Who was Victoria Woodhull? You might not know her name, but once you hear her story, you'll never forget her. She was the first woman to run for President of the United States, and as a third-party candidate, no less. She started a newspaper, and was a women's suffrage pioneer. Woodhall also became one of the first female stockbrokers on Wall Street and even ran her own brokerage - all during a time period in which women weren't supposed to work and didn't have the right to vote.
Woodhull was born on September 23, 1838, in the tiny hamlet of Homer, OH. Victoria Claflin, as she was then named, was the seventh of ten children. Her childhood was unconventional: her mother, Roxanna, was a follower of the new Spiritualist movement, while her father, Reuben (nicknamed "Old Buck") was a snake oil salesman. From Ohio, Woodhull went to New York, and later England. After living a very full and somewhat controversial life, and having an immeasurable influence on politics, Woodhull died at the age of 88 in Worcestershire, England, on June 9, 1927.
From her unusual childhood to her groundbreaking political career, Victoria Woodhull is an eccentric and fascinating historical figure.
Hillary Clinton may have been the first woman to run for president on the ticket of a major party, but Woodhull was the first woman to ever run for the position, period. Woodhull declared her candidacy back in 1870 for the 1872 election. She ran under the banner of a small, independent party: the Equal Rights Party, previously known as the People's Party. Her opponents were Ulysses S. Grant, the Republican incumbent, and Horace Greeley, the Democratic candidate. Woodhull's running mate was Frederick Douglas, even though he never agreed to the position. In fact, Douglas gave public speeches in favor of Grant.
On election day, Woodhull couldn't even vote. Women didn't have the right at the time, but Woodhull also spent that day in prison for sending obscene material in the mail (her newspaper had revealed Henry Ward Beecher's infidelity). Woodhall didn't receive any electoral votes, but it's unclear whether she received any popular votes.
Woodhull and her sister, Tennessee Claflin, started a newspaper in 1870. Called Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly, it was published from 1870 until 1876. The paper focused on a number of controversial topics, such as women's suffrage, free love, and Spiritualism, all things that Woodhull supported. The newspaper was the first U.S. publication to run Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto, and also exposed the extramarital affairs of Henry Ward Beecher.
Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly was the first newspaper in the United States to be financed, run, and published by women. Although The Revolution - a women's rights newspaper run by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony - began publication in 1868, it was financed by men.
In 1870, with the financial backing of Cornelius Vanderbilt (who was rumored to be Tennessee Claflin's lover), Woodhull and her sister opened the first Wall Street brokerage run by women. Called Woodhull, Claflin and Co., the brokerage employed other women as well.
Woodhull and Claflin quickly became known as the "bewitching brokers" and were very successful. Following stock tips from Vanderbilt, as well as coming up with some of their own, the two made millions.
On January 11, 1871, Woodhull became the first woman to speak before a Congressional committee. She gave a speech to the House Judiciary Committee, in which she claimed that the newly ratified 14th and 15th Amendments gave women the right to vote. Woodhull had gotten the invitation from Benjamin Butler, a Republican from Massachusetts whom she had befriended.
Woodhull's assertion that women could vote under the new amendments didn't pan out; women finally received the right to vote in 1920, thanks to the 19th Amendment. But for a short period of time, she had the ears of lawmakers.