Woodhull, Victoria Claflin

Woodhull, Victoria Claflin

spiritualists, entrepreneurs, activists; both born in Homer, Ohio. One of the more outrageous "sister acts" in American history, as young girls they traveled with their dubious father as part of a family medicine show, claiming cures for whatever ailed. In 1853 Victoria married a Dr. Canning Woodhull and would have two children by him; he would come and go in her life and in 1866 she divorced him and took out a marriage license with Col. James Harvey Blood, a spiritualist/faddist. That same year, Tennessee, after having been charged with manslaughter for the death of one of her "patients," married a gambler. In 1868 Victoria was "visited" by a spirit who told her to go to New York City, and the whole family followed her there. The sisters, both physically attractive, gained the support of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt and soon were running Woodhull, Claflin & Company, the first stock brokerage owned by women; they prospered through their investments. Victoria then came under the influence of Stephen Pearl Andrews, a utopian intellectual, and in 1870 she announced she was a candidate for the president of the U.S.A.—the first woman to do so. She also started Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly, which for the next six years published a mixture of muckraking, fads, scandals, and surprises including the first English translation in the U.S.A. of Marx's Communist Manifesto. She delivered a statement to a Congressional committee on the right of women to vote (1871) and was briefly adopted by the women suffrage movement, but she was dropped in 1872 and so formed her own Equal Rights Party. Meanwhile, she had publicly charged the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher with committing adultery with a parishioner and by election time the sisters were in jail, accused of sending obscenity through the mails; they were acquitted in mid-1873. After somewhat tempering her radical views, Victoria went off to England in 1877, accompanied by Tennessee, and began lecturing on "The Human Body The Temple of God." By 1883 she was marrying a proper Englishman, John Martin; Tennessee married a prosperous merchant (1885), and when he was made a baronet, she became Lady Cook. They continued their crusading, both in England and on visits to the U.S.A.—Victoria published (1892–1901) a periodical promoting eugenics, Humanitarian —and lived out their years as notorious relics of an unorthodox past.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.