1872 Presidential Candidate

By Captain Nancy Aldrich, aviation Writer,

Born Victoria California Claflin in Homer, Ohio on September 23, 1838, she was certainly a trailblazer. By her own description, she had a relatively normal childhood. However, I doubt many would agree with her. Her father worked in a mill, and also sold a medicinal elixir. Her mother was a ”spiritualist,” and taught Victoria her skills.  When Victoria was 11 years old, her father had fallen on hard times. To try to get himself out of debt he burned down the family’s rotting gristmill, which he had heavily insured. The investigation proved his arson and instead of making a small fortune, he and the family were disgraced and run out of town by a group of vigilantes.

As a child, Victoria believed she could communicate with three siblings who had died as infants, and that she could heal the sick. Her father, a ‘snake oil salesman,’ decided he could use her ‘talents’ to make money and put her and her younger sister, Tennessee (Tennie), to work telling fortunes and contacting spirits. They also went into the ‘alternative healing’ business. At one point, Tennie was indicted for manslaughter after one of her cancer patients died. During the Civil War, Victoria claimed to have made a fortune as a traveling medical clairvoyant.

At age 14, Victoria suffered a chronic illness. The family contacted Canning Woodhull for treatment. This was during a time when the state did not require any license or formal education in order to practice medicine. Victoria and Canning were married on November 20, 1853, 2 months after her 15th birthday. It did not take long for Victoria to find that her new husband was an alcoholic and a womanizer. Due to his drinking, she frequently was the bread-winner in the family, working as a spiritual medium and healer, and fortuneteller.  That marriage lasted 11 years and produced a son, Byron, and a daughter, Zula Maude. Byron suffered a mental disability. Victoria believe it was caused by her husband’s drinking. However, it was also reported that the child may have suffered a head injury in a fall.

In 1868, Victoria and Tennie moved to New York City. While there, they became acquainted with Cornelius Vanderbilt. He did not trust medically trained doctors, but he did trust Victoria and Tennie. They worked for him as medical clairvoyants. There is some evidence that Tennessee and Vanderbilt were lovers. He may have even proposed to her. Whatever the case, he did give them tips about the stock market. The girls claimed to have made approximately $700,000 using his (insider) stock tips. In the 1860s that would have been a huge sum of money! Then, with Vanderbilt’s support, Victoria and Tennie opened “Woodhull, Calflin & Co.,” a stock brokerage, in 1870, and quickly became known as the “Queens of Finance.” They were the first female stockbrokers on Wall Street. However, they were not able to gain a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. No woman was able to accomplish that until 1967.

In 1870, the sisters also started a newspaper, “Woodhull & Calflin’s Weekly.” They used the paper to support woman suffrage, and also labor reforms such as an eight-hour workday. They supported a graduated income tax, social welfare, and new divorce laws. Victoria was a trailblazer for many social reforms. She believed in free birth control, educational reforms, and was a strong supported of life. She is quoted as having said, “The rights of children as individuals begin while yet they remain the fetus . . Whoever has read the “Weekly” knows I hold abortion (except to save the life of the mother) to be just as much murder as the killing of a person after birth is murder.”  She was a proponent of free love, and said, “I am a free lover. I have an inalienable, constitutional, and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or short a period as I can; and to change that love every day if I please.” She also believed that a husband did not ‘own’ his wife, but that they are equals, a very radical thought at that time. She said, “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.” The sisters also supported equal education for women, women’s right to control their own health decisions, and criticized the Victorian idea that a woman’s rightful place is as full-time wives and mothers. Their newspaper was also published the first English translation of Karl Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto.”

With these radical ideas the newspaper gained attention, as did Victoria. She was the first woman ever invited to speak before Congress. She befriended Massachusetts Congressman Benjamin Butler, and convinced  him to invite her to speak before the House Judiciary Committee. On January 11, 1871, she told the panel that women had the right to vote under the 14th and 15th amendments. “Women are citizens,” she declared, and “the citizen who is taxed should also have a voice in the subject matter of taxation.” This history making appearance before Congress immediately gave her status as a leader in the suffragist movement.

With all the notoriety gained from the paper, Victoria chose to become more politically active and established the Equal Rights Party. She then declared her candidacy for President of the United States! In the 1872 election, she was the first woman to run for President. There is some evidence that the abolitionist Frederick Douglass was her running mate, making him the first black man to run for vice-president.

No one seriously thought that the ticket would win, but they intended to send a message to congress.

A few days before the election, the Weekly ran a story claiming that the popular preacher and reformer, Henry Ward Beecher, had carried on an affair with one of his parishioners, the beautiful Elizabeth Tilton. Because of that story, Victoria and Tennie were in jail on obscenity charges on election day. The press had had enough and seemed determined to destroy her. One editor said, “editors know that all she has said about Beecher is true, and we must endorse her and make her the most popular woman in the world, or write her down and crush her out; and we have determined to do the latter.”

They were later acquitted of all charges. However, Victoria did not win a single electoral vote.

Due to the embarrassment of the election, and the salacious nature of the newspaper, Victoria lost favor with the suffrage movement. Her newspaper went out of business, as did the stock brokerage. There were several lawsuits that left her in a poor financial position. The sisters, and their mother moved to England in 1877. There she met and eventually married the wealthy banker, John Biddulph Martin. Using Martin as her name, she published Stirpiculture, or the Scientific Propagation of the Human Race; The Human Body, the Temple of God in 1890, and Humanitiarian Money: The Unsolved Riddle. Victoria continued to be a popular speaker and visited the United States occasionally. In 1892, the Humanitarian Party nominated her again, as their presidential candidate, but she continued to live in England.

Victoria founded a school and an agricultural show, was involved in humanitarian causes, and continued to work for women’s suffrage. Her husband, John Martin, passed away in 1897, and she did not remarry. She lived comfortable in England until her death in 1927. A very remarkable woman!

Here are a few of the more interesting quotes from Victoria Woodhull:

I shall not change my course because those who assume to be better than I desire it.

Woman’s ability to earn money is better protection against the tyranny and brutality of men than her ability to vote.

If women would today rise en masse and demand their emancipation, the men would be compelled to grant it.

Let women issue a declaration of independence sexually, and absolutely refuse to cohabit with men until they are acknowledged as equals in everything, and the victory would be won in a single week! 

While others prayed for the good time coming, I worked for it. 

No man who respects his mother or loves his sister, can speak disparagingly of any woman.

Good care is taken that each state shall have its prisons . . . and other asylums; but not one building is erected nor one law enforced that would teach the people how not to contribute to these over-crowded receptacles of human misery . . . All of our politicians are ready to deal with the effects, but not one of them is brave enough to penetrate the substratum of society and deal with the cause. 

A remarkable woman indeed!

By Captain Nancy Aldrich, aviation Writer,


Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name;

Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.

Psalm 29:2

Nancy Welz Aldrich


  1. Charlotte Alexandre says:

    Nice to learn about strong women like Victoria!

  2. Marjorie Porter says:

    Thanks, Nancy, for another great story. An inspiration to all women today.

  3. Nancy says:

    I appreciate those nice words. I think Victoria was about 150 years before her time. She would fit right in with today’s political crowd! Fascinating lady!! Willing to stand for what she believed against all odds! While I don’t agree with all her positions, I admire her determination!

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