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I chose Victoria Woodhull as my female pioneer. She made her fortune on the New York Stock Exchange and was one of the first women to open a Wall Street brokerage. She was also the first woman to ever run for President of the United States. Although her presidential campaign was not acknowledged at the time, due to gender discrimination, she paved the way for other women in the United States, such as Hillary Clinton.
Victoria California Claflin was born on the 23rd of September in 1838. She was born in Ohio and had 9 siblings growing up. Victoria was allegedly spiritual clairvoyance and her abilities provided income for her underprivileged family. Her father burned the family’s mill; when he attempted to collect his insurance money the fire was found to be arson. The family was forced from the city they resided in.
To get away from her family, especially her father’s ruthlessness, in 1853, Victoria married Canning Woodhull. Woodhull was a medicine salesman. Due to non-existent requirements for physicians at that time, Mr. Woodhull claimed to be a Doctor of Medicine. Woodhull was an alcoholic and a philanderer causing Victoria to have to work to support their two children. At that time this was unheard of, because according to gender roles of her time a woman’s place was in the home.
New York would be the next home for the Woodhulls and their two children. The Claflin family was already living in the city. Victoria and her sister Tennessee, whom she was closest to, set up practice as mediums. In 1864, the Woodhulls and Tennessee moved to Cincinnati, and then Chicago, moving quickly it seemed to keep from facing altercations and legal proceedings, due to the nature of their work. Author Jesse Greenspan explains a set-back for Tennessee during their travels. “Tennessee, for example, was indicted for manslaughter in Illinois after one of her cancer patients died.” (Greenspan) This was just one of the difficulties faced by the family. On top of Victoria’s troubled marriage, her son was mentally challenged. Eventually, her husband would only return home for money, and after more than a decade of marriage, Victoria and Canning divorced in 1864.
Although Victoria had little to no education she was able to move forward with her life. The sisters moved back to New York City in 1868, and Victoria and Tennessee began working as mediums for railway tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt. It was possible that Tennessee received a proposal from Vanderbilt. The sisters received stock tips from this friendship, which they benefited from in 1869 during the gold panic. Vanderbilt provided financial security for Victoria and Tennessee to open an exceedingly successful financial firm named Woodhull, Claflin & Co. This made them the first female stockbrokers on Wall Street. This accomplishment paved the way for women in the future, like Muriel Siebert who gained a seat on the New York Stock Exchange in 1967.
Victoria Woodhull appeared at a women’s suffrage convention in 1869 and became a major supporter of the movement. After attending this event she created another beneficial friendship with a Massachusetts congressman named Benjamin Butler. Butler then invited her to speak before the House Judiciary Committee. On the 11th of January 1871, Woodhull brought in front of the panel that women had already won women’s suffrage under the 14th and 15th amendments. Greenspan writes the details of her testimony: “Women are citizens, she argued, and “the citizen who is taxed should also have a voice in the subject matter of taxation.” Although the committee rejected her petition to pass “enabling legislation,” her history-making appearance immediately propelled her into a leadership position among suffragists.” (Greenspan) What Greenspan does here is provides details of her testimony and provides the outcome of said testimony. Victoria had already used her wealth from her financial firm to start up a newspaper in which she was able to promote women’s suffrage and labor reform. This made her the first woman to start a weekly newspaper.
In April 1870, Woodhull announced that she would be campaigning for an attempt at being the first woman president of the United States. Greenspan states: “She campaigned on a platform of women’s suffrage, regulation of monopolies, nationalization of railroads, an eight-hour workday, direct taxation, abolition of the death penalty and welfare for the poor, among other things.” Woodhull also started her own political party called the Equal Rights Party. They then nominated her in 1872 to represent their party. Though he did not acknowledge her nomination, Victoria selected Frederick Douglass as her running mate. Douglass also endorsed Ulysses S. Grant, who was a Republican. Woodhull’s name appeared on ballots in only some states, and it is unknown how many votes she actually received because they weren’t counted. Although she failed, this still made her the first woman to run for president of the United States.
Days before Grant won the 1872 election and he returned to office, Woodhull published an article in her weekly newspaper targeting and revealing information about a popular preacher named Henry Ward Beecher. She called him an adulterous hypocrite. The sisters faced repercussions rather quickly. Beecher’s devotees acquired arrest warrants for Victoria and Tennessee charging them for sending out the offensive material in the mail. They also made accusations against a Wall Street trader. The accusations consisted of the man getting two underage girls drunk and taking advantage of them. Due to all Victoria’s apparent love of the limelight she lost many of her supporters, including Susan B. Anthony.
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