The Real First Female to Run for President–Victoria Woodhull

Now that the run for the highest office in America is upon us, one might think the result will be unique, regardless if you support Trump or Clinton. A businessman with no political background or a woman. Many are of the belief that, although Sarah Palin and Geraldine Ferraro have appeared on the ticket as vice presidential choices, Hillary is the first woman to run for president. I was very surprised to learn Hillary does not own that honor. It was a fellow Ohioan named Victoria California Clafin Woodhull, and the year was 1872. She was born in 1838 in Homer, Ohio. This is taken from her announcement of her intentions:


Victoria Woodhull

“I now announce myself as candidate for the Presidency. I anticipate criticism; but however unfavorable I trust that my sincerity will not be called into question.”

 She also penned a letter of announcement to the New York Herald, which stated, in part: “I am quite well aware that in assuming this position I shall evoke more ridicule than enthusiasm at the outset. But this is an epoch of sudden changes and startling surprises. What may appear absurd today will assume a serious aspect to-morrow.”

 The New York Herald responded to Ms. Woodhull’s announcement with the following: “Mrs. Woodhull offers herself in apparent good faith as a candidate, and perhaps has a remote impression, or rather hope, that she may be elected but it seems she is rather in advance of her time. The public mind is not yet educated to the pitch of universal women’s rights.”


Reproduction of an engraved portrait of Victoria C. Woodhull, from her book, The Origin, Tendencies and Principles of Government


One might wonder the type of criticism and ridicule Victoria Woodhull would have faced in 1872, other than she was a woman at a time when women didn’t even have the right to vote. Certainly she had all the earmarks of a suffragette. In fact, she voiced her opinion on the subject quite loudly:

“Why is a woman to be treated differently? Woman suffrage will succeed, despite this miserable guerilla opposition.”

But there was a whole lot more to Ms. Woodhull than women’s rights. She also desired labor reform, and she was an advocate of free love long before the hippies of the 1960’s made it popular. In her early years she was forced to join her father as he traveled around the country in a painted wagon, He was a tonic salesman and claimed to be a healer. Victoria worked alongside him as a fortune teller, a clairvoyant, and a spiritual healer. Ms. Woodhull believed women should marry, divorce and bear children, all without interference from the government.


1872 caricature of Victoria Woodhull as the devil by Thomas Nast. (Thomas Nast, via Wikimedia Commons)

She married three different times during her lifetime, the first time at age 14, to Canning Woodhull. After divorcing Mr. Woodhull, she married Colonel James Blood, who was responsible for introducing her to various reform movements. She divorced the Colonel in 1876. Together with her sister, Tennessee, as much an advocate for women as Victoria, they were the first women to operate a brokerage firm on Wall Street, thanks to the support and backing of Cornelius Vanderbilt and were among the first females to be owners of a newspaper, a radical publication. Even without a formal education, she made waves in her world, creating powerful enemies as well as friends.

There are some who disclaim her run for the presidency, citing the fact she was under the constitutionally mandated age of thirty-five when she announced her intentions. She would not have turned thirty-five until September of 1873. However, she was the candidate of the Equal Rights Party, and her platform consisted of equal rights for all and women’s suffrage. She ran against incumbent Republication Ulysses S. Grant and Democrat Horace Greeley. Her Vice-Presidential candidate was Frederick Douglass, a former slave who had become a staunch abolitionist.


A portrait photograph of Victoria Woodhull, (C. D. Frederick & Co., via Wikimedia Commons)

During Her race for the White House, she was attacked by her opponents for her stance of free love, and was charged with adultery. In retaliation, her paper ran an article exposing the adulterous affair between a prominent minister and his many affairs, resulting in Ms. Woodhull’s arrest for obscenity. Even if she did have the right to a vote, she couldn’t have cast a ballot for herself, since she was incarcerated on election day. Imagine if something like this were to happen in today’s race. What a different time it was.

While Ms. Woodhull didn’t receive any electoral votes, she did garner some of the popular vote, adding validity to the claim that she was the first woman to run for president. So the glass ceiling Hillary is so proud of telling everyone she broke was actually cracked in 1872 by Victoria Woodhull.

From 1877 until her death in 1927, she resided, along with her sister, in England, where she met and married her third husband. Her life in England was devoted to preserving the English home of George Washington’s ancestors. She volunteered with the Red Cross during World War 1.