Though it is very historic that, this year, a woman has become her party’s candidate for the presidential election, another woman holds the title of first woman to run for President of the United States. That distinction goes to today’s leading lady: Victoria Claflin Woodhull.
Victoria was born in 1838 in rural Ohio, the seventh of ten children, to Roxanna and Reuben Claflin. Her mother was illiterate and her father was an abusive con man, making his money as a snake oil salesman. When she was just a few days past her fifteenth birthday, Victoria married her first husband with whom she had two children. She later divorced him, finding out he was an alcoholic and womanizer. Back in the 1850’s, divorce was scandalous and was much stigmatized for the woman. This catapulted Victoria into becoming a voice for women who were forced to stay in loveless and often abusive marriages.
Victoria began working to support herself and her children as well as fighting for women’s rights. She and her sister, Tennessee, became the first female stock brokers in 1870, and opened their own firm. Victoria ended up making a fortune on stocks and helped Cornelius Vanderbilt make his millions.
Victoria decided to amp up her fight to gain the right to vote for herself and all American women. She testified before a House Judiciary Committee and argued that the 14th and 15th Amendments already gave women the power to vote, they just needed to act on it. She pointed out that the Amendments protected the right to vote for all citizens. After this, Victoria was sought out by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Isabella Beecher Hooker to become a part of their movement that was gaining momentum.
That same year, Victoria and her sister founded a newspaper—Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly. Most of the articles focused on women’s issues of the day such as suffrage and women’s education. However, it has become best known for exposing the hypocrisy of Pastor Henry Ward Beecher who preached fidelity in his masses, but was secretly having an affair with a church member. The article prompted criminal charges to be filed against Beecher and a trial (which ended in a hung jury) soon followed.
Victoria was nominated for president in 1872 by the Equal Rights Party, with Frederick Douglass named as her running mate. (Douglass never commented on the nomination.) Victoria and her sister were arrested the day before the election for “publishing an obscene newspaper” because of the story on Beecher’s affair. They were held for a month in jail, thus preventing Victoria from attempting to vote in the election. Unshaken, Victoria continued her fight for women’s equality and ran for president years later in 1884 and 1892.
Victoria fought for women and for their voices to be heard until her dying day. She truly has earned the title of Kick-A Woman in History!