Victoria Woodhull, 1872

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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 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.

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.