Victoria Claflin Woodhull — First Woman to Run for President of the United States

Why is a woman to be treated differently? Woman suffrage will succeed, despite this miserable guerilla opposition. [Woodhull]

In 1870, the New York Herald published a letter to the editor written by Victoria Claflin Woodhull that announced her candidacy for President of the United States. Woodhull was technically not eligible to run for president as she was only 34 years old and not the constitutionally required 35 years of age. However, no one seems to have questioned this, apparently because her candidacy was never taken seriously

Further complicating her run for president was the fact that few women could vote for her in the late nineteenth century. At that time only women voters in Wyoming and Utah were able to vote in national elections. (The right in Utah would later be rescinded.)

In the same year Woodhull and her sister Tennessee Claflin began publication of a newspaper, the Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly. Its main purpose was to advocate for Woodhull’s presidential candidacy. Shortly before the election the paper published an article about an affair being conducted with a woman by the renowned minister Henry Ward Beecher. The affair had also been published in other papers, but Woodhull’s language offended some and a few days before the election she was arrested on charges of indecency.

The paper continued to publish for a full six years, espousing controversial topics like sex education, short skirts, free love, licensed prostitution, and even the radical practice of vegetarianism. It is credited with printing the first English translation of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto.

Victoria Woodhull, her sister Tennessee, and their eight siblings had grown up in poverty and had little education.  The two sisters, in order to provide for themselves financially, traveled as clairvoyants and faith healers. They came to the attention of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who distrusted doctors, and the sisters won his devotion. He financed the establishment of a stockbroker firm in their names that was very successful, even during a downturn in the economy. They were perhaps the first women to run a stockbroker firm, but they never received a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. It would be another century before that occurred.

Woodhull was active in the women’s suffrage movement until Susan B. Anthony dismissed her and her sister as “lewd and indecent.” Before Woodhull fell out of favor she testified before a congressional committee, arguing that the Fifteenth Amendment, which defined citizenship, was adequate proof that women should have the right to vote, just as black men did. She was the First Woman to petition Congress in person.

Woodhull’s activism seamlessly propelled her to run for President of the United States. She helped found the Equal Rights Party, which nominated her to run for president and Frederick Douglass to run for Vice President. There is no record that Douglass accepted the nomination. He did not attend their convention and worked for Grant’s re-election.

The outcome of the election? Some say Woodhull received no votes. It is true she received no electoral votes but, since the votes for her were not counted, it is hard to know how many she received. At least one man from Texas admitted he had voted for her as a protest vote against Grant.


First Women in the Iditarod

I will miss an appointment with my massage therapist, Lisa Jordan, in March because she will be in Alaska for the start of the Iditarod. Apparently, the race actually begins in Willow, Alaska but there is a lot of hullabaloo in Anchorage first, with sleds and dogs racing through the streets—and that’s where she will be. I did not realize that there are cameras set up at each check-in point, twenty-two in all. The sleds also have GPS so they can be tracked online for the duration of the 985-mile race. Enthusiasts can follow the race to the last detail, unlike when it began in 1973.

Available at

I was surprised to learn that a woman (in fact, two women) raced in the Iditarod as early as 1974—but then women in Alaska probably didn’t hold onto stereotypes as long as many of the rest of us. Mary Shields was the First Woman to finish the race. She said that, at every checkpoint, men were betting on when the women would drop out, and the women were betting they’d finish. It kept Shields going and she finished 23rd.  Lolly Medley, the other women in the race, finished 25th.

The First Woman to win the Iditarod was Libby Riddles. She finished 18th in 1980 and 20th in 1981 but, after deciding to breed her own sled dogs, raced again in 1985. When the other competitors were being cautious, she ventured forward in a blizzard, and won. She has written three children’s books about her adventures.

The second woman to win, Susan Howlet Butcher, won in 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1990 becoming the First Woman to win four Iditarods in five sequential years. In the year she did not win, she came in second. She was in the top five for 12 out of the 17 years she competed in the race. Then, just for kicks, I guess, she was part of the dog team that first ascended Denali.

Available at sasquatch

The First Woman to complete 32 Iditarods was DeeDee Jonrowe, who competed in 36 Iditarods with 16 top-10 finishes. A serious car accident, breast cancer, the death of her parents, and a wildfire that burned her home, did not deter her from competing. This tough woman was notable in the races because of her signature pink color.

In 2006 Rachel Scdoris because the first legally blind musher to complete the Iditarod. She raced four times and finished twice.

I suspect they just grow women tougher in Alaska, but it does give those of us in the lower-48 a model for strength and perseverance. After doing a bit of research on these women, I expect to follow the race more than usual this year, beginning the first Saturday in March. There will be 15 women in the 2020 race, including two sisters.

Clara Schumann – First Woman Royal and Imperial Chamber Virtuosa at the Austrian Court (1838)

In honor of the bicentennial of the birth of Clara Schumann, Byron Schenkman & Friends performed a special concert to honor her last weekend. It was a delight to hear some of her rarely-performed music, especially in such an exquisite performance. The musicians played like a single multi-faced instrument, weaving in and out of one another with energy, compassion and grace.

Clara Schumann was the First Woman Royal and Imperial Chamber Virtuosa at the Austrian Court. She was one of those rare women who had a monetarily-successful career with her own compositions and performances. In fact, she was successful enough to support herself and her struggling husband, Robert Schumann. After Robert died, Clara was the one who kept his music alive for posterity, facilitating his preservation in the classical canon. She, on the other hand, is largely ignored.

With the permission of Byron Schenkman & Friends, I am sharing the program notes from that concert (lightly edited). References to particular pieces of music were included in the performance.

Clara Schumann Bicentennial Celebration by Byron Schenkman & Friends

Clara Schumann, née Wieck, was one of the most influential European musicians of the 19thcentury. She began her career as a child prodigy whose performances dazzled international audiences and who published ten volumes of music while still in her teens. At 18, she was named “Royal and Imperial Chamber Virtuosa” at the Austrian court, a first for anyone so young, let alone foreign, Protestant, and female. For most of the century she was at the center of a circle of German musicians dedicated to preserving and continuing the legacy of what would come to be known as Western classical music.

Following her triumph in Vienna, Clara composed a piece she calledSouvenir de Vienne,which included variations on a theme by Joseph Haydn. Early in their marriage she and Robert Schumann jointly studied scores of chamber music by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.

Clara’s only piano trio was composed in 1846 and published in the following year. Clara indicated in a letter that she had dedicated her trio to the pianist and composer Fanny Hensel (née Mendelssohn); however, that dedication never appeared in print. Johannes Brahms performed the work in 1854 in Hamburg, and the violinist Joseph Joachim reported that it was a great favorite at the Hannover court where he was employed.

In 1835 Felix Mendelssohn conducted the premiere of sixteen year old Clara’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, op. 7, with her as soloist. The middle movement, a romance in the surprising key of A-flat major, is a luscious song without words for piano solo.

Robert and Clara Schumann were lifelong companions, lovers, and close colleagues who studied music together and often critiqued each other’s work. Clara outlived Robert by four decades. After his tragic early death she worked tirelessly to edit, arrange, and oversee the publication of his complete works while also supporting their large family.

During one of their few happy years together, Robert wrote a series of exquisite chamber works including his only quartet for piano and strings. Clara premiered this work at the Leipzig Gewandhaus on a program which also included Bach’s Chaconne in D Minor and Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata.


Nataki Garrett – First Woman Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Earlier this year Nataki Garrett was appointed the First Woman Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. A bit of history about the Festival will put the significance of this accomplishment in perspective.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival began presenting plays in 1935, beginning with Twelfth Nightand The Merchant of Venice. Angus Bowmer, the Southern Oregon University drama professor who founded the festival, directed and starred in both productions. His wife Lois created costumes and scenery.

The city of Ashland helped fund the first productions as part of their Fourth of July celebrations but was fearful the festival would not be profitable, so they convinced Bowmer to include a boxing match. The rowdiness of the match suited Bowmer’s Shakespearean mindset, so both events were held. Charging $1 for reserved seats, and $.50 for adults the theatre festival made money—and covered the losses of the boxing match.

The Festival has been in continuous production since (except for a few years during World War II). During the 1950’s performances were abridged and presented on radio as well as on stage in Ashland.  By 1971 the festival had entertained one million visitors. All 37 of Shakespeare’s plays have been presented multiple times. Several decades ago other classic plays were introduced and now at least one original play is presented each season. In its 85 years of performances, it has had only five directors, and Nataki Garrett is the First Woman.

Garrett is a director, producer, playwright, educator, activist, and arts administrator, all skills that will be required to run this extensive theatre empire. She is a graduate of the California Institute of the Arts with an MFA in directing, a skill that has taken her to theatres throughout this country and to other countries as well.

In the past she served as associate dean at the California Institute of the Arts School of Theatre, and acting artistic director of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. She is a champion of new works and has collaborated with Seattle Repertory Theatre and the Old Globe. Her passion is presenting new works and she continues to include those in the Festival’s programming. She believes it is important to consider the needs of the traditional audience, usually older patrons with time to travel to Ashland and the means to sustain an organization, but also to attract young audiences. She likes to “create spaces where both can rub elbows with each other.”

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has blossomed during its history. Founded to present the works of a male playwright who used only men as actors, it has grown to include traditional and new plays, with casts of all genders, even women portraying “male” roles. Today more than 20 million people have attended performances in Ashland. Each year there are 750 to 850 matinee and evening performances in three theatres. Between five and eleven plays rotate six days a week. The festival has 675 paid staff, about 700 volunteers, and budget of $44 million. Garrett’s responsibilities will be significant, but she says it best, “As a little girl from Oakland raised by a single parent who was a teacher, growing up under Reaganomics, this is something beyond my wildest dreams.”

Margaret Bourke-White – Photojournalist

Margaret Bourke-White went where few women, and not too many men, had been. She was the First Woman war correspondent, the First Woman allowed in combat arenas. She was also the First Westerner to photograph Soviet industry and the First Woman to have a photo on the cover of Life magazine.

Margaret White (Bourke was her mother’s maiden name, which she appropriated later) had a rocky academic career. She attended seven different universities, studying herpetology paleontology, zoology, art, swimming and aesthetic dancing. She also studied photography at the Clarence H. White (no relation) School of Photography in New York City. By the time she graduated from Cornell University in 1927, after providing the school newspaper with pictures of the campus, her love for photography had intensified. She set up her own commercial photography studio in Cleveland where she specialized in industrial photography. Her success contributed to her invitation to photograph Soviet industry in 1930.

She was an associate editor and staff photographer for Fortunemagazine when, in 1936, Henry Luce hired her as the First Woman photojournalist for Lifemagazine. That same year she became the First Woman to have a cover on Life. Her photos of the Fort Peck Dam project were featured in an article as well.

Bourke-White took photos during the depression that are said to rival those of Dorothea Lange (another student of the Clarence H. White School of Photography). After publishing her photos in Fortune, she published the book You Have Seen Their Faceswith Erskine Caldwell (whom she married for a short while). She later took photos of how Nazism was affecting Europe and how Communism was affecting Russia. It was at this time that she captured a rare picture of a smiling Stalin.

She spent World War II capturing history as it exploded, literally, around her. She was the only photographer on the scene in Moscow when the Germans raided the Kremlin, was with the Air Force in North Africa, and photographed Buchenwald as she traveled through Europe with General Patton as the war concluded. She admitted later, that “Using a camera was almost a relief. It interposed a slight barrier between myself and the horror in front of me.”

In all, Bourke-White was “torpedoed in the Mediterranean, staffed by the Luftwaffe, stranded on an Arctic island, bombarded in Moscow, and pulled out of the Chesapeake when her chopper crashed.” Her nickname became “Maggie the Indestructible.”

After the war she photographed the violence in the Pakistan-Indian partition and, at that time, took an iconic photograph of Ghandi, shortly before he was assassinated. She also photographed the unrest in South Africa, and the Korean War.

In her 50’s she recognized the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease but did not succumb to it readily, undergoing painful surgeries and treatment. Although her work was limited she continued to write and published her autobiography,Portrait of Myself. In all she published eleven books.

Bourke-White said that if you “saturate yourself with your subject…the camera will all but take you by the hand.” This may be accurate, but her eye for truth, her ability to see more in others than their faces, her appreciation for architectural detail, and her sense of the beauty of the ordinary were innate gifts. Today her photographs are in museums throughout the United States.