If you think Hillary Clinton’s got it bad as a female running for President, take a look at how Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to ever run for President in the U.S. spent her Election Day: in jail.
To gain the proper perspective, we need to go back a few months. The summer of 1872 was very hard for Victoria. She was ill with a mysterious ailment that couldn’t be diagnosed and that recurred several times over three months. Her beloved newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, shut down due to lack of funds. She had already been forced to sell her Murray Hill mansion, and then was kicked out of several hotels, while others wouldn’t rent a room to her (no one wanted to be associated with her or the controversy that surrounded her). She and her family (husband, kids, parents, brothers and sisters) lived for while in the Woodhull & Claflin brokerage offices, but when the landlord found out, he raised her rent so high they were forced to abandon even that location, so that they were homeless for a few days. In desperation, she sent a note to Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, asking for his help to get one of the hotels to let them stay there. He curtly refused.
Her sister, Maggie, eventually managed to rent a place for them to stay under an assumed name. Victoria was tired and still ill, worn out from the whirlwind of her year, which had started off so promising. In September, at a meeting of the National Convention of American Spiritualists in Boston, she decided to finally spill the beans on Rev. Henry Ward Beecher – revealing her long-kept secret that the married preacher was having an affair with Lib Tilton, wife of Theodore Tilton, Victoria’s former lover.
Not satisfied by this small audience – and perhaps in revenge for Rev. Beecher’s refusal to come to her aid in her hour of need – Victoria began plotting on a larger scale. She and Tennie would resurrect Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly for one more explosive issue (though this didn’t turn out to be its last, only it’s most famous) that would right two long-hidden wrongs. While Victoria told every detail of the Beecher-Tilton scandal she could recall in a fake interview format, Tennie penned a story about the night a businessman named Luther Challis relieved a young girl of her virginity, likely against her will.
Victoria’s “bombshell” was hidden within a seemingly ordinary issue of the newspaper, but that did not stop people from lapping up the scandal inside. According to my sources, the paper sold for 10 cents but by evening people were paying $2.50. The first run of 10,000 copies sold quickly. Some people rented theirs to read for $1.00 a day. One copy even sold for $40. More than 250,000 copies sold in three days. The distributor, American News Company, refused to replace it on the stands after the first 100,000 copies were sold so newsboys came to their offices to get them in person. Some copies were bought and destroyed by Beecher’s supporters, for the article called in to question the idea of marriage as a bedrock of society.
But in the end, it wasn’t Victoria’s story that landed both sisters in jail on Election Day; it was Tennie’s. In telling her tale of Luther Challis’ lewd behavior, Tennie used a line that, although also quoted in the Bible (Deuteronomy), was considered obscene. “To prove he had seduced a maiden, he carried for days on his finger, exhibiting in triumph, the red trophy of her virginity.” Then, when they were tricked into mailing a copy of the paper to Anthony Comstock, the country’s self-appointed moral guardian, they were arrested for sending obscene material through the mail.
So instead of spending Election Day out attempting to vote for herself and getting arrested – and in the process making history – Victoria sat with Tennie in the jail cell of a common criminal. (Normally they would have been given special accommodations because they were wealthy public figures, but both the guest quarters and citizen bedroom were full at the time. And to add insult to injury, Victoria’s one-time-friend-turned-rival Susan B. Anthony made history that day by casting her ballot in Rochester, NY. She was arrested and found guilty but refused to pay the fine. Her sensational trial the following year spread her message of suffrage far and wide – just as Victoria had dreamed of doing on her own.
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.
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.
About the Author
Nicole Evelina is a multi-award-winning historical fiction and romantic comedy writer. Her most recent novel, Madame Presidentess, a historical novel about Victoria Woodhull, America’s first female Presidential candidate, was the first place winner in the Women’s US History category of the 2015 Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction.
Her debut novel, Daughter of Destiny, the first book of an Arthurian legend trilogy that tells Guinevere’s life story from her point of view, was named Book of the Year by Chanticleer Reviews, took the Grand Prize in the 2015 Chatelaine Awards for Women’s Fiction/Romance, won a Gold Medal in the fantasy category in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, a Gold Medal in the fantasy category in the Reader’s Favorite Awards, and was short-listed for the Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction. Its sequel, Camelot’s Queen, was awarded the prestigious B.R.A.G Medallion. Been Searching for You, her contemporary romantic comedy, won the 2016 Colorado Independent Publishers Association Award for Romance, the 2015 Romance Writers of America (RWA) Great Expectations and Golden Rose contests and was a finalist in the chick-lit category of the Readers Favorite Awards.
Nicole’s writing has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Independent Journal, Curve Magazine and numerous historical publications. She is one of only six authors who completed a week-long writing intensive taught by #1 New York Times bestselling author Deborah Harkness. As an armchair historian, Nicole researches her books extensively, consulting with biographers, historical societies and traveling to locations when possible. For example, she traveled to England twice to research the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy, where she consulted with internationally acclaimed author and historian Geoffrey Ashe, as well as Arthurian/Glastonbury expert Jaime George, the man who helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research The Mists of Avalon.
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: