Neal Katz – Victoria Woodhull and #MeToo

Neal Katz

Two years ago when I was in Chicago for BEA and the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, I met Neal Katz, a fellow author who is also telling Victoria Woodhull’s story. I knew about him (or rather his name) because I had researched others who have or are writing about her. But I had no idea he’d be so charming and gracious. He’s truly a wonderful man.

Neal is approaching Victoria’s story as a trilogy, so he’s able to go much more in-depth into Victoria and Tennie’s lives than Madame Presidentess does. The first book in the series, Outrageous, won 10 awards. Now he’s now preparing to publish part 2: Scandalous. So if you’re hankering for more on Victoria, go buy his books!

As part of Neal’s pre-publication publicity (say that five times fast), he wrote a great article on how Victoria used her newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly to launch the #MeToo of her time: http://thevictoriawoodhullsaga.com/rise-up/. Go, read, now!

(I also took up the subject of Victoria and #MeToo, but from a different angle.)

Some people might question why I would promote Neal’s books since they are direct competition with mine. My answer is that we aren’t really competitors; we are allies.  As much as I want book sales, that’s not really what this is about. It’s about getting Victoria back into the historical record where she belongs. And the more voices we have out there promoting her, the better. No two writers approach a subject the same way, so even if you’ve read mine, you’re likely to learn something new from his, and vice versa. Plus, the more indie authors (and all authors, for that matter) work together, the better off we all are.

Victoria Woodull’s 1872 Election Day as Seen on Facebook

“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.

victorias-election-day-as-played-out-on-fb

The Melodrama of History (or Yes, They Really Said That)

quoteWhen question of history or research arises that I am aware of I will break my rule of not responding to criticism because I want to present the facts. A few people have been mentioned that some of the dialogue in Madame Presidentess is melodramatic or over the top. While I don’t know for certain which parts they are talking about, I can think of three areas that may be the culprit and the reason is the same for all: they are actual historical quotes. There certainly could be places where I, as the author, am guilty of being too dramatic, but I have a feeling these are the areas in question. The links in the story below will take you to documents that show the conversations in question.

1) Rev. Henry Ward Beecher/Steinway Hall Meltdown
Drama must run in the Beecher blood because not only was Harriet Beecher Stowe (Henry and Catharine’s sister) a famous novelist, but Henry was very much an over-the-top performer. As a preacher, that makes sense because it would help him get his message across. But his flair for the dramatic also appears to have carried over into his every day conversations. “He was unabashedly theatrical, using his whole body to communicate the full range of human emotion, with dramatic gestures and subtle facial expressions (Applegate 211).” He was also known for his “blunt, colorful language” (Applegate 194) and had a propensity to cry and be overly emotional (Macpherson 121).

In a documented interview with a reporter in the November 2, 1872 issue of Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly and later reproduced in several biographies of Victoria, she recalled one of their most dramatic conversations, one which took place when she asked him to introduce her before her speech at Steinway Hall and which I have reproduced with only minor alterations in my novel. The context is that Victoria and  Theodore told Rev. Beecher that it would be best if he publicly espoused the Free Love he practiced in his private life by endorsing Victoria; otherwise it would come to light in some other way.  The historical conversation is as follows:

Theodore Tilton: “Someday you have got to fall; go and introduce this woman and win the radicals of this country and it will break your fall.”

Henry Ward Beecher: “Do you think that this thing will come out to the world?”

Theodore Tilton: “Nothing is more in earth or heaven, Mr. Beecher, and this may be your last chance to save yourself from complete ruin.”

Henry Ward Beecher: “I can never endure such a terror. Oh! If it must come, let me know of it twenty-four hours in advance, that I may take my own life. I cannot, cannot face this thing!’

I couldn’t make this stuff up, folks.

2) Catharine Beecher/The Carriage Ride

Whereas Henry was dramatic, his sister Catharine had a mean streak. Victoria and Catharine Beecher fought often through letters and articles. But there is one particularly dramatic event that is documented by Victoria herself. Isabella Beecher, Catharine’s sister and Victoria’s dear friend, thought the two might be able to get along if they just met in person. (A noble, but misguided notion.) Catharine and Victoria ended up taking a carriage ride through Central Park, in which they discussed several of their philosophical differences in thinking about the proper role of women. Toward the end of the conversation, Catharine freaked out and Victoria told her where to shove it. As recounted by Victoria in the May 17, 1873, issue of Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly and reproduced in Marion Meade’s biography of Victoria, as well as those written by Barbara Goldsmith, Mary Gabriel and many other biographers, here is the actual conversation:

Catharine Beecher: “Evil! I know my brother is unhappy, but he is a true husband. I will vouch for my brother’s faithfulness to his marriage vows as though he were myself.”

Victoria: “But you have no positive knowledge that would justify your doing so.”

Catherine: “No…No positive… I know he is unhappy. Mrs. Beecher is a virago, a constitutional liar, and a terrible woman altogether, so terrible my brother’s friends and family seldom visit. But unfaithful—no. I will hear no more of it.”

Victoria: “You will hear. In concubinage with his parishioner’s wife—it is common knowledge. And if you were a proper person to judge, which I grant you are not, you should see that the facts are fatal to your theories.”

Catharine: “Victoria Woodhull, I will strike you for this. I will strike you dead.”

Victoria: “Strike as much and as hard as you please. Only don’t do it in the dark so I cannot know who is my enemy.”

This is when Catharine yelled for the driver to stop and let her out. Myra MacPherson continues the conversation with Catharine adding, “I will strike at you in every way; I can and will kill you, if possible” (117).

The rest of their conversation in my novel is pulled from letters between the two. A historical cat fight is better than a fictional one any day!

3) Tennie’s Courtroom Testimony

When Anne Claflin (Victoria’s mother) sued Col. Blood (Victoria’s second husband) for alienation of her daughters’ affection, all of Victoria’s dirty laundry came out in open court, a misfortune that dogged her all the way through the end of her candidacy. Despite her mother’s overwrought testimony, the oddest testimony comes from Victoria’s sister, Tennie. She was supposed to be supporting Col. Blood’s side of the case, and she did at first, but through a series of bizarre ramblings, ended up defending her mother.

The following comes from actual court testimony, originally reported in the New York Herald and reproduced in The Woman who Ran for President: The Many Lives of Victoria Woodhull by Lois Beachy Underhill p. 140 and Mary Gabriel’s Notorious Victoria: The Uncensored Life of Victoria Woodhull p. 104:

“I have humbugged people, I know. But if I did, it was to make money to keep these deadheads. I believe in Spiritualism myself. It has set my mother crazy because she commenced to believe when she was too old.” She turned to the judge. “But, Judge, I want my mother. I am willing to take my mother home with me now or pay two hundred a month for her in any safe place. I am afraid she will die under this excitement. I am single myself, and I don’t want anybody with me but my mother.”

Tennie then collasped in sobs and made such a scene that the judge called both lawyers to the bench.

There is no reason given in any of my sources Tennie’s odd behavior, so as a novelist, I chalked it up to her using some of the drugs her sister was addicted to (her sister was an addict, that part is true) to calm her nerves before testifying.

Sources:
Applegate, Debby. The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher
Doyle, John E. P. “Plymouth church and its pastor,: or, Henry Ward Beecher and his accusers” 
Gabriel, Mary. Notorious Victoria: The Uncensored Life of Victoria Woodhull
Goldsmith, Barbara. Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull
MacPherson, Myra. The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage and Scandal in the Gilded Age
Meade, Marion Free Woman: The Life and Times of Victoria Woodhull
Underhill, Lois Beachy The Woman who Ran for President: The Many Lives of Victoria Woodhull

Victoria Woodhull’s Bold/Stupid Move Before Election Day

3-31-11_wideAs Americans watch the end of the craziest political season to date, it seems like a good time to look back at the bold/stupid (depending on how you look at it) move that led to Victoria Woodhull’s campaign downfall.

The summer of 1872 was very hard for Victoria. She was ill with a mysterious aliment that couldn’t be diagnosed and that recurred several times over three months. Her beloved newspaper shut down due to lack of funds. She had already been forced to sell her Murray Hill mansion, and then was kicked out of several hotels, while others wouldn’t rent a room to her (no one wanted to be associated with her or the controversy that surrounded her). She and her family (husband, kids, parents, brothers and sisters) lived for while in the Woodhull & Claflin brokerage offices, but when the landlord found out, he raised her rent so high they were forced to abandon even that location, so that they were homeless for a few days. In desperation, she sent a note to Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, asking for his help to get one of the hotels to let them stay there. He curtly refused.

Her sister, Maggie, eventually managed to rent a place for them to stay under an assumed name. Victoria was tired and still ill, worn out from the whirlwind of her year, which had started off so promising. In September, at a meeting of the National Convention of American Spiritualists in Boston, she decided to finally spill the beans on Rev. Henry Ward Beecher – revealing her long-kept secret that the married preacher was having an affair with Lib Tilton, wife of Theodore Tilton, Victoria’s former lover.

Not satisfied by this small audience – and perhaps in revenge for Rev. Beecher’s refusal to come to her aid in her hour of need – Victoria began plotting on a larger scale. She and Tennie would resurrect Woodhul & Claflin’s Weekly for one more explosive issue (though this didn’t turn out to be its last, only its most famous) that would right two long-hidden wrongs. While Victoria told every detail of the Beecher-Tilton scandal she could recall in a fake interview format, Tennie penned a story about the night a businessman named Luther Challis relieved a young girl of her virginity, likely against her will. Her lead in to the story included this passage:

“We propose to take leading personages from each of the several pursuits of life and lay before the world a record of their private careers so that it may no longer appear that their victims are the only frightful examples of immorality. To that end, I give you the story of Mr. L. C. Challis.”

From Victoria:

“I propose aggressive moral warfare on the social question, to begin in this article with ventilating one of the most stupendous scandals which has ever occurred in any community. I refer to the conduct of Reverend Henry Ward Beecher in his relations with the family of Theodore Tilton. I intend that this article shall burst like a bombshell into the ranks of the moralistic social camp…he has, in a word, consented and still consents to be a hypocrite. The fault with which I therefore charge him is not infidelity to the old ideas but unfaithfulness to the new.”

Victoria’s “bombshell” was hidden within a seemingly ordinary issue of the newspaper, but that did not stop people from lapping up the scandal inside. According to my sources, the paper sold for 10 cents but by evening people were paying $2.50. The first run of 10,000 copies sold quickly. Some people rented theirs to read for $1.00 a day. One copy even sold for $40. More than 250,000 copies sold in three days. The distributor, American News Company, refused to replace it on the stands after the first 100,000 copies were sold so newsboys came to their offices to get them in person. Some copies were bought and destroyed by Beecher’s supporters, for the article called in to question the idea of marriage as a bedrock of society.

But in the end, it wasn’t Victoria’s story that landed both sisters in jail on Election Day; it was Tennie’s. In telling her tale of  Luther Challis’ lewd behavior, Tennie used a line that, although also quoted in the Bible (Deuteronomy), was considered obscene. “To prove he had seduced a maiden, he carried for days on his finger, exhibiting in triumph, the red trophy of her virginity.” Then, when they were tricked into mailing a copy of the paper to Anthony Comstock, the country’s self-appointed moral guardian, they were arrested for sending obscene material through the mail.

One might logically ask what she was thinking, loosing stories like this right before the election? I know I wanted to shake Victoria for her stupidity when I was researching this part of her life. No one knows for certain why she did it – but signs point to a woman who was at her wits end and no longer cared what happened to her. She had to know that Rev. Beecher was the most beloved, popular preacher in the country and that his followers would be upset, and possibly seek revenge. She had to know releasing these stories would do nothing for her reputation. I honestly don’t think this was a strategic “October surprise” like we’re used to seeing now. I think it was an act of revenge by a woman who was beyond her breaking point and no longer had anything to lose. Only, I’m positive neither she nor Tennie or James or anyone else expected Comstock to react to Tennie’s article the way he did. They likely anticipated libel charges by Beecher (which never happened) and Chalis (which took several days and were ultimately dismissed). I certainly don’t think anyone thought Victoria and Tennie would spend Election Day in jail.

Was it a case of ego gone wild? A thirst for justice that backfired? Or was she so blinded by revenge that she couldn’t see the possible outcomes? Or maybe another factor altogether that history has missed. I wish I knew because the line of events breaks my heart. I wish I could go back and say “don’t you see what you’re doing to yourself?” But I can’t. At least I can tell her story.

Why do you think Victoria took such a risk so close to the election? What could possibly have been going on in her mind? 

Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, the blog of Victoria Woodhull’s Day

W&C2If Victoria Woodhull lived now, she would totally have a blog. I say that because she ran her own newspaper (along with her sister Tennie) and newspapers were the blogs of the mid-to-late nineteenth century in America. People had flame wars in the papers just like they do on social media and in the comments today. (Oh, how little things change!)

Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly was Victoria and Tennie’s paper. They started it in 1870 as a way to get Victoria’s message out to the public as a presidential candidate. (Much the same way I use this blog to get my message as an author out to you.) Victoria was able to gain far more media and public attention by producing her own paper than she would have if she relied on the mainstream media of the day, which was fickle at best, especially toward women. She is rumored to have said something like “I have a mouthpiece [in Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly] and I intend to use it.”

There is no doubt that Victoria’s friend former journalist Stephen Pearl Andrews and her second husband, Col. James Blood were instrumental in making the paper run. Stephen had a regular column and James acted as Victoria’s silent secretary, in addition to contributing articles of his own. Tennie was also a regular contributor.

Ad page, August 5, 1871

Ad page, August 5, 1871

As it started as a women’s rights and suffrage publication, Victoria often ran copies of her speeches in the paper, and even published the memorial (petition) she read before Congress so that everyone could read it. She frequently asked readers to petition Congress and their local leaders. But she also wrote about other topics that were important to her, such as marriage reform (aka Free Love), fraud by the government and police (such as police involvement in prostitution bribes so the women could avoid arrest) and corruption in business (she called out all the big names of her day including Astor and her friend Vanderbilt). Notably, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly was the first paper to print an English translation of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. (Victoria and her group were leaders in Section 12 of the International Workingmen’s Association, which Marx led for a time.)

Victoria wanted Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly to be about everything that touches women’s lives. This included women’s education; female doctors being recognized by The Medical Gazette and attending the Pinter’s convention in Cincinnati; and alcoholism treated at a nursing home in Brooklyn as a disease rather than a moral failing. Victoria also reported on the careers of famous female lecturers such as Anna Dickinson, Kate Field and Laura C. Holloway, as well as on her friends’ political and business activities.

Unsold copies were mailed to daily newspapers and influential people for free. Positive feedback was printed as part of Victoria’s PR campaign. With two years, women were writing Victoria and Tennie in droves with comments, topic suggestions and even submitting articles. At one point Victoria had so many suggestions, she had to close the women’s section.

All was well for the paper until Victoria’s life fell into turmoil during the summer of 1872. Due to her increasing radicalism and an unfortunate series of events, Victoria lost her fortune and her home and was forced to stop printing her beloved paper on June 15.

But the presses were silent for only a short time. On October 28 of that year, Victoria burst back on the scene with her most explosive issue ever, one that would become known as “The Scandal Issue” and land her in jail for her own election day. In it, she printed an article exposing the extramarital affair of beloved preacher Rev. Henry Ward Beecher and Elizabeth Tilton. In the same issue, Tennie wrote a scathing account of broker Luther Challis seducing two young virgins at a public ball years before.

W&CThe paper normally sold for 10 cents but by evening of the first day that issue was available, people were paying $2.50. The first run of 10,000 copies sold quickly. Some people rented theirs to read for $1.00 a day. One copy even sold for $40.

Three days later, Tennie and Victoria were charged with sending obscene material through the mail. Anthony Comstock set them up by requesting that a copy of the issue be mailed to him. Comstock then tipped off authorities, seeing himself as a guardian of public morals. (As the sponsor of the anti-obscenity law that bore his name, he also got half the fines paid by people arrested on obscenity charges. Some sources say that members of Rev. Beecher’s church may have put Comstock up to his actions.)

While they were in jail, police searched the offices, seizing and destroying the presses. But once Victoria and Tennie were finally released from jail months later (found innocent of all charges), the Weekly started up again and ran until June 10, 1876, when Victoria decided she was finally tired of it.

I have yet to be able to see Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly in person, though high-quality images to do exist online and Arlene Kisner’s book reproduces some of its articles. According to at least one web site, Washington University here in St. Louis has copies of it, but I haven’t been able to get anyone to respond to my requests about it.

Had you ever heard of this revolutionary paper? What more do you want to know about it?

Sources:
Brody, Miriam. Victoria Woodhull, Free Spirit for Women’s Rights.
Gabriel, Mary. Notorious Victoria.
Goldsmith, Barbara. Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull.
Havelin, Kate. Victoria Woodhull.
Kisner, Arlene. The Lives and Writings of Notorious Victoria Woodhull and Her Sister Tennessee Claflin.
MacPherson, Myra. The Scarlet Sisters.
Underhill, Lois Beachey. The Woman Who Ran for President.

 

The Bewitching Brokers Shatter Wall Street’s Male-Only Tradition

Bewitching BrokersCombine a Kardashian store opening with a Justin Beiber concert and throw in a visiting foreign dignitary, and you may begin to get the idea of how much chaos the opening of Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin’s stock brokerage on February 5, 1870, created.

Contemporary accounts place the crowds at as many as 4,000, with people (mostly men) pushing and shoving to catch sight of the audacious women.  A hundred policemen were called out to keep the peace. That didn’t stop the yelling and jeers of protesters who were ready to physically carry the women back home where they belonged. Men peered in the windows all day long, lifting one another up and calling out if they caught sight of Victoria or Tennie.

030570mWhen it opened for business that morning, Woodhull, Claflin and Co., became the first female-owned American company that bought and sold stocks. The press quickly crowned its owners “The Queens of Finance,” the “Sensation of New York,” and “The Bewitching Brokers.”

The office, located on Broad Street (at Wall Street), was just down the street from the New York Stock Exchange and only four doors up from rival broker, Jim Fisk. The interior was described in the papers as more like an elegant parlor than a business office, with oil paintings on the wall, statues in the corners, a piano, and ample upholstered sofas and chairs. A small framed cross-stitch on one wall declared “simply to the cross I cling,” next to a photo of Mr. Vanderbilt. The sisters did business at solid wood desks inlaid with gold (left by the previous owners, who were criminals and had to flee in a hurry – seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up) and had a ticker-tape machine at the ready.

A unique aspect of the building was that it had a back entrance for women who might not feel comfortable doing business with men. It was separated from the rest of the office by a walnut partition decorated with glass. In the women’s-only area, Victoria and Tennie served champagne and chocolate covered strawberries to their clients, who passed on business gossip as well as bought and sold stocks. Unsurprisingly, given the sisters’ previous healing and medium work at brothels, many of their early female clients were madams and their girls. But eventually independently wealthy women, suffragists, and the wives of businessmen became clients as well.

TennieTheir clients that first day were a combination of well known business figures such as Peter Cooper, Jay Cooke, and Daniel Drew – even poet Walt Whitman paid them a visit – and curiosity seekers. Among the questionably sane who dropped by were two men, Edward Van Schalck and Hugh Hastings, who returned several times throughout the day, dressed differently each time, though no one knows why. Sometimes it was one or both of them, other times they returned with a group of friends to heckle Victoria and Tennie. After one of their disruptions, a sign was affixed to the front door, stating, “Gentlemen will state their business and then retire at once.”

The firm did brisk business, with some sources citing an unverified claim supposedly made by Victoria that they made $700,000 in two years. It appears the business began to falter in 1871, a time when Victoria was focused on the paper and her political campaign, leaving her husband, James – the firm’s silent partner – and Tennie to deal with clients who were disgruntled over the sisters’ misguided speculation in gold. Over the next two years, as Victoria became more outspoken and brazen in airing her views on women and worker’s rights as part of her Presidential campaign, the firm slowly lost clients. By summer 1873, Victoria and Tennie were out of money and the firm existed in name only.

It would be another 94 years before there was another woman on Wall Street. (Muriel Siebert was the first woman to buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, on December 28, 1967)

How much did you know about Victoria and Tennie’s role on Wall Street? What do you think of them? What questions do you have?

Sources:

Brody, Miriam. Victoria Woodhull, Free Spirit for Women’s Rights

Gabriel, Mary. Notorious Victoria.

Goldsmith, Barbara. Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull.

Havelin, Kate. Victoria Woodhull.

MacPherson, Myra. The Scarlet Sisters.

Underhill, Lois Beachey. The Woman Who Ran for President.

An Unlikely Partnership: Victoria Woodhull and Cornelius Vanderbilt

Victoria and Tennie with a client, possibly Vanderbilt

Victoria and Tennie with a client, possibly Vanderbilt

In 1868 when Victoria Woodhull moved to New York at the urging of her spirit guide, she had no idea that within a short time, she’d end up being friends with the wealthiest man in the country. That man was Cornelius Vanderbilt, the railroad and shipping tycoon.

No one knows exactly how Victoria and Vanderbilt met. Some biographies skim over it, while others speculate it may have been through her father or even simply general social mingling. It was well known that 73 year old Vanderbilt had a penchant for psychics and mediums, so he may have sought them out or vice versa.

One way or another, Victoria and Tennie called on him as clairvoyants who could make stock market predictions. Or if he preferred, they were also healers who could restore his health and happiness.

Pretty much everyone agrees that Vanderbilt was immediately taken with beautiful, charming Tennie, whom he called his “little sparrow.” He asked her to marry him in 1868, not long after his wife died. Tennie’s 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, with whom she had no contact. It’s widely believed Tennie and Vanderbilt had an affair that lasted at least five years, and continued when he married again.

Tennie’s affair may have influenced Vanderbilt’s admiration for the sisters, but he was equally impressed with Victoria. While in a trance, she would relay messages from his deceased mother and children and also tell him what stocks would go up.  While she may have had extraordinary powers (who can prove she didn’t?), her stock tips really came from her friend Josie Mansfield, a former actress turned prostitute whom she met while acting in San Francisco. Josie was mistress to Vanderbilt’s business rival, Jim Fisk.

This relationship set Victoria up to become a very rich woman, as Vanderbilt split the profits with her if her tips were right. Then on September 24, 1869, the stock market crashed, the very first Black Friday.  Women were not allowed on the trading floor, so Victoria sat outside in her carriage, sending men in with orders to buy. Both she and Vanderbilt came out on top, thanks to a warning from Josie, and avoided the calamity that drove many to poverty and suicide. When asked how he was so successful, Vanderbilt reportedly said, “Do as I do. Consult the spirits.”

This one historic day of trading enabled Victoria and Tennie to afford to open their own firm (more on this next week), becoming the first female stock brokers ever on Wall Street. How they were qualified to trade stocks is up to debate. Their father may have taught them a little about finance and law, or they may have learned from Vanderbilt. One thing is certain, they weren’t afraid to enter a man’s world.

Their firm, Woodhull, Claflin and Co., opened on February 5, 1870. Tennie told reporters that day that Vanderbilt “inspired the new undertaking.” He never publicly admitted to financially backing their business, but he likely did. At the very least it was his connections that enabled them to open the firm in the first place. Victoria and Tennie encouraged public association of their names with his by keeping his picture on their office wall. He was also likely the silent backer of their newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly.

It appears Vanderbilt, Victoria and Tennie maintained a strong relationship until 1872, when an increasingly bold and erratic Victoria began calling out the rich and powerful who depend on the labor of the poor, including Vanderbilt, in her paper and in her speeches.  In February 1872, she gave a speech entitled “The Impending Revolution,” in New York, in which she called Vanderbilt out by name, saying,

“A Vanderbilt may sit in his office and manipulate stocks or make dividends, by which in a few years, he amasses fifty million dollars from the industries of the country, and he is one of the remarkable men of the age. But if a poor, half-starved child were to take a loaf of bread from his cupboard to prevent starvation, she would be sent first to the Tombs, and thence to Blackwell’s Island.”

Needless to say, having his name used in such a negative way in public angered Vanderbilt. He withdrew his support from the brokerage and the paper. The official story was that his wife caught him canoodling with Tennie, but both sisters knew the real reason why he severed ties with them.

In 1877, Vanderbilt passed away. His son, William, feared Tennie would go after her lover’s money. He was also afraid she and Victoria would be called to testify to his father’s belief in spiritualism – and thus give credence to the idea his father was not of sound mind and the will should be invalidated. To avoid both disasters, William paid the sisters a large sum to relocate to England.

What questions do you have about Victoria and Vanderbilt? Did you know of their association before? If so, where did you hear about it?

Sources:

Brody, Miriam. Victoria Woodhull, Free Spirit for Women’s Rights

Gabriel, Mary. Notorious Victoria.

Goldsmith, Barbara. Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull.

Havelin, Kate. Victoria Woodhull.

MacPherson, Myra. The Scarlet Sisters.

Underhill, Lois Beachey. The Woman Who Ran for President.

Meet Victoria Woodhull’s Family

As I mentioned last week, I couldn’t make up the story of Victoria Woodhull. She’s one of those people whose life was so storied you would think it outlandish if I did. And part of the reason was the crazy (sometimes literally) cast of characters in her life. So, before I delve into her life in future weeks, I thought I’d introduce you to them so you know who I’m referring to. This is a long list, so I’m going to run it in two installments. Today’s is Victoria and her family.

Victoria Woodhull

Victoria Woodhull

Victoria Woodhull – From an early age she showed gifts of magnetic healing and being a spiritual medium. She worked for her father that capacity until she was 15, when she married her first husband, Canning Woodhull. She had two children with him, a son, Bryon, who was born brain damaged, and a daughter Zula (or Zulu). When they moved to San Francisco, she worked as an actress and possibly as a prostitute. She left her husband and moved to St. Louis, where she met her second husband, Colonel James Blood. In 1868, her spirit guide, Demosthenes, instructed her to go to New York. She and Tennie went and it wasn’t long before they met Cornelius Vanderbilt, who needed their services as healers and mediums. Eventually, they became involved in the stock market, opening the first brokerage run my women on Wall Street and becoming self-made millionaires. Victoria then set her sights on the White House and the suffrage movement, becoming the first woman to speak before Congress. She and Tennie began their own newspaper, Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly, to get their suffrage and worker’s rights messages out. Her fortunes waxed and waned during the campaign and she ended up in jail for Election Day. Years of trials on trumped up charges followed, of which she and Tennie were found not guilty on all counts. By this time they were tired and nearly bankrupt, so they accepted William Vanderbilt’s (son of Cornelius) offer of money in exchange for moving to England. There, Victoria reinvented herself, distancing herself from earlier radical beliefs. She married a wealthy banker and ran for President of the United States two more times. She lived to see women get the vote in 1920, passing away in her sleep in 1927.

Victoria is described as having light brown hair, which she cut short, gray-blue eyes and high cheekbones. She was of medium stature and build, thin and had ramrod straight posture.

Tennessee Claflin

Tennessee Claflin

Tennesse (Tennie C.) Claflin – Victoria’s younger sister. She spent many years working for her father as a healer, medium, and likely prostitute. She was rescued from that life in the late 1860s by Victoria and Colonel James Blood. Once in New York, she became Cornelius Vanderbilt’s lover. She was Victoria’s partner in the stock brokerage and did the majority of the work there while Victoria focused on her campaign. She also wrote for their paper. Jealous of her sister’s political success, Tennie ran for Congress in 1872, supported by a contingent of German New Yorkers, but had less success than her sister. She also made waves by being named the commander of the Spencer Grays, a unit of black military men in New York.

When the sisters moved to England, Tennie blossomed, becoming an advocate for women’s rights both there and in the US. She did far more than her sister to advance the movement during this time. She eventually married Viscount Francis Cook, becoming a viscountess. She died in 1923.

Tennie was an incorrigible flirt who was linked not only to Vanderbilt, but Tribune editor Whitelaw Reid and journalist Johnny Greene. She was described as plump with a large bosom, full mouth and golden brown or reddish curls, blue eyes and a cleft chin.

Buck Claflin

Buck Claflin

Buck Claflin – Reuben Buckman (Buck) Claflin was Victoria’s father. He 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 their land when Victoria 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. And he beat his children, one of whom ran away and was never heard from again. He put Victoria and Tennie to work as healers and mediums from a young age. He had plenty of nefarious ways of getting information about local families to feed to his daughters if the spirits weren’t particularly talkative. He also claimed to have an elixir that could cure cancer, which he administered at so-called “clinics” throughout the Midwest. Between law suits from disgruntled or injured patients and charges of running houses of prostitution, he was always on the run from the law. He and the family followed Victoria and Tennie to New York, where he may have introduced them to Cornelius Vanderbilt. When the firm was opened, he was given a token job, but never really contributed anything to the firm. He was said to steal checks from them and make a general nuisance of himself.

Anne Claflin

Anne Claflin

Anne Claflin – Anna Roxanna (Anne/Annie) Hummel Claflin was Victoria’s mother and an insane Spiritualist. She sometimes assisted with her husband’s beatings of their children, yelling, laughing hysterically and clapping as they cried. Other times she would weep with joy over them. Anne claimed to see visions and speak in the tongue of angels, both of which appeared like fits where she babbled and foamed at the mouth. Anne was a confirmed blackmailer, which is how she made money, even going after Victoria’s friends and supporters during her Presidential campaign. She hated Colonel Blood, whom she blamed for taking Tennie and Victoria away from her. She accused him of being a thief and even brought legal charges against him in 1871. This ended up being a sensational trial that brought many of Victoria’s well-guarded secrets to light and seriously harmed her campaign.

Utica Claflin Booker – Sister of Victoria and one of Anne’s favorites. She was addicted to alcohol and morphine and frequently disrupted Victoria’s public speeches. The most famous incident was during Victoria’s highly controversial speech on Free Love. Utica, who was sitting on the audience, stood up and challenged Victoria in front of the whole crowd. She was also friends with Canning Woodhull (they shared vices) and after his death, she went to the coroner and said he died under suspicious circumstances, blaming the doctor. This was later proved false.

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)

Canning Woodhull – Canning was Victoria’s first husband. They met when he was 28 and she was 14. He was Victoria’s doctor during a period she was so ill she nearly died. The two fell in love quickly, and her mom and dad were all for the match, believing (thanks to Canning’s lies) that he his father was a well respected judge and his uncle was major of New York. As it turned out, Canning wasn’t much better than Victoria’s father. He was an alcoholic and a womanizer, who was found in a brothel only three days after their wedding. Victoria blamed him and his abuse for their son, Byron, being born brain damaged. When she had their daughter, Zula, the baby nearly bled to death 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 finally left him in 1863, divorcing him three years later after meeting Colonel James Harvey Blood.

One would think that was the end of him, but it wasn’t. About a year and a half after Victoria married James, Canning was delirious with illness and called for her. She and James brought him back 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 ended up living with James and Victoria, as he was too ill with drink and morphine to do otherwise. Victoria considered it her Christian duty to take care of him, even though their living arrangements scandalized others when they came out in the trial of 1871. Canning died on April 7, 1872. Though Utica claimed it was a suspicious death, it was later proven to be a lung ailment, likely pneumonia.

Colonel James Harvey Blood

Colonel James Harvey Blood

Colonel James Harvey Blood – Victoria’s second husband. He was a Civil War veteran (shot six times, and once removed the bullets himself), commander of the 6th Missouri Regiment and City Auditor of St. Louis. He met Victoria when he came to visit her as a spiritual physician for his wife for female complaints. According to Victoria, when he walked into the room, she went into a trance, announcing “I see our futures linked. Our destinies are bound together,” whereupon they were betrothed “by the powers of the air.” Soon he frequented her office and the two engaged in a torrid affair. To help pay off his debts in St. Louis so he could divorce his wife and abandon his family, they traveled throughout the Midwest as healers in a brightly colored fringed surrey under the names Dr. J. H. Harvey and “Madame Harvey.” They were married on July 12, 1866 in Dayton, Ohio, but the marriage application was incomplete and never filed by the minister, so there was some lingering question as to whether or not they were legally married.

James was the silent partner in the brokerage firm, using his skills as an accountant and knowledge of the law to keep the business going. He also served as Victoria’s secretary, as her handwriting was said to be terrible. He was also a contributor to Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly and helped Victoria write her speeches. James was very supportive of Victoria’s suffrage and political interests; if fact, he may have introduced her to the ideas of women’s rights and Free Love. (He is said to possibly have had a few affairs during their marriage.) He supported Victoria to the bitter end, when she divorced him in 1876.

He was described as having dark eyes, a trim beard and a soldier’s stance. He was spiritual and reflective, a self-chosen recluse, who was very liberal in his views.

These are only a few of Victoria’s family members. She was the seventh of ten children. In order of oldest to youngest, the Claflin children were Margaret Ann, Mary (or Polly), Maldon, Hebern (or Hebren), Victoria California, Utica Vantitia, Tennessee Celeste (or Tennie C.), and Odessa Maldiva who died as a baby. It’s unknown in what order daughters Delia and Hester Ann were born as they, like Odessa, died young.

Next week I’ll profile several of Victoria’s closest friends.

What do you think of her family? Can you see where they would make a good story? Thoughts/questions about them?

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.
Underhill, Lois Beachey. The Woman Who Ran for President.

This post was updated on July 31, 21015, to correct confusion about Colonel Blood’s children. My sources vary in their answers. Some day two daughters, some say one. Some simply say “children” or “family.”