A Tribute to Womanhood
Welcome to "I Am Woman"...a tribute to all those women who had the courage and perseverance to stand up and fight for their rights. Thanks to those who came before us we enjoy a freedom unknown to women not too long ago. But, sadly, in many parts of the world, women continue to be repressed. In fact, even in this country there are women living today under the threat of violence...completely controlled by a violent spouse. Some may make it; others won't. Hopefully, one day ALL women will be free. May that day come soon.
One of my favorite courageous woman in history is Victoria Woodhull...a spiritualist, activist, business woman, politician and author. She was truly a woman ahead of her time.
She was born Victoria California Claflin, the 6th of ten children, on September 23, 1838 in Homer, Ohio. Her father was a petty con man; her mom a religious fanatic. When she was child, the family was forced out of Homer after her father was accused of insurance fraud. From then on, they traveled around in her father's medicine show. Victoria never had an easy childhood. Her father was a brutal man, and young Victoria was beaten and starved. Never spending much time in one place, she received very little education. It was during her travels that it was discovered that she had the powers of clairvoyance, and she was able to predict the future, find loss objects, and relay messages from loved ones on the other side.
She was only 15 when she married Canning Woodhull, an alcoholic doctor; they were divorced two years later. Then, in 1868, she and her sister moved to New York City. By now, she was a very popular medium, and this is how she met millionaire Cornelius Vanderbuilt. As the story goes, he had recently become a widower and because he appreciated the solace he had received from Victoria, he set her and her sister up in business. The sisters became Wall Street's first female stockbrokers. They made a huge amount of money, and in 1870 began to publish their own journal...a radical publication which proved them with a place to air their ideas on social reform--women's suffrage, birth control, and "free love". Yes, you did read that correctly. The 60's were not, in fact, the birth of the free love era. It actually became an idea in the 19th century.
Victoria was always a strong supporter of women's rights and often spoke publicly on behalf of giving women the right to vote. She even spoke to Congress on the issue, but she always wanted to do more. So it was that in 1872, Victoria Woodhull established the Equal Rights Party and ran for the presidency of the United States...for even though women could not vote at this time, there were no laws on record prohibiting a woman from running for office. Her opponent was Ulysses S. Grant.
Victoria faced many obstacles to the election. Besides running for office when women could not vote, her funding eventually ran out. And, instead of debating her on the issues, her opponents attacked her personal life...calling her everything from a witch to a prostitute. Her public remarks about sexuality and social reforms were also held against her. They accused her of having affairs with married men and so many other vicious attack which caused her and her family to be evicted from their home.
Victoria became convinced that Henry Ward Beecher was behind all this slander, and decided that she was going to fight back by publishing a story in her journal that Beecher was having an affair with a married woman. This backfired on Victoria, and she was arrested and charged under the Comstock Act for sending obscene literature through the mails. Not only was she in prison on the day of the elections, but was arrested no less than eight times during the next seven months. Eventually she was acquitted of all charges, but was left bankrupt from paying all the legal fees.
In 1878 she moved to England where she continued to campaign for women's rights. In 1882, she married wealthy banker John B. Martin. John died in 1897; Victoria did not remarry, and after his death, once again became involved in the woman suffrage campaign. She died at their country estate on June 9, 1927...finally living to see women earn the right to vote. She was a pioneer of and advocated for many things we take for granted today...social welfare programs, the eight hour workday, profit sharing, diet, and exercise. During her lifetime, she had offered hospitality to both prostitutes and the upper class. She fed the hungry and cared for the sick. She was truly a woman of courage.