Victoria Woodhull’s  First Husband: Canning Woodhull

Canning Woodhull and family; wife Victoria, daughter Zula and son Byron (Portrait, probably 1856)

Canning Woodhull and family; wife Victoria, daughter Zula and son Byron (Portrait, probably 1856)

When we last left Victoria, she was 14, gravely ill, but in the hands of a handsome young doctor who was twice her age. His name was Canning Woodhull. Victoria had been ill for nearly two years with chills, fever and rheumatism and was exhausted.

But eventually, she recovered and he began to court her, calling her “my little puss” and “my little chick.” Her family was all for the match because he had convinced them (untruthfully) that his father was a well respected judge and his uncle was major of New York. (Some sources question his validity as a doctor as well, and given how he lived his life, I tend to agree, though medical care was not well organized or professional at the time anyway.) Not long after he began courting Victoria, he asked her to marry him. She gladly accepted, seeing marriage as an escape from her family.

The Real Canning: All Around Arse
But she couldn’t have been more wrong. The real Canning was an alcoholic and a womanizer, who was found in a brothel only three days after their wedding. Six weeks into their marriage, she found a letter from his mistress asking, “did you marry that child because she, too, was en famille?” As Victoria later discovered, on the day of their marriage Canning had sent his mistress to the country, where she later gave birth.

If Victoria was a modern woman, she might have given him the old heave-ho, but she was still young and in love, a woman of her time, who was far from the social revolutionary she would become. She prayed and tried to reform her husband, but to no avail.

A little over a year after their marriage while living in Chicago, Victoria gave birth to a son, Byron, who proved to be brain damaged. (Some sources say from birth, others that he was dropped on his head at some early point.) At first, Victoria blamed herself for her son’s defect, but slowly she shifted the blame to her drunkard of a husband. Sources vary as to why, but most agree he physically abused her, even while she was pregnant.

She visited her parents after the birth and when she got home, she found Canning in bed with his mistress. He left her for a month, with no money and little food. A particularly dramatic (and questionable) story says she heard that he was staying with a woman he called his wife at a fashionable boarding house, so she went there to retrieve him, forcing the mistress to pack up and leave.

Moving to San Francisco
Victoria and Canning then moved to San Francisco, where she supported him. Some sources tell stories of Victoria becoming a “cigar girl” at a place called the Californian. (Cigar girls were really low-level prostitutes who sold favors instead of cigars.) Other sources say her income came from her work as a seamstress to actress Anna Cogswell. When this wasn’t enough to sustain them, Victoria took to the stage herself. She is known to have held the role of “the country cousin” in New York by Gaslight for six weeks. That was when she met actress Josie Mansfield, who would later play an important role in Victoria’s life as a stockbroker.

One night, while on stage, she had a vision of Tennie standing with her mother, calling to her to come home. She left the theater immediately, still in costume. The next day, she and her family took a steamer to New York, where her parents were living. In 1863, while in New York, Victoria gave birth to a second child, their daughter, Zulu (or Zula) Maude. The story goes that the poor babe nearly bled to death after birth because her drunk father either cut the cord too short or failed to tie it off properly, leaving her and her mother, who was passed out with exhaustion, in favor of the local pub.

Victoria left Canning shortly thereafter, plying her trade as a healer and medium in Chicago and Terre Haute, Indiana. She continued to support Canning, even though they were no longer together (I haven’t found any sources that say where he went when she left him, but it’s obvious he kept track of her movements). In her job, women came to Victoria to unburden themselves with tales of sexual abuse, maltreatment, neglect, sickness, poverty and oppression – all of which she had suffered in her young life. She tried to help them with her gifts as best she could. But she never forgot them; they were her inspiration to fight for women throughout her later work with the Suffrage Movement and her candidacy for President.

Canning Reappears
Canning just couldn’t leave Victoria alone. About a year and a half after she remarried (which will be the subject of next week’s post), Canning was delirious with illness (likely caused by his alcohol and morphine addictions) and called for her. Victoria and James brought him back to their house and took care of him for six weeks. He paid them and they said he was welcome any time. From that day on, when he needed her, he came. After a while, he became a permanent resident in her home until he died. Victoria knew others were scandalized by it – in fact the revelation that she was living simultaneously with her former and current husband was front page news after in came out in an 1871 court trial – but she considered it her Christian duty to take care of him, and defended her decision for the rest of her life.

Have you heard of Canning Woodhull? What do you think of his story? Any questions?

Sources:

Brody, Miriam. Victoria Woodhull, Free Spirit for Women’s Rights.
Frisken, Amanda. Victoria Woodhull’s Sexual Revolution.
Gabriel, Mary. Notorious Victoria.
Goldsmith, Barbara. Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull.
Havelin, Kate. Victoria Woodhull.
Krull, Kathleen. A Woman for President – The Story of Victoria Woodhull.
MacPherson, Myra. The Scarlet Sisters.
Tilton, Theodore. The Golden Age Tract No. 3 “Victoria C. Woodhull, a Biographical Sketch.” http://victoria-woodhull.com/tiltonbio
Victoria Woodhull®, the Spirit to Run the White House.http://www.victoria-woodhull.com/index.htm
Underhill, Lois Beachey. The Woman Who Ran for President.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m a Linda Howard Award of Excellence Finalist!

This is the news I’ve been sitting on, but now I can finally announce: He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not is a finalist of the Linda Howard Award of Excellence in the Single Title category. This award is sponsored by the Birmingham Chapter of RWA. Final placement will be announced in July. I’m especially excited about the final round judge for this category, Alicia Condon, editor at Kensington Publishing. Wish me luck!

(For those of you keeping track at home, this is final #5 for this book.)

 

Being Okay with Taking Time Off

Nicole Evelina:

My monthly Spellbound Scribes post for your reading pleasure.

Originally posted on Spellbound Scribes:

GoneReading-at-the-Beach-Womens-T-shirtI’m sure I’ve written about this before, because God knows I’ve been struggling with it for a while, but I’m the kind of writer who doesn’t know how to not be writing. This wouldn’t normally be a problem, but see, my brain is tired. I know this a few ways:

  1. I’ve been doing stupid stuff lately like forgetting my work badge at home and getting confused about what day it is (which can be problem at work when you’re supposed to send out an announcement on a certain day but not before, trust me)
  2. I’m so tired that I spend most of Saturday asleep (where did my energy go? I want it back!)
  3. My characters aren’t talking (there are about 20 books plots in there and all I hear is silence)
  4. I think my muse is in Tahiti (wish she would have taken me with her)
  5. I can’t settle on…

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Final #4 for He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not!

FFL_WHO_FinalistYou guys may get tired of hearing this, but I never get tired of saying it: He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not has finaled in another contest! This one is the Fool For Love contest, sponsored by the Virginia Romance Writers. The category is long contemporary and the final results will be announced in mid-June. Wish me luck!

I’m sitting on one more piece of similar news…will reveal when I can.

Shout Out for My Friend’s Book Birthday

image001Hi all. Just a quick note to let you know that my friend Shauna Granger’s book Age of Blood, the final book in the Ash and Ruin trilogy, is out today. You may remember from the cover reveal that I was a beta reader for this book, and in fact each book in the trilogy.

Needless to say, I loved it, or I wouldn’t be strongly recommending that you go buy it. It’s YA dystopian, but not like you’ve seen before (believe me, I’ve read my share). The trilogy has something for everyone: world ending disease, government conspiracies, a bit of the supernatural, a kick-ass female lead, and yes, a love story.

If you missed the first two books in the series, you can get them here: World of Ash (book 1) and Time of Ruin (book 2).  If you stay up past your bedtime reading or have nightmares about poisonous tea like I did, blame Shauna, not me!

Congratulations, Shauna!

Victoria Woodhull’s Early Life

Historical marker in Victoria's home town of Homer, Ohio.

Historical marker in Victoria’s home town of Homer, Ohio.

Victoria is one of these people with such a storied life you could easily devote an entire book to its three phases: early, mid (which is when my book is set, 1868-1873) and later life. But since I’ve chosen to only write about the high point of her public life, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned about the other areas of her life as well.

I’ve found out through comments to my Huffington Post article that descendants of Victoria’s family do not believe the bad things circulated about Victoria’s early life. Certainly, everyone is entitled to their own opinions and to their own research. All I can say is that my sources, which include many recent biographies (listed at the end of this post; full sources for the book are listed here), include this information and in turn cite their own sources.

Victoria’s Youth and Family Life
Victoria C. Woodhull (nee Claflin) was born the seventh of ten children on September 23, 1838, in Homer, Ohio, to Reuben Buckman (Buck) Claflin and Anna Roxanna (Anne/Annie) Hummel Claflin. Being born in the year Queen Victoria was crowned, the baby was named for her.

Her father may have been affluent early on (some say he worked in law or finance, others that he worked in towns and transported lumber), but he lost the land when she was three, leaving the family with only a dilapidated house and a grist mill. Buck, ever enterprising, turned to crime. He stole horses and ran scams, including insurance theft when the mill mysteriously burned down in 1853. There are conflicting accounts of exactly what happened. Some say the townspeople suspected insurance fraud, especially since Buck was not in town at the time of the incident. They held a fundraiser for the family and gave them a horse-drawn carriage and supplies and asked them to leave. Some sources say the residents talked of tarring and feathering Buck and that’s why he left.

The other side of the story was that a gas lamp overturned, setting the dry grain on fire. A bucket brigade couldn’t stop the flames. Because Buck was out of town, Annie was helpless. The family was then forced to move because of economic disappointment when the Erie Canal didn’t bring in the riches to the area it had promised. Either way, the family suffered from ill fortune.

Victoria’s mother wasn’t very stable. She was erratic, sometimes yelling and assisting he husband in the beating their children, laughing hysterically and clapping as they cried. Other times she would weep with joy over them. Anne was a devout Spiritualist who claimed to see visions and speak in the tongue of angels.

Victoria had very little schooling, only about three years, and was known for her terrible handwriting. But she had one gift her parents could exploit: they believed she was a healer and medium. From an early age (sources differ between age 8 – 14), her father set her to work in these roles, along with her younger sister, Tennessee (Tennie). They worked from 8 a.m. – 9 p.m., charging $1 per séance.

Whether or not their gifts were genuine is up for debate. Her father had plenty of nefarious ways of getting information about local families to feed to his daughters if the spirits weren’t particularly talkative. He knew all about the locals because when he got into town, he would visit cemeteries to get to know the family names, who died, and when. He had a blue book with information about families, so they could appear ready to clients. Other methods of cheating included:

  • Asking the client to think of a letter, then have them recite the alphabet, watching for a reaction at the true letter
  • Watching them write six names on a slip of paper, one of which was a dead relative. They wouldn’t hesitate on the dead person’s name.

Buck also claimed to have an elixir that could cure cancer, which he administered at so-called “clinics” throughout the Midwest. Her dad sold “Miss Tennessee’s Magnito Life Elixir for Beautifying the Complexion and Cleansing the Blood.” It was snake oil, likely composed mainly of alcohol, vegetable oil and possibly laudanum. Eventually, the family was charged with several crimes, forcing them to run from state to state. (The worst came when Tennie was charged with manslaughter after the death of a client in their Chicago clinic. The family was never brought to court on the charges).

Eventually, this life and hard work wore Victoria down and she became extremely ill during the time she was 12-14.  The upside to this was she was treated by a very handsome doctor…but more on him and how he would change her life next week.

Thoughts? Questions? I love hearing from you.

Sources:

Brody, Miriam. Victoria Woodhull, Free Spirit for Women’s Rights.
Frisken, Amanda. Victoria Woodhull’s Sexual Revolution.
Gabriel, Mary. Notorious Victoria.
Goldsmith, Barbara. Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull.
Havelin, Kate. Victoria Woodhull.
Krull, Kathleen. A Woman for President – The Story of Victoria Woodhull.
MacPherson, Myra. The Scarlet Sisters.
Tilton, Theodore. The Golden Age Tract No. 3 “Victoria C. Woodhull, a Biographical Sketch.” http://victoria-woodhull.com/tiltonbio
Victoria Woodhull®, the Spirit to Run the White House.http://www.victoria-woodhull.com/index.htm
Underhill, Lois Beachey. The Woman Who Ran for President.

We Have Another Final!

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not is on fire! It’s now also a finalist in the Fab Five contest in the Single Title Romance category – its third award this year. This one is sponsored by the Wisconsin chapter of RWA. As with the Cleveland Rocks contest, final placement will be announced in June. I’m very excited about the agents and editors who will see it for both contests.