• Born into an eccentric family in Ohio, Victoria Woodhull married at age fifteen, divorced her first husband at twenty-six, and moved to New York City with her sister Tennessee in 1868.  This carte de visite shows a portrait of Victoria Woodhull. Carte de visites were commonly distributed or sold in the late nineteenth century as collectors’ items or to raise awareness for a cause. Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

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    Victoria C. Woodhull
    • Standardized Rights Statement
    • http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/NoC-US/1.0/
    • Partner
    • The New York Public Library
    • Contributing Institution
    • Billy Rose Theatre Division. The New York Public Library

  • Victoria Woodhull and her sister Tennessee Claflin established a Wall Street stock brokerage in 1870 with assistance from Cornelius Vanderbilt. The profits from the business allowed the sisters to start their newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly. This letter to Missouri Governor Benjamin Gratz Brown requests a list of members of the legislature and their home addresses in order to send them copies of their newspaper. By 1871, Woodhull had declared her intention to run for president the following year. Courtesy of Missouri State Archives through Missouri Digital Heritage via Missouri Hub.

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    Letter, from Woodhull, Claflin and Company, New York, New York to Benjamin Gratz Brown, February 3, 1871

  • Victoria Woodhull spoke before the House Judiciary Committee in January of 1871, becoming the first woman to address a House committee. In this speech, Woodhull argued that women were entitled to the right to vote as a result of the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the Constitution. This image depicting Woodhull speaking while a group of women look on in support was published in Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly. Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

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    Victoria C. Woodhull, delivering her address on constitutional equality before the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives of the United States, Jan. 12, 1871
    • Date
    • 1871-02-18
    • Description
    • Published in: Woodhull & Claflin's weekly, February 18, 1871, page 16.
    • Standardized Rights Statement
    • http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/NoC-US/1.0/
    • Partner
    • The New York Public Library
    • Contributing Institution
    • The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection. The New York Public Library

  • This congressional report on women’s suffrage contains Victoria Woodhull’s 1871 argument before the House Judiciary Committee on constitutional equality and, specifically, the “rights vested by the Constitution...in the citizens to vote, without regard to sex.” In addition to Woodhull’s memorial to the committee, this pamphlet contains both the majority and minority opinions of the committee members.  Overall, the committee rejected her claim for voting rights, but two members, William Loughridge of Iowa and Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts, supported Woodhull’s argument in their minority opinion. Despite the lack of support from the committee, the speech did earn Woodhull respect—if tenuous—among leaders of the women’s rights movement. Courtesy of University of Michigan via HathiTrust.

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    Congressional Reports on Woman Suffrage : The Majority and Minority Reports of the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives on the Woodhull Memorial.
    • Date
    • 1871
    • Description
    • Labadie Pamphlet Collection.
    • Rights
    • Public domain. Learn more at http://www.hathitrust.org/access_use
    • Partner
    • HathiTrust
    • Contributing Institution
    • University of Michigan.

Victoria Claflin Woodhull defied the conventional gender norms of her time in a number of ways.  Born in 1838, Woodhull became a businesswoman who founded a Wall Street stock brokerage, the founder and editor of her own newspaper, a free love advocate who spoke out against the societal limitations of marriage, and the first woman to be nominated for president.  

Victoria Woodhull declared her determination to seek the presidency in an 1870 letter to the editor of the New York Herald and was later nominated by the Equal Rights Party in 1872. The party was a radical offshoot of the National Woman Suffrage Association and sought to build support among former abolitionists, black suffragists, and white women’s rights activists. Frederick Douglass was chosen as Woodhull’s running mate, but he never acknowledged or accepted the nomination. In her campaign speeches, Woodhull argued that, as citizens, women already had the right to vote and hold office as a result of the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments—they just needed to use it.

Influenced by both socialism and spiritualism, Victoria Woodhull was a controversial figure, even in women’s rights circles. Woodhull was in jail on election day 1872 because of her role in exposing the sex scandal of popular minister Henry Ward Beecher. While she did receive some popular votes, it is unknown how many as no ballots listing her name survive.