Women in Politics and American Society: A Tale of Two Firsts

You may have seen this article in The Huffington Post, but in case not and because I’m so proud of it, I had to republish it here.

Victoria and Hillary

When we think of women in politics, their inclusion in places of power seems to be a recent occurrence, but women have been raising their voices since the 1840s in support of women’s suffrage. For some, this led to running for office even before their fellow women could vote for them. In 1870, less than a decade after the Civil War ended and 50 years before women would be granted the right to vote, Victoria Woodhull announced she was running for president in the 1872 election, a move never before attempted by a female in the United States. In 2016, we have our first female running for president on a major party ticket in Hillary Clinton. Let’s take a look at what’s changed and what hasn’t in those 146 years.

1872: Women didn’t mettle in business or political affairs. It was unthinkable for a woman to vote, much less run for office. As anti-suffragist Catharine Beecher once wrote, “the Holy Scripture indicates for women a sphere higher than and apart from that of public life because as women they find a full measure of duties, care and responsibilities and are unwilling to bear additional burdens unsuited to their physical organization.”

Victoria Woodhull set out to prove this mindset was flawed. She and her sister Tennie opened the first stock brokerage on Wall Street owned and operated by women and were successful at it. Women weren’t allowed at the New York Stock Exchange, but Victoria found a way around that, relaying her business transactions through men, and making millions of dollars.

2016: Women are regularly leaders in companies and are elected to office, but not on par with men. We have a long way to go before we see equal representation. While 46.8% of the total labor force in the United States is female and women hold 51.5% of management and professional positions, women currently hold only 4% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies and only 19.2% of all board seats at those companies. (See Catalyst.org for more.)

According to Rutgers University, “in 2015, 104 women held seats in the United States Congress, comprising 19.4% of the 535 members; 20 women (20%) served in the United States Senate, and 84 women (19.3%) served in the United States House of Representatives. Four women delegates (3D, 1R) also represent American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Virgin Islands in the United States House of Representatives.” The Nation estimates that “at the current rate of progress, it will take nearly 500 years for women to reach fair representation in government.” More optimistic researchers have estimated “it will be 2121 before women reach gender parity in Congress…and [the estimate for when we’ll reach] pay equity is like 2058.”

***

1872: Women weren’t supposed to run for office. In the nineteenth century it was not even considered proper for a woman to speak in public because it was believed by doing so, she drew shame upon her father/husband, much less run for elected office.

That didn’t stop suffragists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Victoria Woodhull joined them in speaking out for that right, but she also vehemently supported workers’ rights, the humane treatment of prostitutes, and the rights of women to not be sexually subservient to their husbands within marriage. From 1871 on, Victoria was a regular fixture on the lecture circuit along with famous women like Anna Dickinson, traveling around the country to speak her controversial ideas. Victoria took the idea one step further by running for the highest one in the land in 1872. That same year, her sister Tennie ran for Congress as part of a small district in New York. Neither woman won, but they set a precedent thousands later followed.

2016: Women can run for office, but are still discriminated against. In the 21st century, the “woman card” shouldn’t even exist – all candidates for office should be evaluated by voters (and other candidates) based on their experience, platform and positions. Yet, as Mr. Trump’s now-famous quote shows, women are treated differently when they run, though not in the way he seems to have implied with his statement. The media are more likely to talk about a female candidates’ appearance, specifically her hair and clothing, than a man’s (the exception may be Mr. Trump’s hair.) While some argue that bias is all in our heads, nearly three in four of the women interviewed as part of a report recently released by Political Parity said they had felt discriminated against in politics. (See also Men Rule: The Continued Under-Representation of Women in US Politics for additional reasons why women may feel discriminated against.)

According the Political Parity report, women often lack funding and support from their political parties. “Two-thirds of women say it is difficult to raise the money needed to run effectively and nine in ten women saying fundraising influences their decision to try for a national or statewide seat.” They have the confidence and ability to ask for it, but having the network to ask is a roadblock. Could this be the remnants of the “old boys club” in politics? While the report doesn’t say, it stands to reason.

***

1872: Women did not have the right to vote. Even though women had been campaigning for suffrage since the Seneca Falls convention in 1848 and the Nineteenth Amendment was introduced in Congress in 1878, it wasn’t ratified until August 18, 1920. Even then, it took 12 states (not counting Alaska and Hawaii) anywhere from another month to 64 years to ratify it. (Mississippi was last, finally ratifying the Nineteenth Amendment on March 22, 1984). In some Southern states, African American women were harassed, attacked and in other ways prevented from voting into the 1960s. On August 6, 1965, The Voting Rights Act was signed into law, finally allowing all women, regardless of race, to vote as full citizens.

2016: Women have the right to vote. Victory! According to VoteRunLead, 53% of voters in the 2012 election were women.

***

1872: The media attacks female candidates by calling them names and digging into their personal lives. Newspapers analyzed every move political candidates made, including, in the case of Victoria and Tennie, their clothing, bearing, family lineage and suitability as public figures. Just as today, the candidates attacked one another in the papers and were in turn attacked by them. When Victoria’s mother, Anne, sued Victoria’s husband in 1871, the newspapers lapped up every dirty secret that came out in court, often blowing them out of proportion. In 1872, Harper’s Weekly published a cartoon dubbing Victoria as “Mrs. Satan” because she urged women to fight back against sexual slavery and mistreatment within marriage.

2016: The attacks have moved to TV and the internet. Since the 1990s, we’ve watched the media dig into Hillary Clinton’s personal life, even going so far as to attack the then-teenaged Chelsea Clinton, which prompted Hillary to ask the press not to cover her daughter. Of course, throughout her husband’s sex scandals, Mrs. Clinton’s every move and word was chronicled and her motivations and thoughts speculated on in both mainstream media and tabloids. In this most recent campaign, Donald Trump has dubbed Hillary as “Heartless Hillary” and “Crooked Hillary,” because she came out in favor of gun control and because she was attacking him in ads.

This is a long way of showing that while women made some great strides in some areas of politics and society, in others, the more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same. Perhaps that will change over time naturally as more women run for office and attain power. Perhaps if Hillary Clinton wins the November election and becomes our nation’s first female presidential candidate, it will happen more rapidly. But as a female, I find it sad that our advances haven’t been greater in a century and a half. But then again, that gives my generation something else to fight for. Maybe someday our daughters and nieces will be asking us why such issues ever existed.

What are your thoughts? How do you see things having changed or not changed? What change do think is most pressing? 

July 4, 1871 – The Victoria League Goes Public

VictoriaWoodhullIn 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,

Cordially yours,

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.

Sources:
Gabriel, Mary. Notorious Victoria.
Stern, Madeleine B. The Victoria Woodhull Reader.
Underhill, Lois Beachey. The Woman Who Ran for President.

Madame Presidentess Cover Reveal & Pre-order Info

Today is the day I get to show you what my next baby is going to look like. Here’s the cover for Madame Presidentess, which comes out July 25.

Madame Presidentess eBook Cover No Quote Large

Here’s the back cover copy:

Forty-eight years before women were granted the right to vote, one woman dared to run for President of the United States, yet her name has been virtually written out of the history books.

Rising from the shame of an abusive childhood, Victoria Woodhull, the daughter of a con-man and a religious zealot, vows to follow her destiny, one the spirits say will lead her out of poverty to “become ruler of her people.”

But the road to glory is far from easy. A nightmarish marriage teaches Victoria that women are stronger and deserve far more credit than society gives. Eschewing the conventions of her day, she strikes out on her own to improve herself and the lot of American women.

Over the next several years, she sets into motion plans that shatter the old boys club of Wall Street and defile even the sanctity of the halls of Congress. But it’s not just her ambition that threatens men of wealth and privilege; when she announces her candidacy for President in the 1872 election, they realize she may well usurp the power they’ve so long fought to protect.

Those who support her laud “Notorious Victoria” as a gifted spiritualist medium and healer, a talented financial mind, a fresh voice in the suffrage movement, and the radical idealist needed to move the nation forward. But those who dislike her see a dangerous force who is too willing to speak out when women are expected to be quiet. Ultimately, “Mrs. Satan’s” radical views on women’s rights, equality of the sexes, free love and the role of politics in private affairs collide with her tumultuous personal life to endanger all she has built and change how she is viewed by future generations.

This is the story of one woman who was ahead of her time – a woman who would make waves even in the 21st century – but who dared to speak out and challenge the conventions of post-Civil War America, setting a precedent that is still followed by female politicians today.

You can pre-order the ebook here:

amazon-logo-icon book-button-smashwords-icon  goodreads

Paperback will be out on July 25, 2016, along with all other ebook formats. I’m not sure about audio yet.

What do you think about this book? Are you excited to read it? What do you think of the cover?

PS – If you want a good short summary of Victoria’s life I recommend The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s Quest for the American Presidency by Ellen Fitzpatrick. There is so much it leaves out, but it’s a nice primer. If you want a longer biography, my favorites are Notorious Victoria: The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored by Mary Gabriel, The Woman Who Ran for President by Lois Beechy Underhill and Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull by Barbara Goldsmith (this book is LONG but fabulous)!

March 6 – Politician: Belva Lockwood

March 6-PoliticianBelva Ann Lockwood was a suffragist and one of the first female lawyers in the United States.

Belva believed she should have the same right to practice law as her male counterparts, so she drafted an anti-discrimination bill that would give her  the same access to the bar as male colleagues. She spent five years lobbying Congress in favor of this bill. It was passed in 1879 and signed into law by President Hayes. Because it allowed all qualified women attorneys to practice in any federal court, Belva was sworn in as the first woman member of the U.S. Supreme Court bar.

Following in Victoria Woodhull’s footsteps, Belva ran for president in 1884 and 1888 on the ticket of the National Equal Rights Party (founded by Victoria) and was the first woman to appear on official ballots (Victoria’s votes were write-ins and cannot be traced). she is thought to have received around 4,100 votes.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belva_Ann_Lockwood 

March 1 – Trailblazer: Victoria Woodhull

Victoria WoodhullYou knew I had to start with her, right?

In case you don’t remember, Victoria, the poor daughter of a con-man and a religious zealot, was a suffragist in the mid-1800s. She was the:

  • First woman to run a stock brokerage on Wall Street
  • First woman to testify before Congress
  • One of the first women to run a weekly newspaper
  • First female presidential candidate (1872)

Why isn’t she in our history books? Three main reasons I can tell:

  1. She royally angered her former friends Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. They literally wrote the 900+ page book on the women’s suffrage movement, reducing Victoria’s role to an actual footnote. This, then, undermined her importance to future historians.
  2. Not long after her death, a woman named Emanie Sachs published a scathing biography of Victoria that painted her as a harlot and trickster – not the kind of woman anyone would want in the historical record.
  3. She was a woman. (Look at our history. That had to be part of it.)

Victoria Woodhull is the subject of my novel Madame Presidentess, which will be published July 25.

A Hint of What’s to Come…

Image courtesy of The Graphics Fairy: http://thegraphicsfairy.com/category/women/page/10/

Image courtesy of The Graphics Fairy: http://thegraphicsfairy.com/category/women/page/10/

Short post today since I’m pressed for time, so I thought I’d give you a little teaser of my next book, the one I’m almost done researching. I’m still not saying who my subject is (hint: her birthday is tomorrow), but I’ll tell you this…

Those who disliked her saw her as a dangerous force who was too willing to speak out in an age when women were expected to be quiet. To many, she was  a charlatan, con-artist, prostitute, and puppet for powerful men whose ideas about love, sex and married life would corrupt the sanctity of marriage. She was publicly lampooned in political cartoons as associated with Satan and her name became a by-word for the type of behavior no respectable woman would abide.

But those who supported her saw her as a gifted spiritualist medium and healer, a talented financial mind, a fresh voice on women’s rights, the suffragist who just might get women the vote, and the radical idealist needed to move the nation forward.

By the age of 33, this woman who started out dirt poor had been married twice, bore two children, worked on Wall Street, became a self-made millionaire, testified before Congress, gave controversial speeches on women’s equality to packed halls across the country, and began one of only a handful of women-run newspapers in the United States. She rubbed elbows (and later made enemies) with the likes of Cornelius Vanderbilt, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Beecher Stowe (and her whole family) and even President Grant.

By the end of her life, she ran for political office twice (unsuccessfully), caused a nationwide scandal that riveted the country for years – much like the OJ Simpson trial did in our own time – and eventually fled the country, still dogged by her controversial reputation.

And yet, she’s been largely written out of history. I didn’t know about her until I “randomly” (I don’t believe in chance) came across a pin about her on Pinterest and there’s been no historical fiction written about her in more than 30 years (a book in the ’60s and one in the ’80s, are all that’s been done). She’s one of the most important voices in the women’s suffrage movement and an important late 19th century figure in US politics and business, yet only a handful of people have ever heard of her.

That’s going to change. Look for more information on this fascinating woman over the next six months or so. Hopefully by March I’ll be able to reveal who she is. You can guess if you’d like, but right now I can’t confirm if you’re right.