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 (The right in Utah would later be rescinded.)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

Hillary Clinton Owes a Debt to the Women who Went before Her

HILLARY FOR HILLARY       Hillary Clinton is the First Woman ever nominated by a major political party to run for President of the United States. She has established her credentials, campaigned vigorously, and won the title. She is not, however, the first woman to run for President and there are many women who paved the way before her. It is time to take a moment and give those women credit.

The First Woman to declare she would run for President, in the April 2, 1870 issue of the New York Herald, was Victoria Claflin Woodhull who ran for a place on the Equal Rights Party ticket. This was particularly surprising because women did not earn the right to vote until August 18, 1920. It turns out Woodhull was not qualified to run for President, not because of her gender, but because of her age. She was only 34 years old, one year younger than mandated by the constitution.

Less than a decade later Belva Lockwood ran for President with the National Women’s Equal Rights Party. “I cannot vote,” she said, “but I can be voted for.” She received 4,711 votes in nine states.

Many of the women who ran for President or Vice-President were nominated by minority parties (e.g., the National Equal Rights Party, the Peace Party, and the Communist Party). Blocked from power by the national parties, they followed their own paths. Even this year Jill Stein is running for President on the Green Party ticket. The Republican National Convention in 1900 was the first time a woman, Frances Warren of Wyoming, even served as a delegate for a major party.

After the nineteenth amendment, there were some changes, but at a pace suited to a snail. In 1924, Lena Springs, after chairing the credentials committee for the Democratic National Convention, received some votes for the position of U.S. Vice-President. That same year Suffragette Marie Caroline Brehm was the first legally qualified female candidate to run for the vice-presidency of the United States, on the Prohibition Party ticket with Herman P. Faris.

As women asserted themselves more into the political process, there were a number of courageous women who ran for President. Among them were:

–Margaret Chase Smith (1964) – She received votes from only 27 delegates at the 1964 Republican convention, but was the First Woman nominated for President by a major party.

–Shirley Chisholm (1972) – The First African American Woman elected to Congress was also the First African American Woman to run for a major party presidential nomination. She appeared on primary ballots in 12 states.

–Ellen McCormack (1976) – She appeared on the primary ballot in only 18 states but garnered more votes than Frank Church or Hubert Humphrey. (Jimmy Carter was nominated.)

–Sonia Johnson (1984) – She was a minor party candidate but was the first third-party candidate to qualify for federal primary matching funds.

–Pat Schroeder (1987) – When Gary Hart’s campaign fell apart, she stepped into the Democratic race, but was not organized well enough to succeed. She is best known for the fact that she cried when she withdrew, interpreted as a sign of her unsuitability for the position. (When did anyone ever mention John Boehner’s bawling?)

–Lenora Fulani (1988) – Running for the New Alliance Party, she was the first African American Woman to be on the ballot in all fifty states.

–Elizabeth Dole (2000) – Elizabeth Dole, like Clinton, served in Cabinet posts and was the wife of a former presidential candidate when she campaigned for President.

–Michele Bachman (2012) – She won the Iowa straw poll for the Republican Party caucuses.

In 1984 two women ran for President of the United States and ten women ran for Vice-President of the United States, but only one, Geraldine Ferraro, won a position on the national ballot from a major political party. The Democrats nominated her to run as Vice-President with Walter Mondale; they were heavily defeated by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. In 2008 the Republican Party nominated Sarah Palin to run as Vice-President with John McCain; they lost to Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

And now a woman heads the ticket, heading for the glass ceiling, standing on the shoulders of all the women who tried before her.