Victoria Woodhull was a passionate campaigner for social justice who combined deep belief in Spiritualism, radical views on achieving equal rights for women, advocacy of divorce law changes, birth control, working people’s rights, and tax reform as her platform for change. She was the first American woman to address Congress and the first to run for the office of President of the United States.
Overcoming childhood poverty, abuse and exploitation, Woodhull supported her family by working as a medium and fortuneteller. Her success as a clairvoyant connected her with Cornelius Vanderbilt. His backing made it possible for Mrs. Woodhull and her sister Tennessee Claflin to own and operate a brokerage firm and publish the highly successful Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly.
Woodhull’s charisma, sense of mission, incisiveness, wealth, and independence made it possible for her to briefly reinvigorate the women’s movement. Many of Woodhull’s views and themes were prophetic of issues and debates of the twentieth century. Stanton and Anthony at first embraced Woodhull but drew back as her extreme critiques of marriage and America’s class disparities, involvement in flamboyant scandals, and “free love” doctrines made her increasingly controversial.
After years of speeches before packed houses, the adulation of thousands, and acceptance in the wealthiest circles of the nation, Woodhull lost support because of her embroilment in scandal and manipulation, her scathing critiques and unveiling of hypocrisies. She and her sister moved to England in 1877, married wealthy men and lived comfortable, conventional lives.