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Victoria Woodhull

one of the first two female stock brokers in America and the first woman in American history to run for President

Victoria Woodhull

Victoria California Claflin was born in Homer, Ohio, on September 23, 1838, one of ten children born to Reuben Buckman and Anna Roxanna (Hummel) Claflin (8 girls, 2 boys). Her father operated a grist mill, but most of the family's income came from selling patent medicines and a travelling "spiritualist show." On November 20, 1853, she married Canning Woodhull, a rural doctor. The couple had two children, Byron and Zula Maud, before Victoria tired of Canning's alcoholism and womanizing and divorced him, in 1864. She married Civil War veteran Colonel James H. Blood on July 14, 1866.

In 1868, Victoria and her family moved to New York City, where she and sister Tennessee Celeste became spiritual advisors to railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt was so enamored by the women that he helped them open their own brokerage house, Woodhull, Claflin & Company, on May 14, 1870, making them the first female stockbrokers in the country. The brokerage was immediately successful, and the women used some of their profits to start Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly later that same year. In the magazine, Woodhull and her sister promoted woman suffrage and labor reforms, moral and legal equality of the genders, women's clothing reform, workers' rights, legalized prostitution, birth control, vegetarianism, the greenback cause (printing more currency, without gold backing), and "pantarchy", which would later be described as free love. The journal was also the first to publish an English translation of Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto. Always controversial, the journal stirred even more controversy when it reported that Henry Ward Beecher, America's most famous minister, was involved in an extramarital affair with a married parishioner. The sisters were arrested and prosecuted for obscenity (the article included the word "virgin"). Although they were eventually acquitted, their prosecution was for a time the biggest scandal of the day.

Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly

The sisters' paper, combined with the obscenity trial, made Woodhull a nationally known name, and in 1872 the Equal Rights Party named her as its candidate for President, with Frederick Douglass as her running mate, making her the first woman to run for President and him the first black vice-presidential candidate. During the campaign Woodhull advocated equal education for women, woman's right to vote, and women's right to control their own health decisions. She also criticized the Victorian ideal of a woman's place being first and foremost in the home as full-time wives and mothers. Although she garnered support from some trade unionists and suffragists, she was never able to raise enough money to run an effective campaign. She was also hampered by the fact that women could not vote, and that famed suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton supported Horace Greeley over her.

Woodhull and Blood were divorced in 1876 and she moved to England with her children and sister the following year. She spent the rest of her life in England, remaining active in the suffrage movement and various charities, giving lectures, and running a pro-eugenics newspaper called Humanitarian. She married wealthy banker John Biddulph Morris on October 31, 1883, and died at Bredon's Norton, Worcestershire, England, on June 27, 1927.


The Biography Channel
National Women's History Museum
Victoria Woodhull & Company

See Also

Civil War
Henry Ward Beecher
Frederick Douglass
Susan B. Anthony
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Horace Greeley

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The Robinson Library >> Women

This page was last updated on September 23, 2018.