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 (The right in Utah would later be rescinded.)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.

Posthumous Interview with Jeannette Rankin

     Please Note:All quotations in italics are direct quotes from Jeannette Rankin. The other words are from my research on this historical dynamo or from my imagination. Thank you to Ana Maria Spagna and Laura Pritchett for proposing this in one of their workshops.

As the first woman ever elected to Congress, how were you greeted by your male colleagues when you arrived on the house floor in 1916?

Oh, the men rose to their feet and cheered. I had to rise twice myself and bow to them which, if you can believe the reports, I did “with entire self-possession.” I [was] deeply conscious of the responsibility resting upon me.

Were you surprised at that reaction?

A bit. I really didn’t know what to expect. But you have to remember, this was three years before they passed the Nineteenth Amendment giving the women the right to vote, and four years before it was ratified. I suspect some of them thought I was an aberration. After all, I was from Montana and the West was still considered a pretty unorthodox part of the country.

You were less popular after you voted against entering into World War I.

Yes, I was widely criticized, but I was one of 50 who voted that way, so I was not totally alone, not like when I was the sole dissenting vote against entering World War II. Then I was booed.

You said that you wouldn’t vote to send anyone to war because you yourself could not go to war. Women can now go to war. Would this change how you voted?

Absolutely not. I was, and am, still now, against all wars. You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake. . .There can be no compromise with war; it cannot be reformed or controlled; cannot be disciplined into decency or codified into common sense. . . We have to get it into our heads once and for all that we cannot settle disputes by eliminating human beings.

Would you change anything if you had another chance?

I would do it all again, but this time I would be nastier.

Would you say you are a feminist?

I would definitely be on the front lines, and very proud to take a place beside Nancy Pelosi.

Are you pleased that so many women were just elected to Congress in 2018?

When I was elected I said, I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last.” But, what the hell! I thought we would have reached parity by now. I understand that, depending on current analysis, it could take another 75 to 100 years to reach parity. Men and women are like right and left hands; it doesn’t make sense not to use both. We’re half the people; we should be half the Congress.

The Next Mayor of the City of Chicago Will Be. . .

        An African-American Woman, the First in the history of Chicago, a city where minorities are in the majority and one-third of the population is black. The election is not until Tuesday, April 2nd, but the two candidates who are in the run-off are both African American Women, so the outcome is assured. The winner will not be the First Woman mayor of Chicago. That was Jane Byrne in 1979, when few women had been mayors of major-size cities.

        The two final candidates are Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle.

        Lori Lightfoot’s parents worked multiple jobs to make ends meet, but her mother pushed her to attend college and not let her background stand in her way. She graduated from the University of Michigan with honors and worked as a legislative aide for two years in Washington, D.C. She returned to her hometown to attend the University of Chicago Law School. While there, she led a movement to have a law firm banned from campus recruitment because their representative had made racist and sexist remarks directed toward a student.

        She clerked at the Michigan Supreme Court and became an Assistant United States Attorney. During her time at Assistant Attorney she participated in Operation Silver Shovel, an FBI investigation into Chicago corruption. She chaired the Police Accountability Task Force and is President of the Chicago Police Board.

      Toni Preckwinkle got her first taste of politics while in high school, volunteering for Katie McWatt, the first African American woman to run for Chicago City Council. She obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Chicago then taught history for ten years, losing one of her students to gun violence. She has campaigned for handgun legislation and has taken strong stances against police brutality.

        She served as an Alderman on the Chicago City Council for twenty years. In 2010 she became the First African American Woman to serve as Cook County Board President, managing the second-largest county in the United States. She is also chair of the Cook County Democratic Party.

Stay tuned. . .

Congressional First Woman: In Pairs

Since 1922, a large percentage of the women who have gone to Congress have been First Women, the first to serve, the first to serve without following a husband into a position, the first to be elected, the first from a specific state, the first woman of color, and other variations. In the 116th Congress there are also many First Women, but with a new twist. Six of those First Women in the House of Representatives share titles.

For the first time there is a Latinx woman from Texas in the Congress—and there are two. For the first time there is a Muslim woman in the Congress—and there are two. For the first time in our history, there is a Native American woman in the Congress—and there are two.

First Latinx Woman from Texas

Sylvia Garcia was born and educated in Texas. Her law degree is from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at a historically black university. She first ran for this seat in 1992 and lost to Gene Green, who then served for 26 years. When he retired, he supported Garcia and she won 63% of the vote in a seven-way primary. She is committed to women and immigrants, as well as affordable healthcare and equality for all. She was elected in eastern Houston.

 Veronica Escobar serves El Paso, Texas, where she is a native. When Beto O’Rourke resigned from his seat in the House of Representatives to run for the Senate, Escobar ran for his seat in a majority-Hispanic district. Like Garcia, she won her primary handily, earning 61% of the vote in a six-way race. Escobar is focused on the economy, as well as immigration reform, and protecting the environment.

First Muslim Woman in Congress

Ilhan Omar was the First Somali American elected to legislative office in the United States when she joined the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2016. Now she is the First Somali American elected to the United States Congress and the First Muslim Woman elected to Congress. After she was elected, the U.S. House lifted their ban on head coverings on the floor of the House, so Omar is also the First Woman in Congress to wear a hijab. She supports free college tuition for those in certain income levels, Medicare for All, and LGBT rights.

Rashida Tlaib represents a portion of Detroit and its suburbs. She was the First Muslim Woman to serve in the Michigan legislature, one of ten Muslims serving in state legislatures in the entire United States. She is the First Palestinian-American Woman in Congress and also, along with Omar, the First Muslim Woman. She says, “Sometimes I say ‘Thank her’ because my Allah is She.” Tlaib supports Medicare for All, wants to abolish ICE, and supports a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

First Native American Woman in Congress

Sharice Davids is the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Congress from Kansas. She is also the First Native American woman elected to Congress. She is an attorney, a former mixed martial artist, and a member of the Ho-Chunk people. She learned to be a strong woman from her mother who served in the Army for more than 20 years. Davids beat out a candidate who had been endorsed by Bernie Sanders in the primary. She is focused on having a Congress that functions better, and has worked in the past on social services for native populations.

Deb Haaland is also an attorney and represents the Albuquerque portion of New Mexico where she is a member of the Laguna Pueblo people. She shares a history with Davids as her mother was in the U.S. Navy. Her father also served in the Marine Corps and won a Silver Star in Vietnam. Haaland ran for Lieutenant Governor of New Mexico on the Democratic ticket but lost to the Republicans whose Governor candidate, Susana Martinez, was the First Woman governor of New Mexico, and the First Hispanic Governor in the United States. Haaland wore traditional Pueblo dress when she was sworn into Congress. Her primary focus is on the climate and environment.

Women Senators in the 116th Congress

The media has been abuzz with news about the number of new women entering the 116thCongress, and we should celebrate! However, that celebration should be tempered a bit. When we look at the United States Senate, we find that the number of women did not increase in the past election. Two new women were elected to the Senate, but two women were defeated, so the number of women in the Senate remains at the same.

The two women who lost their seats are First Women:

–Heidi Heitkamp, the First Woman elected to the U.S. Senate from North Dakota, lost her uphill battle as a Democrat in a Trump state.

 

–Claire McCaskill, the First Woman elected to represent Missouri in the U.S. Senate, did not survive $39.5 million in attack ads by outside groups.

 

The two new women elected to the Senate are also First Women:

— Krysten Sinema, the First Woman elected from Arizona, is also the first openly bisexual member of Congress. The most exciting thing about her race was that Arizona had two women running for the seat, so a woman was assured that position even before the election.

 

–Jacky Rosen is the First Woman freshman member of the House of Representatives to win a seat in the Senate. She represents Nevada, one of five states that have two women Senators: California, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Washington.

The Senate now has, as in the previous Congress, twenty-three women among its members. Women, who are a majority in the country, are a significant minority in the Senate. The math is easy: 100 Senators with 23 women equals 23% women. And, remember those five states with two women senators. That means that only 18 of the 50 states have women representing them in the Senate.

There’s one more way to look at the representation of women in the Senate. Let’s round up the number of women, not because I’m feeling generous, but because the math is easier. Let’s say one-fourth of the Senate is comprised of women. That means that one of every four Senators is a woman, and three of every four is a man. Translation: there are three times as many men as women in the U.S. Senate.

I would not be one to argue that men can only represent men and women can only represent women. There have always been men who represented women well. In fact, were it not for men, women would not have the right to vote. And women can certainly represent men. My own Senator Patty Murray is a valiant advocate for veterans, the majority of whom are men. And yet it seems that true representation of the population for this country might look a bit different than it does now. So, let’s celebrate women’s successes, but let’s keep them in perspective.