Museum of Motherhood

Inspiring Women – Victoria Claflin Woodhull (1838-1927)

Victoria Woodhull

Victoria Claflin Woodhull (1838-1927) – Born in Homer, Ohio on September 23, 1838, she was one of several children whose parents ran a traveling medicine show, doing faith healings, telling fortunes, and selling medicines. She received no formal education and was self taught. When she was just 15, she married 28 year-old Canning Woodhull, who practiced as a doctor at a time when medical education and licensing were not required to practice medicine in Ohio. She soon larned that her new husband was an alcoholic, a womanizer, and often didn’t work. Thought  the couple had two children, she divorced him in 1864, a time when “divorce,” itself was a scandal.  A couple of years later, Victoria remarried a Colonel James Blood and in 1868, the pair, along with her younger sister, Tennessee “Tennie” Claflin, moved to New York City.

Victoria and Tennie soon set out to make their fortunes and the pair became the first female Wall Street brokers in 1870. With the help of wealthy benefactor, her admirer, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Woodhull, Claflin & Company began and the two women were hailed as “the Queens of Finance.”  The sisters also established a newspaper the same year, which published controversial opinions advocating women’s suffrage, short skirts, spiritualism, free love, sex education, and licensed prostitution. Widely criticized for promiscuity, she answered these charges in her own weekly newspaper.

Due to her radical views, she was not accepted by many known suffragists of the time, such as Susan B. Anthony, but in 1872, she was nominated for the U.S. presidency at the New York convention of the minor Equal Rights Party, running against incumbent Ulysses S. Grant.  Although laws prohibited women from voting at the time, there were no laws stopping women from running for office. Obviously, she wasn’t a threat, but does have the fame of being the first woman to run for the job.

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