There comes a time in every society’s history that people begin to ask why and rise up for what they believe in. Whether it is fighting for citizen rights as a whole, religious prejudice, or inequality of minorities, eventually enough becomes enough. For Victoria Hull, the injustice of women came earlier than the world expected. Her battle began in the 1870’s fighting for the ability to show the world just what women were made of.
“I Endeavor to Make the Most of Everything” – Victoria Woodhull
Victoria Claflin, later Woodhull, was born in Homer Ohio, in 1838. It was here in Homer that she received her early and only education at Homer’s Methodist Church school where she studied inconsistently for 3 years. Allegations that her father committed insurance fraud prompted the family to leave town and open a traveling medicine show. Their show focused around telling fortunes and selling homemade medicines. Victoria and her sister Tennessee played crucial roles in the family business and would later go on to pursue their own endeavors in the realm of traveling medicine.
When Victoria was only 15, she was married off to 28- year-old Canning Woodhull. Unbeknownst at the time Canning was an abusive alcoholic that would make Victoria’s life miserable for the years to come. Together they had two children who Victoria would support by working multiple jobs. While Victoria was out earning money, Canning had other ideas on how to spend his time. He spent his free moments with other women, many other women. Years went by before Victoria finally decided to end the abuse and neglect. In 1865, they divorced, and this was the point she really started advocating for the idea of free love. Free love was the concept that people should only remain with their partners as long as they choose to. Seems like a “duh” moment in our society now, but this was at the time divorcees were stigmatized and marriage represented almost an unbreakable agreement. The free love movement aimed to destigmatize divorce while simultaneously making it easier for women to leave their abusive partners. The details surrounding her marriage, working multiple jobs, standing up to her husband’s abuse, and adopting free love were her first big displays of feminism in a time where it was taboo to be a powerful woman.
“Why is Woman to Be Treated Differently? Woman Suffrage Will Succeed Despite This Miserable Guerilla Opposition.” – Victoria Woodhull
While working in spiritual medicine with her sister, Victoria was employed by Cornelius Vanderbilt who hired mediums in hopes of contacting his deceased wife. Under his employ, the sisters would receive financial advice. Using his guidance, the girls were able to quickly save a fund of 700,000 dollars. In today’s standards it would measure to about 15 million dollars. Rolling in money, Victoria and Tennessee opened their own brokerage, Woodhull, Claflin and Company in 1870. They became the first women to ever operate a financial firm on Wall Street. Though already an amazing feat, Victoria was not satisfied. She saw this as an opportunity to use her newfound success as a gateway in publicly fighting for her political agenda.
Soon after opening their brokerage, the pair also opened a publishing company. Their newspaper supported controversial topics of the time including free love, women’s suffrage, and better rights for workers and the poor. They also published the first English version of the “Communist Manifesto” and an account of the affair of minister Henry Ward Beecher.
“I Ask the Rights to Pursue Happiness by Having a Voice in That Government to Which I Am Accountable” – Victoria Woodhull
Victoria Woodhull became involved in the women’s suffrage movement in 1869 while working for Vanderbilt. Quickly she became a key public speaker and appeared at multiple conventions. She made her big debut in history in 1871, when she testified for women’s suffrage before the House of Representatives. Joining her were prominent figures Susan B. Anthony and Isabella Hooker. They joined to declare that women should already have the right to vote per the 14th and 15th Amendments. History books would show their efforts unsuccessful.
Victoria Woodhull made history again just the next year becoming the first woman to ever run for president. The new Equal Rights Party had nominated her, and she chose her partner wisely selecting Frederick Douglas as her running mate. Unfortunately, her campaign was not taken seriously due to her young age and sex. After running her political reputation began to decline. She spent her final years in America working again for her publishing company, where another scandal would damage her to near bankruptcy. This decline led her to move to England. Here she again became involved in the women’s suffrage movement and published a journal alongside her daughter. Woodhull spent her later life in the English countryside until her death in 1927. In her 88 years of life, she was able to shock the world and still continues to be an inspiration to not only women but people everywhere.