I really think her time has come. Finally.
“They cannot roll back the rising tide of reform,” she said. “The world moves.”
Yes, she had her problems. She was born into an abusive household on the rural Ohio frontier, one of 10 children, and didn’t start elementary school until the age of 8. Her mother was a mystic-spiritualist, her father a snake-oil salesman. When she was all of 15 she married a doctor named Canning Woodhull who drank and cheated on her. When she left him she kept their two young children and his name.
She led a lot of lives. As a young woman she worked as a traveling clairvoyant, teaming with her sister Tennessee Claflin to tell fortunes and contact spirits, offering cures for deathly diseases, selling elixirs, giving massages. Tennessee was her much younger sister and known to all as Tennie.
Jump ahead a few years. Woodhull married again, to a Colonel James Harvey Blood. She and Tennessee became the first female brokers on Wall Street. Railroad baron Cornelius Vanderbilt, said to be Tennessee’s lover, backed the two sisters in Woodhull, Claflin&Co. They netted $700,000 during the gold panic of 1869.
Woodhull became an ardent suffragist. She testified before the House Judiciary Committee in 1871 that female Americans actually already held the right to vote based on the recently enacted 14th and 15th enactments. She was now a star among those who advocated “woman’s rights.”
When she ran for president — she was not yet 35 — she did so on a platform of women’s suffrage, nationalization of railroads, an eight-hour workday, abolition of the death penalty, among other issues. Her weekly newspaper, Woodhull&Claflin’s Weekly, propelled her into the public eye, and she organized an Equal Rights Party, which held a convention in 1872 and nominated her.
Though Frederick Douglass was named as Woodhull’s running mate, he never accepted and in fact campaigned for Ulysses Grant. Her name appeared on the ballots in some states, but apparently the votes were never counted. Her paper was the first to publish an English translation of The Communist Manifesto.
What did she do next? Using the news, promoted a national scandal by exposing preacher Henry Ward Beecher as an adulterer. Beecher’s supporters lashed back, claiming that the newspaper amounted to obscene material sent through the mail. The sisters were ultimately found not guilty. Beecher’s sister Harriet Beecher Stowe called Woodhull an “impudent witch.”
She was no prude. In fact, she promoted free love on the lecture circuit, also saying that women should have the right to escape bad marriages and control their own bodies.
“Let women issue a declaration of independence sexually, and absolutely refuse to cohabit with men until they are acknowledged as equals in everything, and the victory would be won in a single week,” she wrote.
She wound up in England, where she met her third husband, ran another newspaper, worked to preserve the English home of George Washington’s ancestors and became a car enthusiast before there were many on the road. Forever in the vanguard.
She also ran for President of the United States – again, in 1892. She had a lot of energy.
Susan B. Anthony had a bone to pick: “Both sisters are regarded as lewd and indecent,” she wrote in a letter.
She was ahead of her time, and we love her. She also knew her way around a hat.