Monday, October 13, 2008

Victoria Woodhull: first for president

Did you think Hillary Clinton, Margaret Chase Smith or Shirley Chisholm were the first women to run for president? Think again. National Public Radio's today launching a series on "The Contenders" for presidential office with Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to declare a run for the presidency in 1872. She didn't appear on the ballot, and ran at a time when women were not allowed to do anything except in the company of a man--they couldn't vote, own businesses, or do much else.

In Woodhull's case, her home state of New York did not extend the vote to women, so she couldn't vote for herself (and was in prison on election day, in any case). The NPR story today talks about her famed "free love speech," actually a response to a question in which she advocated free love--an issue that overshadowed and marginalized her campaign in the eyes of many, prompting the engraving below of her as Satan.

Go here to find all things Victoria Woodhull, including a useful listing of books about her, some of which include the texts of her speeches. The website's FAQ notes that reporters of the day who wanted to mock her made fun of her trilling of her R's when she spoke. (Engraving of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee receiving a deputation of female suffragists, January 11, 1871. A "lady delegate" believed to be Victoria Woodhull is reading her argument in favor of woman's voting, on the basis of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Constitutional Amendments. Published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, v. 31, no. 801 (1871 Feb. 4), p. 349 and today found here in the Library of Congress collections. Caricature of Woodhull as Satan by Thomas Nast.)

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