Beautiful New York

A Celebration of the City

The Top 100 Greatest New Yorkers — #40

Victoria Woodhull (1838 – 1927)

40 Victoria Woodhull

The first woman ever to run for President of the United States could not vote for herself on Election Day, as the 19th Amendment would not yet be ratified for nearly half a century. The 7th of 10 children, Victoria Claflin Woodhull endured a childhood worthy of a Jacob Riis photograph on her way to becoming the most notorious American woman of her era, preaching female suffrage and sexual freedom, garnering the admiration of those who were ahead of their time and the enmity of those who were prisoners of theirs. Growing up in a family of charlatan Spiritualists, Woodhull made a modest living performing as a clairvoyant, while raising the two children she had born with her first husband. Eventually befriending Cornelius Vanderbilt (a man fascinated with Spiritualism), Woodhull and her sister Tennessee Claflin became the first female stockbrokers on Wall Street, thriving with their brokerage firm of Woodhull, Claflin & Co. while also publishing a radical newspaper. The first woman to testify before a congressional committee, Woodhull argued before the House Judiciary Committee that women’s suffrage had already been granted by the 14th and 15th Amendments but that enabling legislation was needed. In 1872, she ran for president under the banner of the Equal Rights Party, spending Election Day in jail on charges of sending obcene materials through the mail. After her campaign and the vicious drubbing she suffered in the press, Woodhull moved to England, remarried, and lived out her days as a pillar of rural society in the Cotswolds.

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