“I now announce myself as candidate for the Presidency. I anticipate criticism; but however unfavorable I trust that my sincerity will not be called into question.”
While Hillary Rodham Clinton is being lauded as the first woman to be nominated by the Democratic Party to run for President of the United States, she is not the first woman to try to shatter the ultimate glass ceiling. Forty-three other female trailblazers before her have tried and added their own cracks. The first was Victoria Woodhull, who accepted her party’s nomination in 1872, one-hundred and forty-three years before Clinton’s historic champaign.
It was 1872 when Woodhull boldly announced her candidacy for President under the Equal Rights Party or the People’s Party. Unlikely to win the election, Mrs. Woodhull was undeterred. Her supporters were an eclectic bunch that included laborers, Spiritualists, socialists, and, suffragettes. They were united in wanting change, and Woodhull passionately championed change for women. She condemned the popular Victorian notion that women were “silent angels of the home,” and advocated for equality for women in education, healthcare, home and church.
Mrs. Woodhull lived by her unconventional and wholly modern beliefs. Born into an impoverished Midwestern family of Spiritualists and Healers, she and her sister, Tennessee, worked as clairvoyants to help keep their family financially afloat. Married at fourteen and divorced by twenty-five, she and Tennessee moved to New York to become the first female stockbrokers on Wall Street. Later, they used the lucrative proceeds from the stock market to open a press, The Woodhull and Claflin Weekly.
Scandal and lack of finances marred Victoria Calflin Woodhull’s presidential campaign. Slandered as an adulteress, witch and a prostitute, Mrs. Woodhull, who did support and participate in the 19th century “free love” movement, at first turned a blind eye to the mounting accusations. To refute the charges, she exposed her foes as hypocrites by publishing articles from her press that detailed their own sordid behavior and deceits. This tactic failed, and Victoria Claflin Woodhull faced obscenity charges as a result. She spent election night in a jail cell.
Even if she had been free on the election night, she would not have been allowed to cast a ballot in the presidential election. In 1872, women were not allowed to vote. The 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote wouldn’t become law until 1920.
Republican Ulysses S. Grant won the 1872 election, and Victoria Claflin Woodhull lived out the rest of her life continuing to fight for the rights of women.
“The truth is that I am too many years ahead of this age and the exalted views and objects of humanitarianism can scarcely be grasped as yet by the unenlightened mind of the average man.”
Victoria Woodhull, to a reporter after losing the 1872 election.
- Shearer, Mary L. “Who is Victoria Woodhull?” 27 October 1999, www.victoria-woodhull.com/whoisvw.htm
- “Victoria Woodhull,” National Women’s History Museum: www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/victoria-claflin-woodhull/
- “Who was Victoria Woodhull?” The Woodhull Institute, 2002, www.woodhull.tv/about/who-was-victoria-woodhull
Article originally feature on Historic Heroines July 2015. Edited by Kristen LePine July 2016.