I know that a lot of you political junkie-nerds are like me, watching too much of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this week and spending way too much time online reading what everyone else watching the RNC in Cleveland has to say about it. (What can I say? Presidential election years, from the primaries through election day, are my World Cup/Superbowl/World Series.)
Did you catch nutty Ben Carson’s speech last night, placing Hillary Clinton in a direct line from Saul Alinsky to Lucifer? Yes, that Lucifer, aka Her Lord Satan, known as the beast! Or crazy Chris Christie, apparently channeling Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in criminalizing his political opponents, leading the RNC delegates in chants of “guilty!” and “lock her up!” But accusing charismatic women who seek political office of criminal or even demonic influence is nothing new in American history, as Lauren MacIvor Thompson argues in her fabulous mini-biography of Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president–in 1872!
The first election in U.S. history was, of course, in 1788, but it would be over eight decades before a woman could plausibly gather enough public recognition to actually make a real run at the Presidency. This “first in history” belongs to none other than Victoria Claflin Woodhull Martin (1838-1927). If you think Hillary is a controversial figure, trust me, she’s got nothing on Woodhull, who was first and foremost a newspaper editor, public speaker, and women’s rights reformer, but also a Spiritualist with three husbands, two children (one of whom was disabled), and a proponent of Free Love and Socialism. Despite her lack of formal education, she became one of the Gilded Age’s most forceful influences on social reform and women’s rights. It’s also true that her cunning and drive to succeed often resulted in a whole lot of lying, seduction, and outright charlatanism.
Regularly called a harlot and “Mrs. Satan” on the daily by her opponents, she also earned the wrath of her fellow suffragists who thought she was a detriment to their respectable cause. In fact, Susan B. Anthony hated Woodhull so much, she literally turned out the lights on her as Woodhull tried to address a meeting of the National Woman Suffrage Association.
Intrigued? Click on over and read the whole thing. Woodhull led one of those crazy nineteenth-century lives that covered it all–from spiritualism to sex to investment banking. (No kidding!) In case you’re interested, Nursing Clio is going to run an occasional series on the women who have run for president called Run Like a Girl–I’ll be sure to let you know when a new bio is published. As Thompson says,
So take heart, Hillary. Before you, Victoria Woodhull was labeled as the original bitchy, lying, cheating, manhating, one-percenter running for President! In other words, history tells us there’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to women in the public eye.