Since America has still yet to elect a woman President, on this Presidents’ Day we want to tell you about a woman you should know who was way ahead of her time; a rebel, a trailblazer for generations to come, the first woman to run for President of the United States… Victoria Claflin Woodhull.
Born in 1838 in Homer, Ohio, like many women of her era, Victoria married very young (she was just 14 and her betrothed turned out to be an alcoholic philanderer). She divorced 11 years later, and went to work as a traveling clairvoyant.
Sound a little hokey? Maybe… but you won’t think so when you hear where her unusual career choice (and vision) led her.
In 1868, she and her family moved to New York City where Woodhull and one of her sisters became spiritual advisors for railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt in turn helped the sisters become the first women stockbrokers in history when they opened their own brokerage house in 1870 called Woodhull, Claflin & Company in 1870. That same year the sisters started their own paper called Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly in which they promoted woman suffrage and labor reforms.
Continuing on her trailblazing path, Victoria made history once again, the following year. On April 2, 1871, she sent a note to The New York Herald announcing her candidacy for President of the United States. With that, she became the first woman to run for the highest office in our nation. In May 1872, Victoria was officially nominated by the Equal Rights Party.
Ok… imagine the guts it took to run at a time when none of the women you knew even had the right to vote?
Woodhull’s presidential platform showed her foresight as she supported issues like an eight-hour workday, graduated income tax, new divorce laws, and social welfare programs that we enjoy today. While many trade unionists, women’s suffragists, and socialists supported Woodhull, she was unable to gain the funds for an effective campaign and could not receive votes from her female supporters as women did not yet have the right to vote.
Woodhull advocated for equal education for women, woman’s right to vote, and women’s right to control their own health decisions. She criticized the Victorian ideal of women’s place being first and foremost in the home as full-time wives and mothers.
According to NPR, Victoria’s name wasn’t actually on the ballot in the Presidential Election of 1872, so there is no record of how many people voted for her or if anyone voted for her at all. Nonetheless, she made history by putting herself out there.
Just in case you were curious, incumbent President Ulysses S. Grant, leader of the Radical Republicans, swept that presidential election, earning himself a second term in office. As for Victoria, this is how her future played out… we wonder if she saw it coming?
After divorcing and remarrying a wealthy banker, Woodhull lived out the rest of her days in England with her family, remaining active in the suffrage movement and various charities, giving lectures, and running a newspaper called Humanitarian. Woodhull died in 1927 in London.
Here’s why we really dig Victoria Claflin Woodhull… “She had the foresight not to accept the way society was,” as one of her ancestors so perfectly put it.
Quoted paragraphs, via National Women’s History Museum
UPDATE (March 2017): At long last, Hollywood is going to make a movie about Victoria’s extraordinary life, starring Oscar-winner Brie Larson. That story here.