I’m so pleased to be launching my Body at the Tower blog tour here at the Story Siren. Thanks for having me back, Kristi! This tour’s theme is Notorious Victorians. Over the next two weeks, I’ll highlight four very different types of radicals of the nineteenth century: firebrands, scandal-magnets, rebels, and reluctant revolutionaries, all of whom changed the way we live now.
Today’s Notorious Victorian was an entrepreneur, spiritualist, women’s rights activist and the first female to run for president of the United States: Victoria Claflin Woodhull. (She’s the sole American in my bunch and so not technically “Victorian”, but she’s much too interesting to ignore.)
Victoria Claflin Woodhull was born in 1838 into a large, fairly poor Ohio family. Her father was a con artist with a sideline in “medicine”, and while Woodhull was obviously bright and talented, her family had a sleazy local reputation. She learned quickly to grab the things she wanted. At 16 (young, even by the standards of the day), Woodhull married a 28-year-old alcoholic womanizer who was unable to support her financially. Woodhull’s unhappy marriage convinced her of two things: 1) women should be free to end their marriages, if they were unhappy; and 2) women suffered from a double standard, since their adulteries were much condemned while mens’ philandering was accepted as normal. Woodhull soon became a scandalous figure, living separately from her husband, forming long-term relationships with other men, and advocating free love, spiritualism, vegetarianism and women’s rights.
To earn money, Woodhull turned to various types of business. Her most famous venture was a stock brokerage that she founded with her sister, Tennessee Claflin. Their opening day was a splashy affair, with the good-looking sisters dressed up in men’s suits to draw in customers. The sisters also founded a radical newspaper, Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly, that published articles about sex education and women’s right to vote.
Woodhull’s run for the presidency, in 1872, was as scandalous as the rest of her high-profile life. She was arrested shortly before the election to prevent her from campaigning and voting. In later life, she moved to England where she continued to lecture on spiritualism and, with her daughter, publish a magazine.
Woodhull’s long life and fiery interests brought her into parallel circles with my next firebrand-subject, Annie Besant, whose life I’ll discuss on Wednesday at GreenBeanTeenQueen.