While tomorrow's election is causing all kinds of controversy, there was a woman who might've stirred up more than Hillary Clinton. Read on for a fun pre-election day blog. Welcome Nicole Evelina.
Forty-eight years before women were granted the right to vote, one woman dared to run for President of the United States, yet her name has been virtually written out of the history books.
If you haven’t heard of Victoria Woodhull, don’t worry. Most people haven’t. She’s not in 99% of history textbooks. But she was the first woman to run for President in the United States (1872), the first woman to speak before a committee of Congress, the first woman to own a stock brokerage on Wall Street (along with her sister, Tennie) and one of the first women in the country to run a weekly newspaper. But we don’t need to remember any of that, do we?
Ahem. Sorry, I get on my soapbox easily because I became a fan while researching my novel Madame Presidentess, which is based on her life. Her views on love and marriage played a huge part in her political career, and her adventurous personal life got her into trouble.
You see, Victoria was an advocate of Free Love. In her day, it didn’t mean unchecked promiscuity as it later would in the 1960s; it meant she believed marriages should come into existence when two people fell in love and be dissolved when they no longer loved each other, without interference from the government or organized religion. Her second husband, Col. James Blood, introduced Victoria to this idea. (He was married when they met and likely justified leaving his wife and daughters for her under the tenants of Free Love.)
While she was married to James, Victoria supposedly had at least one affair, or up to five, depending on which source you believe. Here’s a quick rundown:
- Representative Benjamin Butler – This story comes from a rumor that while he and Victoria were in Washington D.C. when she testified before a committee of Congress, she visited him at night. As if all two people can do after dark is have sex. Also, during that time, he was said to have gotten the committee to agree to let her speak “in exchange for feasting his eyes upon her naked person.” When asked about that rumor, he replied “half truths kill,” which many took as an admission it was true. I personally don’t think they had an affair. Benjamin Butler is described as toad-like, short and plump with an overly large head and sunken eyes engulfed in flesh. One of his eyelids drooped and he waddled when he walked. Yet, his vitality and power are said to have attracted many women to him. So, it’s possible, but I don’t buy it. I did, however, use this situation as the basis for Victoria’s affair with the fictional Judah DeWitt Reymart in my novel.
- Rev. Henry Ward Beecher - Rev. Beecher was one of the most famous and highly regarded preachers of the late 19th century in America. Despite this, he was widely rumored to “preach to as many as 20 of his mistresses on any given Sunday.” His promiscuity was an open secret. Victoria tried to bring him into the Free Love movement because she knew he’d had an affair with Lib Tilton, the wife of Victoria’s own lover, Theodore Tilton. Victoria and Rev. Beecher spent a fair amount of time together when she was trying to sway him to her way of thinking (some of it at night and you know what that means), but nothing I’ve read seems to indicate they had an affair.
- Theodore Tilton – Here is the most likely and most widely accepted of Victoria’s possible lovers. He was known to be handsome and charming and had a reputation for extramarital. Theodore and Victoria may have met when both were a part of the suffrage movement. But they certainly met after she published a thinly veiled threat to expose the affair Rev. Henry Ward Beecher had with Theodore’s wife. Somehow, Mr. Tilton ended up writing for Victoria’s paper, and she commissioned him to write her biography. This is likely when their relationship began.
- Joseph Treat – Biographers of Victoria believe that Mr. Treat was in love with her, and when she turned him down, he wrote a malicious pamphlet telling his story and denouncing her as a fraud.
- Benjamin Tucker – He claimed to have been seduced by Victoria, who was much older. This claim is highly unlikely to be true. He was paid $5,000 by Emanie Sachs to tell his story for her brutal (and mostly false) 1928 biography of Victoria.
Between rumors of at least a dozen affairs and Victoria’s open embracing of Free Love in a time when women were meant to be paragons of virtue, it’s little wonder why Victoria wasn’t included in the history books. Today, she would still be controversial not only for her political opinions, but for her personal behavior. Regardless of her reputation, I count her as a strong woman who is worth getting to know.
Rising from the shame of an abusive childhood, Victoria Woodhull, the daughter of a con-man and a religious zealot, vows to follow her destiny, one the spirits say will lead her out of poverty to “become ruler of her people.”
But the road to glory is far from easy. A nightmarish marriage teaches Victoria that women are stronger and deserve far more credit than society gives. Eschewing the conventions of her day, she strikes out on her own to improve herself and the lot of American women.
Over the next several years, she sets into motion plans that shatter the old boys club of Wall Street and defile even the sanctity of the halls of Congress. But it’s not just her ambition that threatens men of wealth and privilege; when she announces her candidacy for President in the 1872 election, they realize she may well usurp the power they’ve so long fought to protect.
Those who support her laud “Notorious Victoria” as a gifted spiritualist medium and healer, a talented financial mind, a fresh voice in the suffrage movement, and the radical idealist needed to move the nation forward. But those who dislike her see a dangerous force who is too willing to speak out when women are expected to be quiet. Ultimately, “Mrs. Satan’s” radical views on women’s rights, equality of the sexes, free love and the role of politics in private affairs collide with her tumultuous personal life to endanger all she has built and change how she is viewed by future generations.
This is the story of one woman who was ahead of her time – a woman who would make waves even in the 21st century – but who dared to speak out and challenge the conventions of post-Civil War America, setting a precedent that is still followed by female politicians today.
Nicole is a member of and book reviewer for The Historical Novel Society, as well as a member of the Historical Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, the St. Louis Writer’s Guild, Women Writing the West, Alliance of Independent Authors, the Independent Book Publishers Association and the Midwest Publisher’s Association.
Her website is http://nicoleevelina.com/. She can be reached online at: