Victoria Claflin Woodhull (1838-1927): An American Leader of the Woman’s Suffrage Movement, the First Woman to Run For President of the U.S. and an Advocate of Free Love

Editor’s Note:  If you are interested in learning more about the extensive and controversial career of Victoria Claflin Woodhull and the sources of some of her publications and speeches, I recommend viewing Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.  It contains great details about her upbringing in an unusual family, different husbands, checkerboard career and publications.  The site also includes forty-four citations and numerous sources of additional information about Victoria Claflin Woodhull. 

victoria woodhull

In many ways Victoria Claflin Woodhull was ahead of her time and was an important trailblazer for women generations after her.  Born September 23, 1838 in Homer, Ohio, like many women of her era, Woodhull married very young.  Her marriage took place when she was 14 years old and lasted 11 years after which time she divorced and then remarried two years later.  She helped support her family by working as a spiritual medium and fortuneteller.  In 1868, she and her family moved to New York City where Woodhull and one of her sisters became spiritual advisors for railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt.  Vanderbilt in turn helped the sisters become the first women stockbrokers in history when they opened their own brokerage house in 1870 called Woodhull, Claflin & Company in 1870.  That same year the sisters started their own paper called Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly in which they promoted woman suffrage and labor reforms.

The following year, Woodhull became a trailblazer in another area as the first woman to run for president representing the Equal Rights Party.  Woodhull’s presidential platform showed her foresight as she supported issues like an eight-hour workday, graduated income tax, new divorce laws, and social welfare programs that we enjoy today.  While many trade unionists, women’s suffragists, and socialists supported Woodhull, she was unable to gain the funds for an effective campaign and could not receive votes from her female supporters as women did not yet have the right to vote.

Woodhull advocated for equal education for women, woman’s right to vote, and women’s right to control their own health decisions.  She criticized the Victorian ideal of women’s place being first and foremost in the home as full-time wives and mothers.

After divorcing and remarrying a wealthy banker, Woodhull lived out the rest of her days in England with her family, remaining active in the suffrage movement and various charities, giving lectures, and running a newspaper called Humanitarian.  Woodhull died June 9, 1927 in London.

Source: National Women’s History Museum – (Accessed: August 8, 2016)


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