1st Female Pres. Candidate Victoria Woodhull Advocated “Free Love”


Victoria Woodhull's Legacy?

On This Date In History: This obviously wasn’t Mother’s Day because it wasn’t officially established until 1914. But, this woman was seen by many as the antithesis of motherhood. On this date in 1872 Victoria Woodhull began her campaign for President. Her running mate was abolitionist, former slave and intellectual Frederick Douglass.    At that time, women weren’t even allowed to vote yet, she was running for president. Her platform was as a “free-thinking reformer” and supported free love, abortion, divorce, legalized prostitution and, of course, the women’s right to vote. One of the photos above is a portrait while the other is a cartoon showing her as the Devil. As part of her campaign, she sent out an article congratulating preacher Henry Ward Beecher for having an affair with a married woman in his congregation. But, she chastised him for not advocating the free love that she said he obviously practiced. On election day, she was in jail. The charge was for sending obscene material through the mail in violation of the Comstock Act. The offensive material was the Beecher article. Reports of her personal practices of free love did not help her at the polls. An opponent of hers didn’t learn from her mistake.

Woodhull Covorting With Satan!

Also on the ballot was George Francis Train who ran for President as the self proclaimed “Champion Crank of America.”   He was a millionaire with nothing else to do except to try and break speed records and advocate what he saw as struggles for freedom. Jules Verne is said to have based his novel Around the World In 80 Days on a trip that Train once took. But, Train didn’t count the days he spent in prison in France against his 80 days. He got involved in an attempted revolution and barely escaped a firing squad before he continued his global journey. He later beat his own record by going around the world in 67 1/2 days. No word on if he cheated on that one too.   Neither he nor Woodhull were elected President. In fact, I bet you won’t find them on any 1872 election tally boards.

George Francis Train

But, Train had a penchant for making money because his campaign proved to be a money making venture for him. He charged money for people to hear his speeches and he spoke over 1000 times to more than 2,000,000 people. He may have been the only presidential candidate to make a profit in the venture.  When Woodhull got in trouble, he tried to help her cause by publishing a collection of biblical quotations that he said were much more obscene than anything Woodhull had written.  They slapped the old bracelets on him too and he was whisked off to jail.

Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin drive the bulls and bears on Wall Street, Evening Telegram, February 18, 1870

Here’s a funny thing about this story. The Equal Rights party platform  was generally that of Ms. Woodhull.  If you care to search you can find numerous links that unravel the whole thing, but rest assured,   it was quite scandalous in 1872.  While it did not specify abortion and divorce, I suppose that Ms. Woodhull extracted that from the calls for protection of women from abuses of men and other forms of what they called equality.  This document supports the contention and inference of the concept of “free love,” divorce and abortion rights.  (note how it says “Children come into this world undesired and unprovided for…”)  It is interesting that they were vehemently against the death penalty but favored abortion.  Anyway, the specifics outlined regarding the platform talk about taxing the rich, a graduated tax, term limits for the President, Vice-President and Senators and the issuing of paper currency.  They also were against any land grants to railroads and thought that disagreements among nations should be settled by a “congress of nations” instead of armed conflict.   

Woodhull for President!

Today, we have a currency backed by the “full faith and credit of the United States,”  the United Nations and a graduated tax scale.  There are increasing calls to tax the rich and movements to try and limit governmental aid to corporations.  Divorce is certainly a part of society and prostitution is legal in parts of Nevada.  The US Supreme Court issued its famous (or infamous) Roe V Wade decision in 1973.  The platform actually went further as it wished to have government regulation of labor and also referred to children and the poor to be seen as “wards of the state” with the government taking responsibility for their care and eduction.  I bet that if you told someone in 1872 that many of the calls of Victoria Woodhull would be legal and/or accepted in 2010, they’d probably fall over. Then again, they’d probably also collapse if you told them that man had walked on the moon, cured any number of diseases and that baseball players were making millions of dollars a year.  I’ve heard a saying that illustrates an aspect of human nature: The people of Venice did nothing about the flooding problem until sewage was coming in their homes.  Perhaps the roots of the Tea Party movement were set long ago.

By the way….US Grant won re-election in the 1872 presidential race.

(Edit: You will find a somewhat militant sounding response below from someone who claims absolutely that it is false that Ms. Woodhull was in favor of abortion.  My source said otherwise without explanation.  The commenter left several quotes from Ms. Woodhull that seems to support the view.  I have examined the quotations and it does appear that Ms. Woodhull believed that abortion was murder.  However, the commenter has left out some key quotes.  For instance from Woodhull’s and Claffin’s Weekly (September 23, 1871: ” Abortion is only a symptom of a more deep-seated disorder of the social state. It cannot be put down by law.”  Also, from the same edition:  “Who proposes to disturb Madame Restel [underground abortion practitioner]? Who really wants that there should be no opportunity to secure an abortion under peculiarly trying circumstances?”  The stance seems a bit at odds with her “abortion is murder” contention.  But, from my analysis, Ms. Woodhull makes the argument that she wished to eradicate the situation caused women to want to have an abortion.  She blaimed the male dominated societal atmosphere.  In the same Sept. 23, 1871 article she concluded that, “Nearly every child born is an unwelcome guest. Abortion is the choice of evils for such women.”  She seemed to be saying the pregnancy was more often than not forced on women and therefore it was unpleasant and left them with a very difficult ordeal.  So, while the commenter is correct that she thought abortion was murder, it does not appear that she wished to make it illegal.  I attempted to contact the commenter by email but the person declined to reply.  She made some comment that the statement of her support for abortion was “utterly false” and then added a link to “someone who has actually done their homework.”  It is feministforlife.org.  When researching history, it is important to note exactly who is doing the research as they may have an agenda.  Often, when one has a point of view that they wish to push on any given subject, they may play up some positions and low key others to such an extent that they omit anything that may detract from the thesis.  I went to the primary source and I believe that my secondary source was justified in the position that Woodhull was in favor of abortion in the sense that she did not want to criminalize it.  There is no getting around the fact though, that on a number of occasions, she did equate it to murder.  BTW…the commentor also failed to point out that Ms. Woodhull’s publication was the first in the US to publish Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto in 1872.  My guess is that little fact may sway a reader’s sympathies, eh?   Nor  was it pointed out that Woodhull later married a rich UK Banker, John B. Martin, after which she apparently disavowed her previous position on free love, though I’m not sure if that included an alteration of her abortion view.    See…the truth is not always the whole truth. If you want more details, you need to secure a complete historiography; not just this blog, websites or single sources. 

SPC Severe Risk Tuesday AM to Wednesday AM

SPC Severe Probability Tuesday AM to Wed. AM

Weather Bottom Line:  This week will prove quite a challenge.  First off there will a warm front coming back through our area.  The NAM wants to bring some showers around here by midnight and then cuts it off by day break but then reintroduces showers late morning.  The RUC has rain from midnight to 5AM but the data ends there.  The GFS brings rain by about 3 AM and then carries it through the morning.  None of of the models advertises a rain total of much significance.  Now, I don’t see that the NAM severe parameters really going bananas while it calls for rain late Tuesday into Wednesday but the energy fields do rise markedly, which makes sense because the warm front comes through.  Early Wednesday morning, the dynamic fields start getting into the interesting territory.  Now, the GFS is similiar except that it has rain along with the rising dyanmic parameters late Tuesday into early Wednesday.  After that, the models both bring rain at varying times.

Tuesday Evening

The issue down the line will be periodic bits of energy being tossed out through the flow throughout the week.  That is what is prompting week-long forecasts having a chance of rain every day.  The truth is, no one can really time the impulses nor the exact route; so put in a chance of rain to CYA.  It is probable for rain as the warm front comes through on Tuesday.  The SPC has varying reasons for concern regarding strong storms on Tuesday so they put in a slight risk for our area but it doesn’t really have anything to hang your hat on conclusively except that a cold front is approachin.  The SPC does not mention late night Tuesday night but the GFS data supports that possibility as the cold front approaches, perhaps a shade behind the NAM. Either way, the slight risk area goes from Tuesday morning to Wednesday morning so the GFS solution is still covered.  If the cold front does come through, it won’t be for long as it will retreat rapidly back to the north in advance of another system coming through the flow.

Bottom line is that we get warmer and more humid by Tuesday afternoon through Friday at least with rain chances popping up now and then.  We’ll have to see how the severe potential actually shakes out.

7 Responses

  1. “Her platform was as a ‘free-thinking reformer’ and supported…abortion.” Completely and utterly FALSE.

    Quotes from Victoria Woodhull:
    “The rights of children as individuals begin while yet they remain the foetus.” -Woodhull’s and Claflin’s Weekly 2(6):4 December 24, 1870

    “Every woman knows that if she were free, she would never bear an unwished-for child, nor think of murdering one before its birth.”
    -Wheeling, West Virginia Evening Standard, November 17, 1875

    Another editorial from Woodhull’s and Claflin’s Weekly, “When Is It Not Murder to Take Life?”, argued:

    “Every one will concede that it is murder to take the life of a human being. But the very pertinent question arises just here, when does human life begin? The beating of the heart, modern science tells us, never begins; that is to say, there is no time in the whole process of the growth of the human body from the moment of conception until death, that pulsations of life are not present in what is to develop into the perfected body. Where, then, shall the line be drawn, on one side of which it shall be murder to cause these pulsations to cease, and upon the other not murder?

    “…Many women who would be shocked at the very thought of killing their children after birth, deliberately destroy them previously. If there is any difference in the actual crime we should be glad to have those who practice the latter, point it out. The truth of the matter is that it is just as much a murder to destroy life in its embryotic condition, as it is to destroy it after the fully developed form is attained, for it is the self-same life that is taken.

    “…[T]hey who, having conceived [children] then destroy them, are murderers; and no amount of sophistry nor excuses can, by one iota, mitigate the enormity of the crime. They do even more than murder, they virtually commit suicide, for no woman can practice this crime without in part destroying her own life.

    “…[W]hile we shall at all times freely discuss the matter, objectively as to its results, we shall not forget to look at the matter subjectively, to find the remedy, which, if we mistake not, is in granting freedom and equality to woman.”

    More here by someone who has actually done their homework:
    http://www.feministsforlife.org/FeminismCourse/woodhull.htm

  2. I have responded in the text. I believe that more homework should be done by those who cast stones and only know half the story, or only relate the part of the story that supports their position.

  3. Thank you for clarifying the information about Woodhull’s abortion views. MoonChild2 is correct that Woodhull’s platform didn’t promote abortion. (For that matter, the platform didn’t promote legalization of prostitution or easy divorce unless you think they fall under “the rights of adult individuals to pursue happiness as they may choose…” Those were topics she discussed in her newspaper and lectures before she even ran for office.) While I agree with MoonChild02 that Woodhull was against abortion and called it murder, you’re correct that she didn’t want to make it illegal. Feminists for Life often conveniently omits that fact.

    Like Sarah Palin, Woodhull gave birth to a “special needs” child. She didn’t abort him. His name was Byron Woodhull. He was cared for by various family members until he died in 1932 at that age of 77. In fact, my great-great-grandmother’s brother-in-law took care of Byron when Woodhull was married to Colonel Blood. Byron’s disability led Woodhull to conclude that women needed to learn about sex, physiology and prenatal care in order to bear healthy children. She blamed Byron’s condition, in part, on her sexual ignorance and wished to save other women from the same fate. If she were alive today, she’d object strenuously to your depiction of her as the antithesis of motherhood, because she believed motherhood was the highest calling a woman could have.

    I could go on and on about her views on free love, too, but instead I’ll quote from page 5 of James R. Petersen’s “The Century of Sex.”

    “To the modern ear the term [free love] evokes images of hippies cavorting in hot tubs, of couples tangling in satin sheets on water beds, of naked bodies slithering through Wesson Oil orgies. Her intent was more noble. Woodhull challenged the authority of the church and state to dictate affairs of the heart.”

  4. I appreciate your well thought out point of view. I”m sure others would also be pleased. A problem with investigating history is that often, we tend to look for things that support our position. So, say, if you were a Brit looking at World War II, you may only read books that are favorable to Field Marshall Montgomery and stay away from those who may be critical. This is especially true of you were someone who always grew up thinking that Monty was the greatest. We tend to shy away from things that may upset our worldview. After all, it can be quite shattering to find that what you believed was true your whole life was not true. I’ve wondered about people who say they look for truth but when they find it and it doesn’t fit what they are looking for, they move on…which makes the whole exercise futile. By no means am I an expert on Woodhull and only had limited sources. It’s for that reason I have rejected teachers who have asked to use my material for their class as I explain that I have no citations and, on many subjects, have not even approached being literate in the entire historiography. Some things, that is not the case. In the case of Woodhull as with others on these here pages, my intent is simply to introduce a relatively unknown person and express a point of view in a somewhat entertaining fashion. Hopefully, this will spark folks to look up more on their own. My guess is that with Woodhull, there is probably some truth to the criticisms of her and there has been some revisionist history going on. Or perhaps, her views at one point of her life are different than they were at a different point…as is the case with most of us. Age and wisdom tends to alter our world view. I certainly do not look at the world the same way as I did 30 years ago. However, I also suspect that there is truth in some of what those who oppose critics of Woodhull have to say. The real Victoria Woodhull probably lived somewhere in between. It is my hope that folks will take the time to review the life and times of Ms. Woodhull as she was someone of some significance who is most often lost in the pages of American history. Really, thank you for your contribution.

    Just a note…I did not say that I said she was an antithesis of motherhood, but instead said that many considered her that. I would stand by that statement. There are many of her day and thereafter that held that view but, there are others who would say otherwise.

  5. […] more about Victoria Woodhull: SymonSez, My Hero […]

  6. Excellent work, sir.

  7. Thx

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