Woodhull is perhaps best known for her "free love" views, which scandalized her Victorian audience but seem fairly tame by today's standards. Women, she said, should be just as free as men to choose and discard their sexual partners. Between this and her insistence that she could speak with the dead, it's no wonder that Gloria Steinem once called Woodhull "the most controversial suffragist of them all."
Juicy stuff, so why did it feel like a chore for me to dig into her most famous speech?
You can scroll through Woodhull's 1871 Steinway Hall speech here. It's long. Really long. It opens with an epic poem. She introduces about 10 major themes in the first few pages. It takes stamina to find the gems in here, like this one that wouldn't seem out of place in today's marriage debates:
To love is a right higher than constitutions or laws. It is a right which constitutions and laws can neither give nor take, and with which they have nothing whatever to do, since in its very nature it is forever independent of both constitutions and laws, and exists--comes and goes--in spite of them. Governments might just as well assume to determine how people shall exercise their right to think or to say that they shall not think at all, as to assume to determine that they shall not love, or how they may love, or that they shall love.But then I read the background to this speech in Barbara Goldsmith's terrific Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull. And suddenly it all came to life for me. Here's what happened, and here's what you can learn from it.
"Yes, I am a free lover! I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can, to change that love every day if I please, and with that right neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere."
(Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this Famous Speech Friday post.)
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