Victoria Woodhull, 1872

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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.

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.