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As Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar follow in the footsteps of Hillary Clinton in hopes of becoming the first woman president of the US, we remember the life’s work of Victoria Woodhull. Victoria ran for president of the USA all the way back in 1872, when she was just 34. But things were a bit different then for women still had not won the right to vote!
Victoria’s journey to becoming a presidential hopeful had been painful. After fleeing an unhappy marriage to the local doctor who was a serial womanizer, a mean drunk, and twice her age, she worked as an actress and seamstress to support her two children. Then, through the "Spiritualist" movement, she learned that everyone—even women—had the power to resist injustice and transform society. So she decided to help create a world where men and women lived as equals.
In 1869, Victoria traveled with her sister Tennie to New York City. There, they met Cornelius Vanderbilt, then the richest man in the USA. He offered Victoria stock tips in exchange for spiritual advice. She was such an able learner that in 1870, she and Tennie become the first female stockbrokers, opening their own firm. Their firm struck gold and with their proceeds, they founded a paper dedicated to promoting women’s rights and social reform.
That was also the year she announced her bid for the presidency, choosing Frederick Douglass, the famous free-Black leader, writer, and equal rights activist, as her Vice-presidential running-mate.
Congress tried to stop her candidacy, but on 11 January 1871, Victoria argued that if women could be tried as criminals, there was no legal grounds to bar them from political participation. The “Woodhull Memorial” created a small crack in patriarchal politics that would eventually break open the way to women's suffrage — fifty years later!
Unfortunately, Victoria was not with Frederick to watch the votes come in on 2 Nov 1872. She’d been arrested on charges of “obscenity’ for exposing in her paper the licentious behavior of America's then most famous preacher, Henry Ward Beecher. Authorities arrested Victoria on election day, forcing her to spend the night in jail.
Victoria emigrated to England in 1877. She remained there for the rest of her days but never stopped her efforts to win the right to participation.
Finally, in 1918, the crack that Victoria Woodhull applied to the system all those years ago began to give way. First, The UK’s Representation of the People Act of 1918 began the inclusion of women, enfranchising those over 30 who met minimum property qualifications. Two years later, on 18 August 1920, the US Congress ratified the 19th amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote. Victoria, who was 81, had lived to see one small piece of her lifelong efforts to create a gender-equal society — a goal women continue to strive for today.
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