Now that Hillary Clinton has made history as the first woman to run for president on a major party ticket, perhaps those who blazed the trail for her and made that monumental moment possible will get their due. There is one particularly glaring omission from the history books, Victoria Woodhull, the first ever woman to run for President in 1872.
Not only did she run for president at a time when women couldn’t vote (they wouldn’t get that right for another 48 years), she ran on a ticket she created (the Equal Rights Party) which sought equality for men and women, as well as rich and poor. Her running mate was former slave Frederick Douglass (although he never formally accepted or declined the honor), putting forth two minorities for the highest office in the land a mere seven years after the Civil War ended.
If Victoria Woodhull’s name isn’t familiar to you or you’ve only recently heard about her in connection to Hillary Clinton, you aren’t alone. Most people haven’t heard of her. Despite the fact that she was the first woman to run for President in the United States, the first woman to own and operate a stock brokerage on Wall Street, the first woman to speak before a committee of Congress and one of the first to run a weekly newspaper, her name is not in most history books.
Why is that? No one knows for sure. You could argue that it’s because she’s a woman, and that may have played a part, but given the compulsory school curriculum about Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and others like Alice Paul, that is far from the whole answer. I am not a historian, but based on my research for my historical fiction novel about Victoria, Madame Presidentess, there appear to be two main reasons she was almost a causality of history. 1) A damaging 1928 “biography” (since believed to be almost entirely fabricated), painted her as a harlot, prostitute and every bad thing a woman could be, hardly the kind of person society would want to hold up as a role model. 2) She was glossed over by the literal writers of the book on the history of the suffrage movement, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, despite their earlier friendship with Victoria. (I’ll go into more detail on both reasons in a future article.)
It is a shame that such a brave woman has been excluded from her rightful place in history for the last 145 years, but rather than grousing over past wrongs, it’s more important that the situation change. Victoria’s name is coming to the fore again through recent political events, and authors, filmmakers, women’s advocates and playwrights are once again remembering this trailblazing, outspoken, fearless leader who made so much possible for women. Now if we can get her to become part of the regular textbook history curriculum, perhaps future generations will have another woman to look up to and an important link in American political history will be restored.
Writers, historians, teachers, what say you? How can we make learning about this Victoria Woodhull as important as other suffrage leaders? How do we make sure she is covered in new editions of our school books?