Meet Victoria Woodhull’s Friends and Enemies

Last week I gave you a peek inside Victoria’s family. This week, let’s delve into her friends and enemies. That way when I refer to people in subsequent weeks you’ll know who I’m talking about.


Cornelius Vanderbilt

Cornelius Vanderbilt – He was one of the country’s first tycoons and the richest man in America in the mid-to-late 1800s. (If you want a good bio, check out The First Tycoon: the Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T. J. Stiles, though the author is not at all favorable in his portrayal of Victoria and Tennie, nor does he believe they had much of a relationship.) Made his money in shipping, railroads and the stock market. Vanderbilt is said to have been quarrelsome and tyrannical, bullied his sons, and had guilt over a wife he abused and betrayed. Sources say he also believed heartily in the spirits and would support any hack, medium or fortune teller to come his way and had an insatiable sexual appetite, hence his interest in Victoria and Tennie, respectively. Some sources say he was not accepted in society because he acted low class, spitting tobacco onto the carpet and was nearly illiterate, while others claim the exact opposite. It’s possible that he was introduced to the sisters by their father.

Vanderbilt liked Victoria and Tennie’s boldness and intelligence. Victoria transmitted messages to him from his mother, Phoebe Hand Van der Bilt, who died 15 year earlier. Tennie’s magnetic healing, upbeat attitude and sexual prowess attracted him and she liked that he swore and played whist, drank gin and smoked cigars. He was smitten with Tennie, whom he called his “little sparrow.”  She called him “old boy” and “old goat.” After only a few months, he asked her to marry him. Her reasons for declining are debated, as is if he was serious. Some say she couldn’t have married him either way because she never divorced her first husband, gambler John Bartels, whom she married in 1865. It’s possible she and Vanderbilt had an affair after he remarried, but that is the subject of debate.

He is described as having a Roman nose, blue or black eyes, and white hair. He always wore black with a while cravat tied at the throat. He swore a lot, couldn’t spell, had bad grammar and used spittoons, but he was an honest man, though not above occasional exploits.


Stephen Pearl Andrews

Stephen Pearl Andrews – He was a friend of Victoria’s whom she met through Horace Greeley at one of the parties she and Tennie hosted at Vanderbilt’s hotel suite. He was twice her age, but Victoria was dazzled by his intellect. He taught social theory and reform, reading, writing and individual rights, Free Love, and equitable commerce. He was a big proponent of the idea of utopian society, and by the time he met her, had already established and disbanded two utopian colonies. Victoria backed him financially and allowed her rooms to be used my his utopian group, Pantarchy. He was the Pantarch. She became good friends with his second wife, Ester Andrews, a herbalist and magnetic healer. Ester participated in séances with the two.

Stephen also helped Victoria be precise in her calls for prison reform, relief for the poor and improvement of management of foreign policy. He may have been the one to poison her against Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, as the two men had a personal feud. He also was a member of the International Workingman’s Association, Section 12, and a contributor to her paper.

He is described as 6’2”, with bright blue eyes, disorderly hair and a full beard he wore in two points.

Theodore Tilton

Theodore Tilton

Theodore Tilton – He was a well known reformer, friends with President Lincoln – whom Tilton didn’t think was progressive enough on slavery – well known for his support of abolition and led the impeachment of President Andrew Jackson. He was also friends with Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Fredrick Douglass. In his off time, he wrote poetry and lectured. He was a big proponent of the women’s suffrage movement.

His wife, Elizabeth (Lib) Tilton, had an affair with well-known preacher Henry Ward Beecher. Tilton was said to not be kind to her, asking her to stay away from him at suffrage conventions.

He may have met Victoria at one of the suffrage conventions, but it is certain they met after she ran an article in her newspaper speaking of Beecher’s affair with Lib in veiled terms. Of all her possible lovers, he is the most likely. He wrote her biography, which even contemporaries said was grossly exaggerated, and was panned by critics in all circles except for Spiritualists, at which it was aimed.

He stood by Victoria for a long time, even introducing her infamous Free Love speech, but eventually he turned against her in favor of Horace Greeley, whom he campaigned for in the election of 1872, hoping to replace him as editor of the New York Tribune, when Greeley became President.

Theodore Tilton went on to sue Henry Ward Beecher for willful alienation of his wife’s affections on January 11, 1875. That trial, which was the O.J. Simpson case of its time, lasted six months, riveting the nation with its tale of sex and scandal. The trial ended in a hung jury and Beecher was never convicted.

Tilton is described as a handsome blond who shaved, which was unusual for the time and usually associated with the Free Love set. He was tall, at 6′ 3″, and known for his good looks, sparkling conversation and many extramarital affairs.

Henry Ward Beecher. Does anyone else see a resemblance between him and Jon Stewart?

Henry Ward Beecher. Does anyone else see a resemblance between him and Jon Stewart?

Henry Ward Beecher – Rev. Beecher was one of the most famous and highly regarded preachers of the late 19th century in America. Despite this, he was widely rumored to “preach to as many as 20 of his mistresses on any given Sunday.” Though he never spoke publicly about Victoria’s accusation of his affair with Lib Tilton, he never sued her for libel, either. As mentioned above, Beecher was never convicted in Titon’s trial against him. In fact, he came out of the matter more popular and richer than ever, with his church members paying for the cost of the trial.

His sister, Isabella, was a great friend of Victoria’s, but his other sisters, Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe (yes, of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) hated Victoria and did everything they could to discredit her.

He is described as melodramatic and is known to have cried a lot. He was around 60 when he met Victoria. He had stringy, graying hair, pensive eyes and flaccid jowls. He weighed over 200 pounds. He loved precious stones, especially opals, which he carried in his pocket and jingled in his hand like most men did with change.

Benjamin Butler -I think he looks like Dennis Franz.

Benjamin Butler -I think he looks like Dennis Franz.

Representative Benjamin Butler – The most powerful man in the House of Representatives – he even had the ear of President Grant – this Republican from Massachusetts was a dear friend of Victoria’s and the reason she was able to become the first woman to testify before Congress about suffrage. He was a strong proponent of the women’s suffrage movement and encouraged the idea that the Constitution already provided women the right to vote, and idea begun by Virginia Minor and carried on by Victoria.

He was a strong advocate of Victoria’s from the beginning. Due to the long hours the two spent together, rumor circulated that the two were having an affair. Supposedly he offered to help her get in front of Congress in exchange “for the opportunity to feast his eyes on her naked person.” When rumors to this effect were brought to his attention, he responded with the enigmatic, “Half truths kill.”

I personally don’t think they had an affair. Benjamin Butler is described as toad-like, short and plump with an overly large head and sunken eyes engulfed in flesh. One of his eyelids drooped and he wattled when he walked. Yet, his vitality and power is said to have attracted many women.

Josie Mansfield

Josie Mansfield

Josie Mansfield – Josie is an interesting person. She and Victoria met when they were both actresses in San Francisco. Later, they reunited in New York, when Josie was a prostitute at a brothel at which Victoria worked as a healer. The story goes that Josie married an actor and moved East. They divorced and she tried to make it in the theatre, but failed, turning to prostitution.

That was how she met Vanderbilt’s business rival, Jim Frisk. Josie began to entertain him in November 1867, withholding her affections for three months. He paid her overdue rent at a room on Lexington and installed her at the American Club hotel in a suite. He bought her a room full of dresses, gave her $50,000 in cash and five times that in emeralds. A year later her bought her a house in her own name at 359 West 23rd and supplied her with servants. Despite this apparent infatuation, he once said she was more temperamental than an opera diva.

He sent messengers to Josie several times a day outlining his plans, so she knew all his business ventures. Eventually, she became Victoria’s informant, giving Victoria the stock tips she got from “the spirits” and fed to Vanderbilt. This continued until early 1872, when Jim Fisk was murdered and Josie fled to Paris under a cloud of suspicion.

Josie is described as buxom and photographs show a woman who would be considered curvy by today’s standards, with long, curly dark hair.

This is by no means a complete list. Victoria was also friends/enemies with suffragists Susan B. Anthony, Isabella Beecher Hooker, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Paulina Wright Davis and Laura Cuppy Smith. Other supporters included Jesse Grant and his son, President Ulysses S. Grant, and Frederick Douglass.

Among her enemies: Catharine Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Horace Greeley and Anthony Comstock (of the Comstock anti-obscenity laws).

What do you think about Victoria’s friends and enemies? Did you know about any of them before? What else do you want to know?


Brody, Miriam. Victoria Woodhull, Free Spirit for Women’s Rights.
Fox, Richard Wightman. Trials of Intimacy: Love and Loss in the Beecher-Tilton Scandal .
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.
“Hand and Vanderbilt: A Sketch of Grandmother Vanderbilt’s Early Life”
Havelin, Kate. Victoria Woodhull.
Krull, Kathleen. A Woman for President – The Story of Victoria Woodhull.
MacPherson, Myra. The Scarlet Sisters.
Stiles, T.J. The First Tycoon : the Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt
Tilton, Theodore. The Golden Age Tract No. 3 “Victoria C. Woodhull, a Biographical Sketch.”
Underhill, Lois Beachey. The Woman Who Ran for President.