Friday, 29 January 2016

Writing - America's first female president

It could be that by the end of November 2016 that the USA will have its first female president in the form of Hilary Clinton but she is not unique in trying to attain that position.

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Victoria Woodhull (1838 - 1927)

In fact the first lady attempting to become president was as far back as 1872. Victoria Woodhull was more than just a politician, she was a free-love activist and there I was thinking that we babyboomers growing up in the atmosphere of free-love in the 60s and 70s had invented the term.

Victoria Woodhull - clairvoyant, entrepreneur and women's rights campaigner experienced a plethora of upheavals in her long life. On Tuesday 5th November 1872 instead of being at party headquarters awaiting the election results she was languishing in prison in New York on obscenity charges. I'm fairly sure that won't be the case with Hilary Clinton. This was undoubtedly Victoria's lowest point in he life.
A few months previously at a gathering of the Equal Rights Party, which Woodhull had founded, she took the stage seeking political power not prison. She spoke of political trickery, despotic assumption, and industrial injustice. The audience was so impressed by her rhetoric that they promptly nominated her for president. Sadly, at that time in a male dominated society, the decision was received with a mixture of horror and amusement. 

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Victoria's influence wasn't limited to political activities. In 1868 when she moved to New York she met Cornelius Vanderbilt one of the richest men in America. She discovered a natural talent for buying and selling stocks and shares and with Vanderbilt's backing, began the Woodhull, Claflin and Co brokerage, the first all female company of its type. Her partner was her sister Tennessee. The two women also launched a newspaper, Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly in 1870. The following year she presented a petition to the Senate and House of Representatives, before addressing the House Judiciary Committee on the citizenship of women, which single handedly revitalised the campaign for women's rights.

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Of course all that Mrs Woodhull achieved was to antagonise those who were died in the wool establishment types, so much so that she was kicked out of her lodgings because of her radical views. She moved to her companies offices only to have the landlord to increase her rent by $1000/year payable immediately. Convinced that she was the victim of a conspiracy, Woodhull pursued two men who were big in women's suffrage. To cut a long story short she revealed in her newspaper that one of the men was having an affair with the wife of the other. No regular newspaper would take it so she published in her own Weekly. The scandal was picked up by Anthony Comstock, dry goods salesmen and self-styled guardian of public morals who sought a warrant for the arrest of Victoria and her sister Tennessee for sending indecent material through the mail. Both women were thrown into jail which was why Victoria was in jail when the election results were awaited. They were eventually found not guilty but had lost the political momentum and her number of votes was never recorded.

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Woodhull in England

As time went by the sisters emigrated to England where Tennessee married a Lord and Victoria a wealthy banker. Victoria died thousands of miles away from the seat of American power on her estate at Bredon's Norton, Worcestershire.

An interesting story, which has been turned into a book by Myra MacPherson The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage and Scandal in the Gilded Age

I have related my aborted attempt to write an historical story centred around a real event, it is quite a skill. I may well go back to it eventually.

God Bless