Victoria Woodhull – first woman to run for President

Victoria Woodhull
Victoria Woodhull

“There is something wrong with a government that makes women the legal property of their husbands. The whole system needs changing, but men will never make the changes. They have too much to lose.” – Victoria Woodhull

Biography

Victoria Woodhull was born “in Homer, Ohio, in a small cottage, white painted and high peaked, with a porch running round it and a flower garden in front.” The seventh of ten children, her youth was spent as a child without a childhood. She was a maid of all work — “she made fires, she washed and ironed, she baked bread, she cut wood, she spaded a vegetable garden, she went on errands, she tended infants, she did everything.” And she did this all while in the household of an abusive alcoholic father who was known to wake up the kids in the middle of sleep and beat them until morning came.

“I have no remembrance of a father’s kiss,” Victoria would remark.

Yet through this battered childhood Victoria grew into a woman of much success. By 1872, when she was only 34 years old, she was the first female stockbroker in the U.S. And she was a newspaper editor of Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, a paper she started with her sister, which had a national circulation of 20,000. They often published stories that challenged conventional norms of the day, including being the first in the U.S. to publish Karl Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto” in English.

It was also in 1872 that she ran for President of the U.S., an action no woman had ever taken. “I now announce myself as candidate for the Presidency. I anticipate criticism; but however unfavorable I trust that my sincerity will not be called into question,” she proclaimed. “I ask the rights to pursue happiness by having a voice in that government to which I am accountable.”

She ran under the aptly named Equal Rights party. Her running mate was Frederick Douglass, though he never actually agreed to the nomination.

The candidacy caused a press stir. Made even more sensational when a few days before the election she published an account of an alleged adulterous affair between the prominent minister Henry Ward Beecher and Elizabeth Tilton.

The article landed her in jail. Which is where she spent election day. Her charge — publishing an obscene newspaper, a charge that she would be acquitted of six months later.

She didn’t win any electoral votes in the election. There is no record of her popular vote result. But she accomplished an important step in women’s rights— she became the first woman to run for President.

Victoria Woodhull, 1874
Victoria Woodhull, 1874

Notes:

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“Victoria Woodhull – first woman to run for President” sources:

  • Photograph taken by Mathew Benjamin Brady, circa 1870 / Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum, Historical Photographs and Special Visual Collections Department, Fine Arts Library
  • Tilton, Theodore. Victoria C. Woodhull. A biographical sketch.