I’ve been kind of cagey about the biography I’m working on (not Rose Ferron, which is on the back burner at the moment, this is another one), but I’m getting close to finishing my research and submitting to agents, so I’m now comfortable with talking about it. I am working on a dual biography of husband-wife suffragist team, Virginia and Francis Minor. I happen to have a guest post today about Virginia over on author Suzanne Adair’s website, if you want to see a summary of her life.
I first heard about Virginia when I was researching Victoria Woodhull for my book Madame Presidentess. Virginia was a contemporary of Victoria’s. While we can’t prove that they knew one another, it is likely. Virginia was a big deal in the National Woman’s Suffrage Association and she is the one who originated the idea that the Fourteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote, and idea Victoria used when she spoke before Congress. Even if Victoria didn’t personally know Virginia, she almost certainly had heard of her.
You know me and stories of forgotten women. There was something about Virginia that I was immediately attracted to. I haven’t yet been able to put my finger on what. But I knew I had to tell her story. This one didn’t strike me as right for historical fiction, though. I did some digging and found that no one has ever written a biography of her. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!
The book started out just being about Virginia, but then I realized that her relationship with Francis was integral to her work and highly unusual. They lived a life of purposeful equality, beginning in the 1840s, way before that was common practice, so I knew I had to include him as well. They also both lived in my hometown of St. Louis for over 40 years, which is really helping with the research. We have some great archives here with very valuable information. Neither Francis or Virginia is well-known, and so not much about them still exists, but it is possible to find it if you look hard enough. I love the thrill of the chase in research, so I am having a ball. This June I will be visiting archives in Virginia, where they were both born, so hopefully that will shed light on their childhoods, which is really the missing piece at the moment.
I can’t wait to tell you more about them as the project progresses and to hopefully soon have a contract on the book.
P.S. – So far, I have not been able to track down a photo of Francis, which is why there isn’t one in this post. I have, however, held documents written in his own hand. It was so cool!
As August 2020 and the centennial of women’s right vote in the United States grows closer, we’re starting to see some really creative projects highlighting the brave, groundbreaking women of American history. Unfortunately, none of them include Victoria Woodhull yet (trust me, I’m contacting each one as I learn of them), but they do include many of her contemporaries. Here are three projects I’m keeping an eye on:
Rebel Women – A project to get more statues of amazing women of American history built in New York City and throughout the country. The author of the article I linked to is asking for nominations for women from your home town. I’ve already nominated Victoria for New York City and Virginia Minor for St. Louis. Please, feel free to nominate your own or second one of mine by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Embrazen Wines – This is by far the most clever of the three projects. A winemaker has created three special vintages with labels that highlight the accomplishments of three women in American history: Josephine Baker, Nellie Bly and Celia Cruz. A special app called Living Wine Labels allows you to scan the bottle and hear Beginning August 26 (National Women’s Equality Day, which many groups are lobbying to make a Federal holiday), you can nominate women of history or today to be added to the next group of wines. If you nominate a contemporary woman, she could win a $25,000 grant. You bet I will be making them aware of Victoria when the Trailblazer campaign opens on August 26.
Where Are the Women? – This Kickstarter campaign aims to create sculptures of 20 notable women of U.S. history. Even though Victoria is not among them, her friends Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Lucy Stone are. I have backed it and I have also recommended Victoria to them. Please help them reach their goal. It’s so important that we spread the word about women’s history and all those whose accomplishments have not received the attention they deserve.
Why am I telling you about these? Well, besides oversight of not including Victoria, I’m still working on a proposal for a book on the history of feminism in the U.S., which I’d love to have published near the centennial. Cross your fingers!
Some of you may be aware that I’m working on a proposal for a non-fiction book on the history of U.S. feminism that I hope to have published on or near the 100th anniversary of American women getting the right to vote, which is August 19, 2020. This week, Diana at Creating Herstory is featuring a four-part article I wrote on this very same subject and I thought I’d repost the article each day as it runs on her site. It will give you a rough idea of what the book will include, although the book also will have a section on colonial feminist thought that this article doesn’t cover.
Image purchased from Adobe Stock
For me, every day is Women’s History month because I’m currently researching the history of the feminism movement in the United States for a book.
Honestly, although I’ve considered myself a feminist for more than 20 years, I never really thought much about the movement in general or how it came to be. But then I researched my historical fiction novel Madame Presidentess, which is about Victoria Woodhull, a suffragist and the first woman to run for president in the U.S. in 1872 – 48 years before women won the right to vote. Because she was friends with the likes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, I came to learn a lot about how feminism and women’s rights came to be in our country.
Historians generally agree that there have been at least three “waves” or intense periods of activity around women’s rights. But that is where the consensus ends. Exactly when these waves took place and what they encompassed is a serious matter of debate, especially where later waves are concerned. Some people (like me), believe we’re currently living in a fourth wave of feminism, while others say we’re still in the third or even in a fifth. There is even some debate on whether or not feminism in American dates back to colonial times, far before the generally accepted seminal event of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention.
While one article could never do justice to the many facets of the feminist movement (that’s what the book is for, and even then it is impossible to hit all points), here’s a brief summary of the three accepted waves, as well as my theory of a current fourth wave. All dates are approximate.
Wave One: 1840-1920 – Women Fight for Citizenship and Suffrage Key figures: Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, Alice Paul, Carrie Chapman Catt, and others.
Susan B. Anthony (standing) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Beginning in the 1830s, women started to quietly talk amongst themselves about their rights and to question why, under United States law, they were not considered full citizens. This eventually led to the first public debate on women’s rights at Oberlin College in 1846 and the first public address about women’s rights the next year. The first women’s rights convention in the United States took place the following July in Seneca Falls, New York. From this meeting came the Declaration of Sentiments, which was modeled on the Declaration of Independence, was all about woman and her rights, or lack thereof, in the country at that time. It became the basis for the women’s rights movement until the Civil War disrupted the whole country and placed the public’s attention squarely on abolition.
After the Civil War, the women’s movement split into two groups divided over the idea of enfranchisement of blacks as well as whether universal suffrage should be granted at the Federal or state levels. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were the leaders of the radical National Woman Suffrage Association, whose members believed that the enfranchisement of black and immigrant men would make it more difficult for women to be given the vote and called for a federal agreement for women suffrage. On the other side of the fence were Lucy Stone and the American Woman Suffrage Association, whose members supported the 15th Amendment and worked for women’s suffrage on a state-by-state basis.
This division hampered the efforts of both groups, by weakening resources, causing in-fighting within the movement and fracturing public attention. As time went on, some states granted suffrage on a case-by-case basis, usually beginning with school suffrage. The first state to grant women full voting rights was Wyoming in 1869. In 1872, Victoria Woodhull ran for president, even though she wasn’t technically old enough and the vast majority of women didn’t have the right to vote for her. Despite the odds, Susan B. Anthony succeeded in voting in that election (not for Victoria, as the two were bitter enemies by this point) but was arrested and found guilty of illegal voting. But she made history and headlines with her act, and her widely publicized trial spurred on flagging suffragists across the country. In 1875, Virginia Minor, a suffragist from Missouri, argued before the Supreme Court that women already had the right to vote under the 14th amendment of the Constitution, which that states suffrage is a right of all citizens of the United States. But the Supreme Court ruled against her, stating that all “men” had the right to vote, and the suffragists realized that the Federal government wasn’t going to help them. Thus began the decades-long campaign
Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Image purchased from Adobe Stock.
for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would enfranchise women.
The two warring factions of women’s suffrage finally reunited in 1890 as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), under the united cause of getting suffrage state-by-state. Twenty-six years later, tired of this slow, tame approach, Alice Paul formed the National Woman’s Party, a militant group focused on the passage of a national suffrage amendment. The following year, more than 200 members of this group – known as the Silent Sentinels – were arrested while picketing the White House. Many of them went on hunger strikes in prison and were subjected to torture and barbaric practices like forced feeding. (These women were the Iron-Jawed Angels of the 2004 film of the same name.)
Despite these setbacks, the women’s movement continued under the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt, who focused whole-heartedly on the national amendment from 1916 on. Women finally gained the right to vote on a Federal level on August 20, 1920. But it took a long time for the states to catch up (Mississippi was the last state in the union to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment in 1984) and it wasn’t for several decades that African-American women were truly able to vote without fear of discrimination and harm.
Tomorrow’s Part 2 will talk about the Second Wave of feminism, which lasted approximately from 1960-the late 1980s.
“Lock her up!” is a common refrain in this election, with opponents of Hillary Clinton, the first woman to run for president on a major party ticket, loudly calling for her to spend election day in jail. Ironic then, that the first woman to ever run for President in the U.S., Victoria Woodhull, did just that in 1872.
Days before the November 4, 1872, election, she and her sister, Tennie, published a scandalous issue of their newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, in which Victoria accused Rev. Henry Ward Beecher of having an extramarital affair with one of his parishioners, and Tennie recalled the debauchery of a public party years before. Due to a quote Tennie used (which also appears in the book of Deuteronomy), the sisters were changed by Anthony Comstock, America’s self-appointed moral crusader, of sending obscene material through the mail and arrested.
I present to you my imaginings of what Victoria, Tennie and the other women of the suffrage movement might have posted on Facebook on and around Election Day.
As close to meeting Victoria Woodhull as I will ever get!
As some of you know, last weekend I had a the great privilege of participating in a re-enactment of the election of 1872 (the one Victoria Woodhull ran in) at the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in south St. Louis County. I’ve never done re-enactment before (I’ve been to Renfaires, but only as a spectator), so this was a totally new experience for me. I was stationed at table with a few other women under the banner “Votes for Women.” We stayed in character some of the time as campaigners for Victoria, but the rest of the time was spent answering questions about her and about my book. I even got to do an impromptu Q&A session after Victoria gave her speech on Sunday.
Much to our surprise, Rebecca Rau and her camera man showed up to film part of their documentary about Victoria, The Coming Woman, at the event. Rebecca and I have become friends on Twitter and Facebook and she saw me post about it, hopped on a plane and there she was! I think she got a lot of good footage from the actors playing Victoria, Horace Greeley, Frederick Douglass, Virginia Minor and others. I particularly enjoyed Frederick Douglass – he’s a man I need to learn more about – and Virginia Minor, whose speech was so moving. And of course, they recorded the rest of us. She even interviewed me on-camera, so you may be seeing me in the film!
The park estimates we had 750-800 people come through. Yes, I may have sold some books by talking with people and handing out postcards (I wasn’t allowed to sell on-site), but more important than that is that this was a huge opportunity for me to get Victoria’s name out there and educate people about her. Only a handful of those we talked to had ever heard about her. Spreading the word about this amazing woman is the whole reason why I wrote my book in the first place, so through this event, I know I achieved my goal of helping get her name in the historical record where it belongs!
Oh, and we held a mock election. The men at the booth harassed us females good-naturedly for trying to vote (remember, this was 1872 and women didn’t get the right to vote in the US until August 1920). Although it was all in good fun, it gave me a small sense of what it must have been like for the women like Victoria, Tennie, and Susan B. Anthony who really did try to vote and were turned away due to their sex, and in Susan’s case, even arrested. In the end, Victoria came in second to Grant, beating Greeley by a long shot. While I would have LOVED to have seen her elected, I realize now that wasn’t likely when the event was being held on the grounds of Grant’s former home.
Speaking of, I also got to tour the grounds, which include Grant’s home of White Haven, a barn, a chicken house and several other buildings used by slaves and animals. As a history lover and life-long St. Louisan, I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t know that this place existed until about a month ago. It was very interesting to see that such amazing history is right in my own back yard. I’ve been to nearby places like historic St. Charles, old town Florissant, downtown St. Louis and even Cahokia Mounds across the river in Illinois, but this place really struck a chord with me. Maybe it was because I could tie it to a specific small group of people and that made it more personal; maybe I’m just more aware now that I’m older and more educated through my research. Who knows. But I was fascinated by some of the stories told by the staff and on plaques in the houses. There may be a future novel there. But I need to get the other 20 or so written first!
Victoria C. Woodhull, first American woman to run for President. Ran against Grant and Greeley, 1872.
After keeping this under my hat for almost a year, I’m very excited to announce the main character of my next historical fiction novel is none other than Victoria C. Woodhull, the first woman to run for president, in 1872. I chose today to finally reveal who I was writing about since Hillary Clinton made her candidacy announcement yesterday and my book is out in the world (not published, but it’s circulating, trying to get published).
Over the next several weeks, I’ll share information with you on this fascinating woman, who was born the dirt-poor daughter of a con-man and an insane Spiritualist, but by the age of 33, was a self-made millionaire and had racked up an impressive list of “firsts:”
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
She is quite a character, and so is her family. Seriously, they could have been on Jerry Springer. Maybe next week I’ll introduce you to the whole cast of characters in Victoria’s life – they made for interesting writing. She is one of those cases that proves you couldn’t make up a story as juicy as the truth history gives you. Like Hillary, she had her fair share of detractors, and also her fair share of qualities we wouldn’t think would make the ideal Presidential candidate. But on the balance, I think she was a good person who really did want to change the country for the better.
Why haven’t you heard of her? Good question. I hadn’t either until one day my friend Liv Raincourt pinned a picture of her on Pinterest. The caption, “Known by her detractors as ‘Mrs. Satan,’ Victoria Claflin Woodhull, born in 1838, married at age fifteen to an alcoholic and womanizer. She became the first woman to establish a brokerage firm on Wall Street and played an active role in the woman’s suffrage movement. She became the first woman to run for President of the United States in 1872. Her name is largely lost in history. Few recognize her name and accomplishments.” captured my imagination, and as I began to research this fascinating woman, I knew I had the subject of my next book.
No one knows for certain why she has been lost to the pages of history. But two things are likely to blame: 1) the first “biography” published about her shortly after her death in 1927 painted her as a brazen, manipulative whore, so no one wanted her held up as an example of feminine capabilities and 2) she really pissed off Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the ladies who literally wrote the 900+ page book on the history of the suffrage movement. In revenge, they relegated her to a literal footnote. What did she do to make them so angry? The short answer is what didn’t she do, but that’s the subject of another week’s post…
Are you interested in learning more about her? Have you heard of Victoria Woodhull before now? If so, how/where? If not, what do you want to know about her? Let me know and I’ll make sure to answer you over the next few weeks as we dive deeper into this fascinating woman’s story.
As we close out National Women’s History Month, I thought I’d give a brief history of the suffrage movement, mostly focusing on the pre-1900s time period because that is when my book is set. I haven’t done research later than that and will leave it others to tell the fascinating stories of the women who finally got us the right to vote. This list is by no means all-inclusive and is only meant to capture the high points. (I have also left out things that my main character did because I still don’t want to say who she is, though there is a hint in this post. Hopefully within a month, I can.)
1846 – First public debate on women’s rights at Oberlin College.
1847 – First public address about women’s rights.
1848 – First convention on women’s rights held in Seneca Falls.
1850 – First national women’s rights convention.
The Revolution 1868-1872 Paper run by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
1860 – Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association. They were the more radical arm of the suffrage movement. Their group opposed the 15th Amendment and called for a Federal agreement for women suffrage. They believed that the enfranchisement of black and immigrant men would make it more difficult for women to be given the vote. They also believed the educated shouldn’t have to submit to slaves to ask to vote (hence, their opposition to the 15th Amendment). They also believed that divorce was justified in some cases, which set them at odds with their more conservative women’s rights peers.
Lucy Stone, who didn’t oppose enfranchisement of freedmen but still wanted universal suffrage, founded the American Womans Suffrage Association, supporting the 15th Amendment and working for women’s suffrage. They endorsed suffrage state by state, and were more conservative than the National Woman Suffrage Association.
1866 – Congress passed the 14th Amendment, introducing the word “male” into the Constitution as a qualification for voting.
1868 – The 200+ women of the spiritualist town of Vineland, New Jersey, cast their votes in a separate box and tried to get them counted among the men’s, an event they repeated for several years.
1870 – Fifteenth Amendment passed, giving black men the right to vote.
1875 – Virginia Minor took women’s suffrage to the Supreme Court in Minor V. Happerstatt, arguing that the Constitution already gave women the right to vote by declaring them citizens and giving all citizens the right to vote. The Court said citizenship did not imply the right to vote, but that the power was left to the states unless the federal government could be persuaded to amend the Constitution.
1880 –The National Woman Suffrage Association realized the state by state approach was probably best and focused on that, rather than Federal reform to get women the right to vote.
1890 – The National Woman Suffrage Association and American Womans Suffrage Association reunited as the National American Woman Sufferage Association
1920 – Women finally get the right to vote. (August 18)
Gabriel, Mary. Notorious Victoria. Wheeler, Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, ed. One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement.
Do you have thoughts or questions about the early suffrage movement in America? It’s not my strongest subject, but I will definitely try to get answers.
I’m getting closer to being able to tell all of you exactly who my next historical fiction book is about. I sent it off to the freelance editor whom I worked with on the first Guinevere book yesterday, as well as the first reader. I should get edits back in 4-6 weeks, then I’ll put it out for a quick beta read and be able to finally reveal her identity.
Until then, I thought I’d give you a brief taste of what life was like for a woman during the period of my novel (mid-late 1800s in America). As with my previous post about the new book, I’m not listing my sources yet because their titles would give away who my main character is. I’ll come back and add them as soon as I can.
The early 19th century had seen mostly traditional female roles centered around hearth, home and babies. But as war always seems to do, the Civil War gave some women an additional measure of independence, mostly out of necessity while her husband/father/brothers/sons were off fighting. However, after the cannon fire stopped echoing through the valleys and the guns went silent, she was expected to resume her traditional role.
Behavior Personal ambition in a woman was considered evil. She was expected to obey her father or her husband without complaint. The less she showed intelligence, the better off she was. In fact, the quieter and more sickly looking a woman was – frail, thin, pale, prone to fainting – the more attractive she was. (Ironically, she had little recourse if she actually was sickly. Many male doctors believed all women were inherently diseased and refused to treat them.)
There were social taboos against women speaking in public. To call attention to oneself in public was unladylike and considered a form of treachery to one’s husband because when she strayed from her proper place in the home, a woman caused him shame. An interesting exception to this rule was made for mediums, who were exempt because they were instruments of God’s will. (More on the Spiritualism craze of the day in a future post.)
Laws Unsurprisingly, the law was not on a woman’s side, especially if she was unmarried, divorced, or widowed. Women couldn’t vote, serve on juries or testify in court.
Beating a woman was not illegal, but some laws stipulated how large of an object could be used. (Thanks for that, lawmakers.) A married woman had no recourse if she was beaten and she couldn’t deny sex to her husband. As a result, families were large. Unwanted infants were wrapped in rags and abandoned on doorsteps or tossed in the river.
Women were considered property of their husbands. Divorce was legal, but the laws by which it was enforced or allowed varied by state. In many, adultery was the only reason a woman could ask for a divorce. And if she did, she faced steep consequences: she could lose her property, children and reputation.
Work Some women did work, usually out of necessity, and many made barely enough to keep themselves alive. Acceptable occupations included teaching (there were even some schools for girls by the second half of the century), factory work and domestic service. Wages paid to married women went straight to their husbands.
Prostitution was very common and in many ways, much accepted, at least for men. It was expected that young, unmarried men would frequent brothels. It was also acceptable for married men to go there. After all, sex within marriage wasn’t about pleasure; it was about procreation. In many areas of the country, guidebooks to the local brothels were created and disseminated among the male population, rating the establishments, profiling certain women and giving a summary of ambiance and services offered.
Sex In polite society, parts of the body normally covered by clothing were referred to only in whispers. Words related to sex – even pregnancy, rape and abortion – weren’t used in among anyone with class.
While a man could do as he pleased within or outside of marriage, a woman adultery was highly shamed, as was a woman who wasn’t a virgin on her wedding night.
Despite the acceptance of prostitution, the prostitutes themselves were considered the lowest class of woman. They were forbidden a Christian burial and could not get proper medical care. (Another ironic medical assumption of the day: women could carry sexually transmitted diseases, but could not become infected with them. Some doctors believed that all sexually transmitted diseases originated with women. The condom was originally developed to shield a man from diseases a woman might be carrying, not as contraception.)
Suffrage Movement I’ll do a detailed post on the early years of the suffrage movement soon, but for now, let’s just say it was a haven for women who didn’t believe in the status quo. Most the exceptions to societies norms were involved in the suffrage movement. Women who were the first to receive degrees of higher education (especially in the areas of law and medicine) were involved. These women were not only campaigning for the right to vote; they were voices for change for women on all fronts.
If a woman was clairvoyant, she could find a degree of power because she was allowed to speak and people listened. Spiritualists also sought temperance laws to protect women from abuse by drunken husbands and favored vegetarianism because they saw the killing of animals as a form of male violence. Many were involved in creating Utopian communities were women and men were considered equal and Free Love was the norm. (More on that to come as well.)
What questions do you have about women in the 19th century? What did you already know? What surprises you?
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.