What this means is they now have the right to shop it around Hollywood or anywhere else they may have connections. There is no deal for a movie/TV show yet. But they will try their hardest to make one happen. So cross your fingers, eyes and toes, light some candles or say some prayers…whatever works for you…and wish us all well. Given that Victoria’s story is so relevant right now, I have no doubt that they will make magic happen!
So by now you likely know that I’m part of a Christmas anthology called Tangled Lights and Silent Nights. I’m really excited because I’ve wanted to be part of an anthology since I was a teenager and read Return to Avalon, an Arthurian anthology. It always felt like it would be such an honor to be asked to write alongside others in your field, and it is! I don’t normally write short, but I challenged myself and managed it – hopefully well. You can be the judge.
There are several cool aspects to this anthology:
All of the stories tie into previously published books by the authors. So, for example, mine is about Victoria Woodhull and crew, who are featured inMadame Presidentess.
It is multi-genre, so there should be something in there for everyone. We have women’s fiction, crime thriller, fantasy (epic, urban and contemporary), historical, romance (contemporary and dark), mystery (cozy and general), humor and LGBT stories.
All proceeds benefit Life After, a charity dedicated to educating about and helping those who suffer from suicide, substance abuse, and domestic violence.
My Story: A Vanderbilt Christmas Victoria Woodhull may seem like an odd choice for a Christmas story, and I agree. Actually, she wasn’t my first choice. I had two drafts of stories involving Guinevere from my Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy Arthurian legend novels. But given our strict word limit, I was having problems explaining the Celtic winter solstice rituals and telling my story in the allotted space. Anything winter solstice or even early Christian Christmas is so different from what we know today that I didn’t want to risk not doing the stories justice. (For example, in fifth century Christianity, there was no Advent season yet and the Christmas celebration actually included three different Masses, each with their own symbolism and meaning.)
Then I remembered that one of the scenes I deleted from Madame Presidentess took place at Christmas. (It involved Cornelius Vanderbilt asking Victoria’s sister, Tennie, to marry him, which really did happen. She had to say no because she was already married to a gambler who abandoned her. Seriously, history is stranger than fiction.) This was a much better choice because the Victorian period is when some of our most beloved Christmas traditions became popular: Queen Victoria made Christmas trees a widespread thing, Christmas cards began being sent in the mail, and Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol.
As it turned out, the story I submitted was totally different from the scene I started with, but it got me on the right track. And I had a lot of fun researching what was served at Victorian Christmas dinners, what people wore and what the decor would have looked like. If you want a sneak peek into my brain, check out my Pinterest board on the story. (That hideous plaid dress is what Victoria’s mom wore to the party.)
I ended up placing the story right when Victoria and Tennie were starting to become comfortable in their life working with Cornelius Vanderbilt. Victoria is ambitious as always and she sees her coveted invitation to Christmas Eve dinner at Mr. Vanderbilt’s mansion as a way for her to get a foot in the door with the New York elite, whom she longs to be a part of. But as happened so many times during her life, Victoria’s low-class family comes along and nearly ruins it by inviting themselves to the dinner. You’ll have to read the story to find out how, but it involves a brawl, a fire and some stolen Christmas gifts… (Thank you to Pat Wahler for some of those ideas.)
As usual, when Victoria’s family is around, trouble is sure to follow.
Pick up your copy of Tangled Lights and Silent Nights today! And please, leave a review when you’re done!
The #MeToo movement began in 2006 as a way to empower survivors of sexual violence and then in late 2017 became a rallying cry against sexual harassment for all women. It occurred to me yesterday that the roots of the #MeToo movement reach back much farther in time than when Tarana Burke began using the phrase on MySpace. The original feminists, who were also the first suffragists, often took up issues of sex and sexuality. Victoria Woodhull, woman of so many firsts, was at the vanguard.
Despite being born in 1864 as the dirt-poor daughter of a con-man and a religious zealot and having very little formal education, Victoria raised herself up to become a self-made millionaire by the age of 30, as well as the first woman to:
Run for United States president (in 1872, 48 years before women were granted the right to vote)
Advocate of Prostitutes and Free Love
Having suffered physical (and according to some biographers, sexual) abuse at the hands of her father, and having endured marital rape by her first husband, Canning Woodhull, Victoria was an outspoken advocate of female sexual rights. In 1871, she declared publicly, “Sexual freedom means the abolition of prostitution both in and out of marriage, means the emancipation of woman from sexual slavery and her coming into ownership and control of her own body” (Sterns).
Victoria was a member of a Spiritualist splinter movement called the sex radicals, who believed, among other things, that “hypocrisy tainted the social order and made class and gender equality inaccessible to women” (Frisken 27). Like many others of this group, Victoria was known to be a supporter of the rights of prostitutes. (Some posit that she worked as one for a time, which I don’t believe, but it is known that her sister Tennie, was a prostitute, thanks to her father who forced several of the Woodhull girls into the sex trade.) Victoria was known to have heard the plights of prostitutes during her work as a clairvoyant healer and to have been deeply touched by their plight. Indeed, when she and Tennie opened their brokerage in 1870, Victoria ensured it had a special back room with its own separate entrance for women. Many have speculated that in addition to rich magnates’ wives, heiresses and honest businesswomen, the prostitutes and madams Victoria once helped came to try their luck in the stock market and so Victoria made sure they had a private, protected place to do their legitimate business (Goldsmith 191). Editorials in Victoria’s newspaper (possibly penned by her, but also equally possibly penned by her husband Col. James Blood or her close friend Stephen Pearl Andrews) stated “Remove the causes and the effects will cease. Give woman employment and you remove her from the need of self-destruction…We hope all our girls will soon be educated up to the standard of preferring the glorious freedom of self support, even as washerwomen or ragpickers, to holding legal or illegal sexual relations undictated by attraction. She who marries for support, and not for love, is a lazy pauper, coward and prostitute” (Frisken 27).
Victoria not only spoke about women’s rights, she lived her beliefs. She was famously a supporter of Free Love, a movement that the press liked to dress up as the wanton belief that everyone should be able to have sex with anyone, anytime, but which to Victoria meant that the religion and government should not be part of marriage. She believed that when two people fell in love, a marriage should begin, and if they fell out of love, it should end and both parties be free to take other lovers. This was her explanation:
“Two persons, a male and a female, meet and are drawn together by a mutual attraction—a natural feeling unconsciously arising within their natures of which neither has any control—which is denominated love. Suppose after this marriage has continued an indefinite time, the unity between them departs. Could they any more prevent it than they can prevent the love? It came without their bidding; it not also go without their bidding? It is therefore a strictly legitimate conclusion that where there is no love as a basis of marriage, there should be no marriage, and if that which was the basis of a marriage is taken away, that the marriage also ceases from that time, statute laws to the contrary notwithstanding” (Sterns).
While that may sound reasonable to us now, in Victorian America, it was shocking. In those days, divorce was a religious issue, rendering asunder what God hath joined, and laws varied widely by state, resulting in uneven and unfair rules. Wisconsin and Indiana had the two most liberal divorce laws in country, and incompatibility was accepted as grounds, (Goldsmith 204) but in many states, the only grounds for divorce a woman could use were cruelty, the definition of which varied widely, and adultery, which it was hard to prove, so divorce was difficult for a woman.
Add to this the economic and cultural dependencies of women upon men and there were many unhappy marriages in which women were required to sexually submit to husbands they did not love. In that same 1871 speech, Victoria said, “Sanctioned and defended by marriage, night after night, thousands of rapes are committed under the cover of this accursed license. I know whereof I speak. Millions of poor, heartbroken, suffering wives are compelled to minister to the lechery of insatiable husbands when every instinct of body and sentiment of soul revolt in loathing and disgust. Prate of the abolition of slavery, there was never servitude in the world like this one of marriage” (Sterns). This is what she was fighting against with her very public ideals of Free Love.
Like many women who speak out today, Victoria was punished for her radical ideas. 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, an image and a name that would dog her throughout the end of her presidential run and even hang on for decades after her death.
The Beecher-Tilton Scandal, The Original #MeToo If that wasn’t enough, Victoria famously called out the most famous and beloved preacher of her day – Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, a Victorian Harvey Weinstein, who was said to “preach to at least twenty of his mistresses every Sunday” (Goldsmith, xiv).
The first time, in May 1871, she simply alluded to him in her newspaper, writing that many of the men who judged her “preach against ‘free love’ openly and practice it secretly. I know of one man, a public teacher of eminence, who lives in concubinage with the wife of another public teacher of almost equal eminence. All three concur in denouncing offenses against morality” (Brody 83).
But by October 1872, Victoria had had enough and took steps that eerily foreshadowed Rose McGowan’s 2017 public social media declaration against Harvey Weinstein. Victoria brought back her failed newspaper for one incredibly scandalous issue in which she blew the lid off of one of the biggest sex scandals of the age. Her article, “The Beecher-Tilton Scandal Case: The Detailed Statement of the Whole Matter,” was written in the form of a mock interview in which Victoria, after a brief introduction, answered questions from a fictional reporter about the affair. In the article she revealed her long-held secret knowledge that Rev. Beecher had a sexual affair with Elizabeth “Lib” Tilton, the wife of Victoria’s former lover, Theodore Tilton. The reverend’s scandalous behavior was an open secret in their society, but Victoria’s public account brought it unequivocally into the light where it could no longer be denied, resulting in a court case that was the O.J. Simpson trial of its day.
Thomas Nast [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Accompanying Victoria’s article was one by her sister, Tennie, which detailed the rape of a young virgin (or two, depending on the source) at an annual night of debauchery called the French Ball many years earlier. It was Tennie’s use of the phrase “…to prove that he seduced a virgin, carried for days on his finger, exhibiting in triumph, the red trophy of her virginity” that landed the sisters in jail a few days later on charges of sending obscene content through the mail. Despite that phrase appearing in Book of Deuteronomy in Bible (and therefore everyone who had ever mailed a Bible being equally guilty), they remained in jail for several months, causing Victoria to miss the Election Day during which her name was on the ballot as the first ever woman to run for president of the United States. Both women were eventually acquitted of all charges against them. (See this article for more on the scandal.)
And on Through the Decades
Unlike the #MeToo movement, the Beecher-Tilton scandal did not result in an outpouring of similar accusations; Victorian society would not stand for that, so women stayed silent. In the end, the lurid headlines did little to change things. After a six-month trial that ended in a hung jury, Rev. Beecher walked away unpunished and his congregation paid his trial costs, leaving him richer than before Victoria spoke up (McMillen 193). He may have been one of the first, but he certainly wasn’t the last. Throughout the remainder of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century, women were routinely abused at home, in their places of worship, and increasingly in the workplace. According to Time magazine, “By the 1920s, working women were advised to simply quit their jobs if they could not handle the inevitable sexual advances” (Cohen). In fact, discrimination against women in the workplace only became illegal with the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
In 1970, Lynn Povich and the women of Newsweek sued their employers for sexual harassment and discrimination, citing the withholding of advancement because they were female. (This is the subject of the unfortunately canceled but excellent Amazon series Good Girls Revolt.) According to Time, “the phrase “sexual harassment” was coined in 1975, by a group of women at Cornell University,” after a woman named Carmita Wood “filed a claim for unemployment benefits after she resigned from her job due to unwanted touching from her supervisor.” After the university refused her a transfer and denied her benefits, a group called Working Women United was formed. At the group’s events, “the women spoke of masturbatory displays, threats and pressure to trade sexual favors for promotions” (Cohen) – all things cited 42 years later when Hollywood women spoke out about men in the entertainment industry.
Sexual harassment was a major issue of the Second Wave of Feminism, which took place in the late 1970s and 1980s in the United States. In 1991, Anita Hill famously testified against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, alleging sexual harassment when she worked for him at the Education Department. This moment is said by many to mark the beginning of the Third Wave of feminism. Thousands of cases followed, some picked up my the media, but many not. And of course, in 2017, #MeToo happened.
One hundred and twenty years before Anita, nearly 150 years before #MeToo, Victoria Woodhull uttered words that still hold true today, “Women are entirely unaware of their power.” She continued, “If the very next Congress refuses women all the legitimate results of citizenship, we shall proceed to call another convention expressly to frame a new Constitution and erect a new government” (Sterns). Perhaps such a revolution is exactly what the #MeToo movement will bring about in our own day – not by a literal overthrowing of the government, but by a re-writing of the rules of society that allow sexual harassment and rape to go unspoken about and unpunished. Victoria raised the cry nearly 150 years ago; it is time that women are finally heard.
Nicole Evelina is the author of Madame Presidentess, an award-winning historical fiction account of the life of Victoria Woodhull. She is currently researching a book about the history of feminism in the United States.
Brody, Miriam. Victoria Woodhull, Free Spirit for Women’s Rights.
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!
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.
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?
Publication days are strange animals. They are exciting and weird and nerve-wracking and busy, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Today’s is especially special for a few reasons:
Madame Presidentess being available to the world is a fulfillment of part of my personal mission; as soon as I heard about Victoria, I wanted to do what I could to get her name back into the history books. By educating (and hopefully entertaining as well) through this book, I’m making a small effort in that direction.
Today will be my first television appearance! If you live in St. Louis, tune into Fox 2 for their 11 a.m. news. They will have me on at least once, perhaps twice, promoting Madame Presidentess.
Those of you who have been with me a while know this is also the last book of my four-book blitz that began in January when I released Daughter of Destiny. That means that soon I will be able to get back to a semi-normal life, and more importantly, to writing new material!
Okay, enough of that. On to the important stuff: where you can buy the book. Amazon does this odd thing where they don’t combine the print and ebooks onto one page for a few days. No idea why and it is very annoying. So you may need separate links, depending on which version you wish to purchase.
Barnes and Noble is being slow to list the paperback. I’m sorry about that. I’ve done everything I can. Now it’s up to them. 🙁
I hope all of you like the book. It has been a true labor of love and I’m so blessed to have found such an amazing historical figure with such a crazy life to be able to work with. If you do read it, please leave a review, even one sentence, on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Reviews mean the world to authors and help us with marketing. And thank you all again for all of your support! If it wasn’t for you, there would be no reason for me to write.
And one final note: today’s publication date is not an accident. Today is the first day of the Democratic National Convention, at which Hillary Clinton will become America’s first woman to be nominated for President on a major party ticket. Victoria was the first woman to run for President at all; she did so on the ticket of the Equal Rights Party, a party she founded. I chose this date so be able to tie in past female accomplishments with present (and possibly future) groundbreaking events. Regardless of your political persuasion, I hope you see the beauty in that.
As Madame Presidentess makes its way into the world through ARCs and giveaways (you can pre-order now, enter a giveaway to win a copy, or wait for it to come out July 25), it’s suddenly occurred to me that there are quite a few elements in it that might be taken as implausible fictions on my part, but are actually true, at least according to Victoria’s biographers (and I stand by my sources). The truth of Victoria’s life is hard to pin down, at least in part because later in life she often contradicted herself or outright denied what she’d previously said or done in order to change her reputation. I spell out what is real and what is not in the Author’s Notes at the end of the book, but I thought I’d list 10 things here so I could talk about them a bit.
WARNING: SOME OF THESE MAY BE CONSIDERED SPOILERS.
The grist mill fire and its consequences – The Claflin’s grist mill did burn to the ground when Victoria was young. The cause is up for debate. Some people speculate that it was insurance fraud on Buck’s (Victoria’s father) part, as he was known to be a swindler, but her mother, Annie, maintained it was a terrible accident. Regardless of the cause, the Claflin family was run out of town, with the church taking up a collection to help speed them on their way. (Barbara Goldsmith even goes so far as to suggest the townspeople were considering tarring and feathering Buck.)
Canning Woodhull’s philandering – Victoria’s first husband was well-known for his love of brothels. She told a story that she found him in one a mere three days after their wedding. Her biographers also say he received a letter from a former mistress who he shipped off to another town so he could marry Victoria asking if he married Victoria because she, too, was pregnant.
Victoria’s daughter Zula almost died at birth – This is a crazy one. Canning claimed to be a doctor, but he really didn’t have much training. The story goes that he was so drunk/stoned when Zula was born that he either cut the umbilical cord too short or didn’t tie it off properly, and then left to go to the local tavern. When Victoria awoke with the baby in her arms, she was covered in blood. She was alone and didn’t know what to do, so she had to beat on the wall with a piece of broken furniture (not sure why that’s what she picked) to get the neighbors’ attention. They came running, but the doors were locked and Victoria was too weak to get up and unlock them. Finally, one of the neighbors climbed in through a grate in the basement.
Annie’s antics – Victoria’s mother did some pretty outrageous things. She took her own son-in-law (Victoria’s second husband, James) to court on the grounds he stole Victoria and Tennie’s affection from him. Annie and Victoria’s sister Utica were known to raid Victoria and Tennie’s clothes and jewelry and pawn them even though Victoria paid all of their expenses. Annie also was a known serial blackmailer.
Victoria’s clairvoyant and healing powers – Victoria maintained all her life that she had been in contact with the spirits since she was a child. Her mother also convinced her that she was a healer. Her father put her and her sister, Tennie (also a healer), to work at a young age using those skills to make money. This may well have been an extension of his other illegitimate activities. But accounts of the sisters’ healing and psychic sessions exist and at least some of their clients believed in their abilities. Obviously, we have no way of proving whether or not they were real, but Victoria seemed to believe they were.
The strange men at Victoria and Tennie’s opening day on Wall Street – This was another detail too crazy not to include. According to a contemporary account reported in The Sun and reprinted in Gary Gabriel’s biography Notorious Victoria, Mr. Edward Van Schalck and several friends made multiple visits to the firm on its opening day for apparently no good reason. Each time they would come it would be in a different sized group from 1-4 people and the would change their clothing, and sometimes their appearance (one time Mr. Van Schalck was freshly shaved and how he wore his hair varied). They would ask a question or chat with those in the office, leave, and come back again 20 minutes to a few hours later. This went on throughout the day until they made a visit after office hours and were told the office was closed. No reason is given for this odd behavior. (I have a reason in my book, but that’s where fiction comes in.)
Victoria’s meeting with President Grant – There is no written record of her meeting with the President, but biographers are pretty sure it did occur at some point when she was in Washington D.C. Victoria never told anyone what happened during the meeting, but somehow it is tradition that the President said “you will one day occupy this seat,” referring to the Presidential chair. Also, in the book when the President talks about his views on suffrage, I took that from things he is known to have said.
Victoria’s conversations with Reverend Henry Beecher – Perhaps the most dramatic dialogue in the novel comes from Rev. Henry Ward Beecher. Where possible, it is taken from actual accounts of Victoria’s conversations with him as written in various biographies, especially “Other Powers” by Barbara Goldsmith. If these accounts are to be believed, he was rather melodramatic in his pleading with her to be excused from the responsibility of introducing her at a speech she was planning to give on Free Love.
Victoria’s love affair with Theodore Tilton – Depending on which biography you read, Victoria is rumored to have had up to four affairs while she was married to Col. James Blood. Whether or not they were actually affairs is up for debate, because Victoria and James practiced Free Love – not open promiscuity, but rather the belief that one should be able to take and leave one’s partners as the heart dictates without interference from the state. If this was like having an open marriage, then there is no guilt, no affair. Anyway, the one affair most biographers agree upon is with Theodore Tilton, who worked for Victoria’s paper and wrote her biography. The two are an unlikely couple, especially what she knew about his wife’s claims of verbal abuse, but I guess love really is blind.
Victoria’s running mate – Strange as it may seem, Victoria’s running mate was Frederick Douglass. He was nominated by her Equal Rights Party (I never did find a definitive answer on whether or not she picked him or the party picked him for her.) Either way, having a ticket with a woman and a black man in 1872 was unheard of. For his part, Mr. Douglass never asked to be taken off the ballot, but he never agreed to it, either. As the 1872 election drew near, he publicly came out in favor of President Grant.
Bonus – There is a really odd story in the biography Victoria directed Theodore Tilton to write where she paints herself like a modern-day Jesus. The short version is that while Victoria had been away, her mentally retarded son, Byron became ill and died. When Victoria came home, she was determined that he was not dead. She held him to her breast and cried that he would live. After some time holding him and praying, he began to stir and recovered. I realize that he might not actually have been dead, perhaps in a coma and they didn’t know the difference, or maybe this story was made up, but either way, it was too odd for me to use, even in fiction.
What do you think is the most outrageous element of Victoria’s story? Which part are you most looking forward to reading in Madame Presidentess?
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.
Tilton, Theodore. The Golden Age Tract No. 3 “Victoria C. Woodhull, a Biographical Sketch.”
Underhill, Lois Beachey. The Woman Who Ran for President.
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.