I’m sorry, were you expecting someone else?
One hundred forty-four years before Hillary Clinton became the first female to clinch a major party nomination for the presidency, Victoria Claflin Woodhull became the first woman to run for president earning her nomination from the Equal Rights party. And her running mate was non-other than one of the most influential black political figures in American history, Frederick Douglass.
In 1872, Woodhull, who later became Woodhull-Martin, blazed a trail for woman 48 years before it was even legal for the presidential candidate to vote for herself. The 19th Amendment ensuring that women could exercise the right to vote passed on August 26, 1920, but Woodhull argued that it was the 14th Amendment which truly gave women the right to vote.
Before her candidacy Woodhull and her sister Tennessee Claflin became the first female stockbrokers on Wall Street opening their brokerage firm in 1870 with the help of wealthy industrialist Cornelius Vanderbilt. The sisters also ran a newspaper called the Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly. The paper, which opened in 1870, was described as an advocacy journal that focused heavily on promoting the concept of “free love.”
The free love movement was primarily a libertarian-feminist movement which sought to separate sexual matters such as birth control, adultery, and marriage from government intervention or judgment. Woodhull said:
To woman, by nature, belongs the right of sexual determination. When the instinct is aroused in her, then and then only should commerce follow. When woman rises from sexual slavery to sexual freedom, into the ownership and control of her sexual organs, and man is obliged to respect this freedom, then will this instinct become pure and holy; then will woman be raised from the iniquity and morbidness in which she now wallows for existence, and the intensity and glory of her creative functions be increased a hundred-fold . . .
Pro-life advocates often cite Woodhull’s opposition to abortion, but they rarely acknowledge what she wrote in one article regarding a woman’s right to choose:
Abortion is only a symptom of a more deep-seated disorder of the social state. It cannot be put down by law…. Is there, then, no remedy for all this bad state of things? None, I solemnly believe; none, by means of repression and law. I believe there is no other remedy possible but freedom in the social sphere.
Her paper also advocated such radical concepts as woman’s suffrage, sex education, short skirts, spiritualism, vegetarianism, and legal prostitution. Her belief that women should be allowed to control their mind and bodies was not well received, especially by those in the male-dominated religious community.
Before the 1872 election, Woodhull and her husband were arrested and jailed by federal marshals and charged with publishing indecency after Woodhull’s paper published a story exposing the hypocrisy of one of it’s biggest critics, a renowned preacher named Henry Ward Beecher.
Beecher was accused of having an affair with the wife of Theodore Tilton. Mr. Tilton told Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a colleague of Woodhull, of the affair and the story became a national scandal.
Both Woodhull’s were jailed for over a month before being acquitted on the trumped up charges, by then the election was over.
Woodhull would live to see the passage of the 19th Amendment before dying at the age of 88 after losing her battle with pneumonia in 1927.
Interestingly, Woodhull’s running mate is a more well-known legendary political figure than she is. Frederick Douglass was a former slave who, after escaping captivity, published America’s first abolitionist newspaper called the North Star in 1847.
However, long before Woodhull was born, her future running mate was perhaps the most influential male voice within the women’s suffrage movement.
His paper’s motto read:
Right is of no Sex – Truth is of no Color – God is the Father of us all, and we are all brethren.
Douglass was also the only African American to attend the first women’s right’s convention in upstate New York, known as the Seneca Falls convention. At the convention Douglass made it clear that he believed equal rights should apply to both people of color and women, he said:
In this denial of the right to participate in government, not merely the degradation of woman and the perpetuation of a great injustice happens, but the maiming and repudiation of one-half of the moral and intellectual power of the government of the world.
Douglass would go on to become the most influential black man in America, by becoming an advisor to President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and became the first African-American to receive a vote for president of the United States at the 1888 Republican National Convention.
Before Louis Farrakhan, Douglass was the first black man to disrupt and shock the white Americans fantasy narrative of what America represented to African-Americans. The words he spoke would have gotten any other black person killed.
One biographer wrote:
The most influential African American of the nineteenth century, Douglass made a career of agitating the American conscience. He spoke and wrote on behalf of a variety of reform causes: women’s rights, temperance, peace, land reform, free public education, and the abolition of capital punishment. But he devoted the bulk of his time, immense talent, and boundless energy to ending slavery and gaining equal rights for African Americans. These were the central concerns of his long reform career. Douglass understood that the struggle for emancipation and equality demanded forceful, persistent, and unyielding agitation. And he recognized that African Americans must play a conspicuous role in that struggle. Less than a month before his death, when a young black man solicited his advice to an African American just starting out in the world, Douglass replied without hesitation: “Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!
Douglass died at the age of 77 in 1895, however, his legacy would go on to inspire generations of Americans to present day.
It’s sad how this amazing chapter in American history just isn’t taught in most schools. But it’s absence stands as proof that Americans need a progressive revolution for us to begin to fix the damage that conservative historical patriarchal whitewashing has done to generations of Americans over the course of years.
While we congratulate Hillary Clinton for making American history, let us take a moment to remember two great Americans who made it possible for people like Clinton and President Barrack Obama to be where they are today.
Featured image via Freedomslighthouse.net