In June 1871, Victoria Woodhull was anxious to re-launch her campaign for presidency, which had stalled since her shocking announcement of candidacy more than a year before. She began hosting parties in her home, which she called “at homes,” intimate affairs where the rich and powerful could get to know her as person in her private space, rather than just as a political figure. She invited bankers, lawyers, editors, clergymen, Congressmen, and even members of President Grant’s family (including his brother and father, Jesse Grant).
It is said that at one of these meetings “Congress was in session,” a congress of the people, that is, as it was a meeting of trade union workers, suffragists and other reformers, in addition to usual politicians and businessmen. Someone remarked that this was really the forming of a new political party, as they were people of like mind, supporting their candidate, Victoria. Together, they decided that instead of using the original name of Victoria’s party – The Cosmopolitical Party, which had too much of Stephen Pearl Andrew’s philosophy in it for the public’s taste – they would instead nominate her under the banner of the Equal Rights Party, a name with a storied past that would immediately call to mind unity and suffrage.
On July 4, 1871, the following letter was sent to Victoria, and later appeared in Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly:
Madame – A number of your fellow citizens, both men and women, have formed themselves into a working committee, borrowing its title from your name, calling itself THE VICTORIA LEAGUE.
Our object is to form a new national political organization, composed of the progressive elements in the existing Republican and Democratic parties, together with the Women of the Republic, who have been hitherto disenfranchised, but whom the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, properly interpreted, guarantee, equally with men, the right of suffrage.
This new political organization will be called THE EQUAL RIGHTS PARTY, and its platform will consist solely and only of a declaration of the equal civil and political rights of all American citizens, without distinction of sex.
We shall ask Congress at its next session to pass an act, founded on this interpretation of the Constitution, protecting women in the immediate exercise of the elective franchise in all parts of the United States, subject only to the same restrictions and regulations which are imposed by local laws on other classes of citizens.
We shall urge all women who possess the political qualifications of other citizens, in the respective states in which they reside, to assume and exercise the right of suffrage without hesitation or delay.
We ask you to become the standard-bearer of this idea before the people, and for this purpose nominate you as our candidate for President of the United States to be voted for in 1872 by the combined suffrages of both sexes.
If our plans merit your approval, and our nomination meet your acceptance, we trust that you will take occasion, in your reply to this letter, to express your views in full concerning the political rights of women under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.
Offering to you, Madam, the assurance of our great esteem, and harboring in our minds the cheerful presence of victory which your name inspires, we remain,
The Victoria League
The letter did not bear any member names. In her biography of Victoria, Lois Beachy Underhill argues that Victoria penned that letter herself, and it’s entirely possible. Victoria was a master of public relations, thanks in part to the skills her learned at her father’s knee and the influence of Stephen Pearl Andrews. Victoria and Theodore Tilton both strongly hinted that the Victoria League was supported and possibly even led by Cornelius Vanderbilt, a charge the railroad tycoon neither confirmed nor denied.
On July 20, 1871, Victoria wrote a lengthy response (too long to reproduce here, but carried in full in The Victoria Woodhull Reader) to the Victoria League letter in which she accepted their nomination and expounded upon her views. It contains one of my favorite lines of hers, “Little as the public think it, a woman who is now nominated may be elected next year” and this gem of pure grandeur and hubris so typical of Victoria’s attitude:
“Perhaps I ought not to pass unnoticed your courteous and graceful allusion to what you deem the favoring omen of my name. It is true that a Victoria rules the great rival nation opposite to us on the other shore of the Atlantic, and it grace the amity just sealed between our two nations, and be a new security of peace, if a twin sisterhood of Victoras were to preside over the two nations. It is true also that its mere etymology the name signifies Victory! and the victory for the right is what we are bent on securing…I have sometimes thought myself that there is perhaps something providential and prophetic in the fact that my parents were prompted to confer on me a name which forbids the very thought of failure.”
Have you heard of the Victoria League? Nowadays it’s better known as the name of a charitable organization for people of the Commonwealth countries. But it started as a reference to dear ol’ Vickie.
Gabriel, Mary. Notorious Victoria.
Stern, Madeleine B. The Victoria Woodhull Reader.
Underhill, Lois Beachey. The Woman Who Ran for President.