On this date in 1872, Victoria Claflin Woodhull became the first woman candidate for president of the United States. She had almost no formal education, and women at that time were not allowed to vote. But Woodhull had a history of breaking new ground. Her father, a petty criminal who sold snake oil, put her to work telling fortunes and communicating with the dead. She made good money, especially during the Civil War. In 1868, when she was 30 years old, she and her sister Tennessee Claflin met Cornelius Vanderbilt in New York City; he had recently become a widower, and they worked as his personal clairvoyants. He thought so highly of them that he set them up in business. They started the first Wall Street brokerage firm run by women. Two years later, the sisters started Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly, a radical journal that published the first English translation of Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto.
Woodhull was a strong and outspoken proponent of women’s suffrage. She was the first woman to address a congressional committee; she argued that women should have the vote because they were citizens, and “the citizen who is taxed should also have a voice in the subject matter of taxation.” She organized the Equal Rights Party, which nominated her for president at their convention. Her platform was women’s suffrage, abolition of the death penalty, an eight-hour workday, and the nationalization of the railroads, among other planks. She named abolitionist Frederick Douglass as her running mate – although he never publicly acknowledged this. She appeared on ballots in a few states, but her votes were never tallied. She spent Election Day in jail on obscenity charges, for publishing an article claiming that Henry Ward Beecher was an adulterer. She was found not guilty, but not before Beecher’s sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, called her a “vile jailbird” and an “impudent witch.”
Woodhull fell out of favor with the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement, and she moved to England, where she spent the rest of her life.
The Writer’s Almanac for May 10, 2016