Victoria Woodhull

Victoria Woodhull

(1838 – 1927)

DJ Name: Crown Vic

Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to Victoria Woodhull, Happy Birthday to you! This week Emmy and Camille were sent a Historic Shuffle recommendation from their friend Cody. After reading about this #shero, they decided to make her the 59th Shufflette. And what are the odds that her birthday just so happens to be on the day we publish? That is some hocus pocus if you ask us, so we guess spooky szn is getting started early this year at Historic Shuffle. 

Victoria Woodhull was the very first woman to run for President of the US of A and she did so 50 years before women even had the right to vote. She couldn’t even cast a ballot for herself on election day. Where’s the excitement in that?! Among other firsts, Vicky was the first lady to own a brokerage firm on Wall Street and the first woman to start a weekly newspaper. Like many other shufflers and shufflettes, Victoria was a jill of all trades who faced ridicule throughout her life for her strong support of women’s rights, especially when it came to her belief in “free love,” which she promoted as the right for women to choose who they wanted to marry and to divorce their husbands whenever they want. She holla’d “we want pre-nup!” Back in Vicky’s day they couldn’t, but we’ll get into all of that. 

So without further adieu, DJ Crown Vic asks that you shuffle up her favorite modern day bops. It is her birthday after all:

Victoria California Claflin the Libra was born the seventh of ten kiddos on September 23, 1838 (183 years today!) in the obviously booming and big city of Homer in Licking County, Ohio. She started attending school when she was eight years old, but raked in poor attendance because she went in and out for only three years before completely dropping out. Her family life wasn’t particularly stable and they were extremely poor, too. Her mom was illiterate, and her dad was a petty criminal, so getting lessons from her parents wasn’t in the cards, and dreams of continuing on in her education were quickly dashed as she grew up. As a kid, Vicky C claimed that she could communicate with three of her siblings that had died when they were babies and that she could heal the sick. Pretty sick if you ask us! Because Papa Claflin was constantly schemin’ and lookin’ to pull a fast one over people, he had Victoria and her sister Tennessee offer to read people’s fortunes in the hopes that they’d make a small fortune. 

And following on the heels of Victoria’s announcement that she could cure the sick, the Claflin fam entered the alternative meds biz, which also relies heavily on the alternative facts biz. They sold ~ life elixirs ~ and also offered massages and cures for maladies ranging from cancer to asthma. However, the alternative fact of the matter was that Victoria and her family were perhaps not endowed with any otherworldly clairvoyant gifts, and poor li’l Tennessee was later indicted on manslaughter charges after one of her cancer patients died.

When she was just 15, Victoria married Dr. Channing Woodhull, who was 28, and it didn’t take long for her to find out that her new hubby had a bit of a champagne problem, as Taylor Swift would say, except it was probably more like a whiskey problem because that was the most popular beveragino in 1860s America. Point is, Dr. Channing was an alcoholic and he spent his free time alternating between bars and brothels, a winning combo for a married man. And in 1854, life got even harder when she gave birth to a mentally handicapped son. Because of Dr. Chan’s irresponsible pseudo-bachelor lifestyle, Victoria had to find work outside the home so she could pay those bills, bills, bills. Over the next few years, Victoria worked as a cigar store clerk, a seamstress, a stage actress and, of course, as a spiritual medium. She was gonna milk her clairvoyance for all it was worth, dammit.

Eventually, Victoria said “boy, bye” to her hubs and filed for divorce from Dr. Chandler Bing, or whatever his name was, thus bestowing upon her a scarlet letter “D” for her scandal that satined her reputation. Now equipped with the secrets of a girl who’d seen it all, Victoria became a staunch supporter of the free love movement, advocating for her lady pals to ditch their dingbat dudes and get a gosh darn divorce. She said “free the nip” but also “free the women from their horrible hubbies” and “keep the government out of my bedroom” and worked to destigmatize divorce in mid-1800s America. 

Victoria said g’bye to Ohio and hi to New York, resettling there with new hubby, Union Civil War vet Colonel James Blood. She said, “I think I’ll keep my drunkard ex’s last name though, yours is spooky scary,” but otherwise life began to turn around a bit for her. Victoria, along with sister Tennessee, once again returned to their jobs as healers and also crossed tracks with Cornelius Vanderbilt of railroad construction fame. Choo choo! Cornelius, though a financially intelligent man, was not super intelligent on other things and harbored a deep distrust of doctors. The healing hands duo of Tennessee and Vicky C caught his eye and he hired them to be his general practitioners/ears, nose and throat doctors/dermatologist/cardiologist/you name it! Tennessee told Cornelius, “you’re the only ten I see,” and from that moment on, their friendship blossomed. Victoria and Tennessee capitalized on this relationship and, acting on financial tips from their new friend Corny, Victoria and Tennessee were able to amass a fund of about $700,000 in about six weeks.   

With their newfound dolla dolla bills, Victoria and Tennessee opened their own brokerage firm in 1870 under the name Woodhull, Claflin and Company. “Petticoats Among the Bovine and Ursine Animals,” “the Queens of Finance” and the “Bewitching Brokers” were titles splashed across newspapers as the dynamic sister duo made big money moves in the big apple even though they didn’t gain a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, which is something that no woman achieved until 1967. Victoria Woodhull worked under the assumption that a “woman’s ability to earn money is better protection against the tyranny and brutality of men than her ability to vote.” We stan and so, too, did Susan B. Anthony (champion of suffrage and abolition) who applauded the arrival of women on Wall Street. While on the subject of Suzy B. Anthony, she invited Victoria to speak at the National Woman Suffrage Association Convention after she heard her testify, come up in the spot looking extra fly, in front of a Congressional Committee. Victoria became the first woman to testify and come up on the spot looking extra fly in front of the House Judiciary Committee. 

Because a brokerage wasn’t enough for these two not-so-broke girls, Vicky and Tennessee used their new found wealth to start their own newspaper called Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly (Tea). Their newspaper published issues that concerned women, specifically, and advanced Vicky’s “shocking” “vision” that women could be equal to men in the workplace, the political sphere and the home. The sixteen-page weekly paper published articles that promoted women’s suffrage and labor reform and spilled the tea about stock swindles, insurance fraud and corrupt Congressional decisions. Oh, it also featured the announcement of the first lady to run for President, our very own Victoria Woodhull. She published the announcement of her candidacy in 1870 (honestly, a big year for Vicky W) and along with it sent a letter to the New York Herald to get the word out that she would be the first woman to claim the seat at the resolute desk in the Oval Office. 

The ambitious Madame President Woodhull spent the next two years or so campaigning on a platform of women’s suffrage, monopoly regulations (like no, Linda, you can’t buy every property on the board especially Park and Mayfair), nationalization of railroads, an eight-hour workday (lame), abolition of the death penalty, welfare, and that good good free love among many other things. By the 1872 convention, Woodhull was officially nominated to the Equal Rights Party. She selected abolitionist Frederick Douglass as her running mate, though he never acknowledged this and instead campaigned for President Ulysses S. Grant. In a wild turn of events, Victoria was arrested and put in jail on election day because she published an article that put preacher Henry Ward Beecher on blast for his adulterous endeavors with his friend’s wife, and thus Vicky W took the L on election day. Unhappy with his exposé, Beecher the hypocritical preacher and his supporters assembled an arrest warrant for Victoria and Tennessee for libel. They were in jail for about one month and the sisters were eventually found not guilty. 

The national press was not nice with Victoria Woodhull following her run for presidency. She was depicted as a devil cartoon in Harper’s Weekly and called an “impudent witch,” because her views of equality and advocacy for a woman’s right to divorce were considered radical. Over time, Victoria became a target of a lot of hate. She ceased production of Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly in 1876 and lost support and fellowship with a lot of her former friends and suffragists. Victoria and Tennessee were both asked not to testify in the $100 million estate court battle between the Vanderbilt kiddos after his passing, so the two sisters left the states and landed in Londontown.

Victoria resided there until her death in June of 1927. During the latter years of her life she ran a newspaper and preserved Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of George Washington which, in another weird coinky-dink moment just so happens to be, to this day, supported by a ~nonprofit organization~ that Camille used to work for. Victoria Woodhull is witchy, but we gotta be careful with our witch accusations or else she could’ve ended up like fellow Shufflette Bridget Bishop (iykyk).

Victoria Woodhull was a popular figure during her time whose fearless run for President, leadership on Wall Street and bold breaking news challenged her contemporaries to think outside of the box and paved the way for other leading ladies to shatter the glass ceiling one day, too. As the New York Herald said in 1870, “Mrs. Woodhull offers herself in apparent good faith as a candidate, and perhaps has a remote impression, or rather hope, that she may be elected but it seems she is rather in advance of her time. The public mind is not yet educated to the pitch of universal women’s rights.” 

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