Victoria Woodhull - Notable Women Ancestors
Victoria Claflin Woodhull

Victorial Woodhull

Contributed by Terri Sestito

Victoria Claflin Woodhull was a first cousin of my grandmother, Rebecca Claflin Nash. Victoria was the first woman to speak before congress in 1871 and the first woman to run for President of the United States in 1872.

Victoria was born September 23, 1838, in Homer Ohio. Her parents ran a traveling medicine show. She received very little education but supported herself in the traveling show telling fortunes, doing faith healings and selling patent medicines with her sister, Tennessee Claflin. At age fifteen Victoria married Dr. Canning Woodhull who was too busy drinking to work. After her second marriage to Col. James H. Blood they moved with Tennessee to New York City.

After they told the fortune of Cornelius Vanderbilt, he helped Victoria and Tennessee become the first women to establish a brokerage firm on Wall Street.

Victoria became a leader with the New York section of Karl Marx's International Workingman's Association, and she argued her case before a congressional judicial committee in 1871. She was nominated for president in 1872 by the Equal Rights Party, an offshoot of Susan B. Anthony's National American Woman Suffrage Association. Her running mate was Fredrick Douglas, another orator. U.S. Grant won the election, but this may have been the highest point of her career. She was too outspoken for even Susan B. Anthony, who refused to have any more to do with her.

Woodhull also started her own newspaper (1870-76) devoted to the day's most controversial issues. Responding to attacks on her advocacy of free love, she precipitated (1872) a sensational scandal by claiming that Rev. Henry Ward Beecher had committed adultery with a parishioner. Her brief association with the suffragists only heightened her undisputed fame. What became known as the Tilton-Beecher scandal put Woodhull in jail on election day for sending obscene literature through the mail. Although she was acquitted, her public career was over.

Further research indicates that Victoria and her running mate's names did not appear on the ballot in 1872, due to the fact that she was one year shy of the Constitutionally-mandated age of thirty-five.

Having lost her bid for the presidency and accused of destroying the moral fiber of American life, Victoria and her sister Tennessee moved to England in 1877, where they both married wealthy businessmen (Victoria divorced Woodhull in 1864) and, except for occasional outbursts against conventional values, settled down to a quiet life.

Victoria died June 10, 1927. Rumor in my family has it that my Grandmother and my Great-Aunt had her body shipped back to the United States very quietly. They did not want to admit that they knew such a notorious woman. Her estate remained untouched in England, and it reverted back to the British Crown. Our family laughingly says today that the Queen of England is living off our family's money.


  • Mrs. Satan by Johanna Johnston, 1967

  • Free Woman: The Life and Times of Victoria Woodhull by Marion Meade, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976

  • Victoria Woodhull Reader, Madeleine B. Stern, ed.,1974

  • The Terrible Siren

  • Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia Volume 27


Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull by Barbara Goldsmith, Hardcover, 531 pages, Published by Knopf, Publication date: March 1998

Notorious Victoria: The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored by Mary Gabriel, Hardcover, 336 pages, Published by Algonquin Books, Publication date: January 28, 1998

The Woman Who Ran for President: The Many Lives of Victoria Woodhull by Lois Beachy Underhill, Gloria Steinem, Reprint Edition Paperback, Published by Penguin USA (Paper), Publication date: July 1996

Victoria Woodhull Reader by Victoria C. Woodhull, Hardcover, Published by M & S Pr, Publication date: June 1974

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