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Victoria Woodhull (1838–1927)

Reproduction of an engraved portrait of Victoria C. Woodhull, from her book, The Origin, Tendencies and Principles of Government, New York: Woodhull, Claflin and Co., 1871.
Reproduction of an engraved portrait of Victoria C. Woodhull, from her book, The Origin, Tendencies and Principles of Government, New York: Woodhull, Claflin
& Co., 1871.

Victoria Claflin Woodhull, a prominent women's rights speaker and activist, one of the first female stockbrokers, and the first woman to run for the office of President of the United States, was born in 1838 in Homer, Ohio. From an early age, Victoria's supposed spiritual clairvoyance and fortune-telling abilities proved a valuable source of income for her otherwise impoverished family.

In 1853, at age 14, she married Canning Woodhull, an alcoholic, and gave birth to a son the following year. She divorced Canning in 1864 and married James Harvey Blood in 1866. Two years later, the family moved to New York City, along with Victoria's sister, Tennessee Claflin, where the sisters became spiritual advisers to Cornelius Vanderbilt, the railroad magnate. Vanderbilt facilitated Victoria and Tennessee's financial ventures on Wall Street, where the two prospered and opened their own brokerage house in 1870. In the same year, the sisters began a newspaper promoting women's suffrage and labor reform, Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly, and Woodhull announced her candidacy for President of the United States.

Woodhull was nominated as a presidential candidate for the Equal Rights Party in 1872, and she earned support from trade unionists, women's suffragists, and socialists, although conservative suffragists rejected her more radical political stance and her defense of "free love." Woodhull was also the brunt of personal attacks from political enemies for her "free love" way of life and was charged with adultery. In turn, Woodhull published exposés of prominent minister Henry Ward Beecher's and stockbroker Luther Challis's respective sexual scandals. As a result, Woodhull was arrested and tried for sending obscene information through the mail in violation of the Comstock Law and spent the election night in prison.

After divorcing Blood, the now-bankrupt Woodhull moved with her children in 1878 to England, where she married John Biddulph Martin, a wealthy banker. She remained active in the women's suffrage movement and various charities, giving lectures and founding the Humanitarian newspaper in 1895. She died in 1927 in London.

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