Questions most often asked by readers
of Madame Presidentess
Answers may contain spoilers – be forewarned
How much of Madame Presidentess is historical?
About 70-75%. I have detailed what is fictional and what is not in the Author’s Notes at the end of the book. Short version: I made up the characters of Minnie and Judah and combined or shortened some historical events for ease of reading. The vandalism of the stock brokerage is made up, as is the threat to their lives after the IWA parade. Victoria’s affair with Judah is also fictional, but is based on a rumored affair she may or may not have had with Rep. Benjamin Butler while in Washington D.C..
Why are some of the scenes so overdramatic?
Because the people really were. There are three scenes in particular that people seem to react to, and I swear they are actual historical quotes.
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 collapsed 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.
Have questions about Madame Presidentess? Email me at nicole [dot] evelina [at] att [dot] net and they may be answered on this page.