In 2016, Hillary Clinton may have been the first woman to become a major political party’s candidate to run for president, but she is not the first woman to run for president. That honor belongs to a woman from Ohio named Victoria Claflin Woodhull and she ran for president in 1872, almost fifty years before women had the legal right to vote. She was also thirty-four at the time so she would not have been eligible for the presidency and she also would not have been legally able to vote for herself.
Victoria Claflin was born in 1838 to some “colorful” parents, to say the least. Her father, Buck, was a “one-eyed snake oil salesman”, a thief, and even posed as a doctor and a lawyer. The mother was described simply as a dirty old hag; a slattern. The father, Buck made Victoria travel with him in his painted wagon where she posed as a child preacher and a fortune teller, along with her sister, Tennessee. Victoria said she never spent one day in a classroom of a school. She did have a couple of tumultuous marriages though. The first one was at age 15 to a man who was a morphine addict, a drunk, and a womanizer. The only thing she kept after divorcing him, was the last name of Woodhull.
In 1866, she married a Civil War hero in Colonel James Blood, he was also a fervid spiritualist. Blood was also a social and political extremist and encouraged Victoria to self educate herself and clamor for women’s rights. He also encouraged Vitoria and Tennessee to move to New York in 1868 where the two girls would meet Cornelius Vanderbilt, the railroad and shipping magnate. There are disputed testimonies of which of the sisters were his lover, but he set them both up in an office on Wall Street and they became the first women stockbrokers and were the first women to found and run a brokerage firm.
In 1870, using the money they earned from the brokerage firm, the two sisters started a newspaper called the Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly. It was an extremist periodical, to say the least. As a matter of fact, the newspaper was the very first to publish Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto in English form. It was the same year that Victoria Woodhull announced that she would be running for president and her platform was women’s rights, the right of a woman be able to find true love, with or without marriage, and a government that should not interfere with the basic rights of an individual whether they be man or woman, white or black.
In 1872 she ran against Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley. However, just a three days before the election, Victoria Woodhull, her sister Tennessee Claflin and Col. Blood were all arrested for charges of “indecency” and publishing an “obscene newspaper”. Her reputation took such a hit that even Harriet Beecher Stowe called Victoria a “vile jailbird.”
In 1876, Victoria Woodhull divorced Colonel Blood, shut down the newspaper and was still a target of hatred. In 1877, she moved to England and soon married again. She married John Martin who was Oxford educated and whose parents were a proper English banking family. Martin’s mother didn’t want her son to marry Victoria but he did anyway.
John Martin died in 1901 and Victoria, who was one of the first women in England to own a car, lived the life of wealth in a manor house on a 1,000 plus acre estate near Bredon’s Norton.