City. In New York, Victoria became friends with railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt (who was reportedly her sister's lover), who backed her and her sister's entry to Wall Street as America's first female stockbrokers. The sisters were very successful and in 1870 started publishing their own journal, Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly.

Victoria used the journal to support progressive causes, including women's suffrage and the 8-hour workday. She also exposed stock market fraud, insurance scams, and corruption in Congress. The journal had about 20,000 subscribers during its six-year publication. In 1872, Victoria spearheaded the first U.S. printing of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels' Communist Manifesto.

Also in 1872, Victoria became the first woman to run for President of the United States. She was the nominee on the Equal Rights Party ticket. Though Victoria's pro-suffrage and social and political reform positions earned her the support of many suffragists, socialists, and unionists, they were too radical for the established suffrage organizers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan Anthony, who elected not to support her.

Friends of President Grant, including Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, also staunchly opposed Victoria. In retaliation to rumors spread about herself and her sister, Victoria printed news in her journal that Beecher was having an affair with a married woman. She was arrested for sending obscene literature through the mail under the Comstock Act and spent the election in jail. Her name ended up being left off the ballot anyway, since she was only 34 years old and thus not technically old enough to run for President under the constitution.

After her initial arrest, Victoria spent months on trial for libel and obscenity. Though she was acquitted, she was eventually bankrupted by her legal costs, which totaled nearly a half million dollars.

In 1876, Victoria and Blood divorced and the publication of the journal ceased. Victoria became increasingly interested in Catholicism and spirituality. In 1878, Victoria emigrate to England with her mother and sister, where she continued her political work, speaking on spirituality, sexuality, and women's suffrage, and started the Humanitarian newspaper 1895. In 1882, Victoria married a third time, this time to millionaire banker John Biddulph Martin.

After her third husband died, Victoria became very interested in agriculture. She divided one of her estates into smaller plots of land, which she then rented to women farmers learning new techniques. She also opened a small agricultural school.

Victoria died in 1927 in England. She was 88 years old.

Sources:
Women in History
Spartacus
Harvard University

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