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A Presidential Candidate Fighting for Sexual Freedoms

Victorian Woodhull ran in 1872 during the Victorian era. Today we need another Victoria Woodhull - at least the Woodhull Foundation continues today fighting for consenting adult sexual freedoms including decriminalizing of prostitution.

Her journal, Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly, advocated the legalization of prostitution to combat hypocrisy and prevent venereal disease. Today those same arguments are at least as strong as they were in 1872.

According to her contemporaries, Victoria Woodhull was a woman 100 years ahead of her time. Although few have heard of her today, when she ran for President of the United States in 1872, she was one of the most famous women in the country. She advocated many things which we take for granted today: the 8-hour work day, graduated income tax, social welfare programs, and profit sharing, for example.

She was only 15 years old when she was married for the first time to Canning Woodhull. When she died on June 9, 1927, she had come a long way from her modest surroundings in Homer. She died in a Manor House in Bredon's Norton, Worcestershire, England, as the wealthy widow of a British banker.

She was no "respecter of persons." She offered her hospitality to prostitutes and royalty alike. She was a bundle of contradictions. Although she was opposed to the organized Christian religion, she lived its principles: She fed the hungry, cared for the sick, and visited the prisoners. She believed that living those principles was more important to saving souls than preaching the resurrection of Christ. She owned a newspaper which was the first to print the Communist Manifesto in English; and yet, she was also the first female stockbroker on Wall Street. Her life was unique, to say the least.

Victoria was nominated for the U.S. Presidency by the Equal Rights Party. Her candidacy attracted an unusual coalition of people, which included laborers, female suffragists, Spiritualists, and communists, among others. The members of the coalition represented diverse--and often conflicting--opinions. The one thing that they all agreed upon was that the government needed reform. They wanted a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people." They wanted a government with principles. Not only did the Equal Rights Party nominate the first female presidential candidate, they were also the first to nominate a black man, Frederick Douglass, for Vice President.

Although few seriously thought Victoria Woodhull would win, they knew her campaign would send a message to Washington.

Victoria faced many obstacles to election besides the obvious one of running when most women couldn't even vote. One obstacle was campaign fund-raising and organization. She formed "Victoria Leagues." She held "Congresses" of her followers in her own home. She attempted to raise money by selling bonds that would be redeemable during her administration. Still, she couldn't get the support she needed to launch a formidable campaign. When she began her run, she had personal funds to draw from like Steve Forbes. She was the publisher of a New York journal, "Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly." She owned a stock brokerage, "Woodhull, Claflin & Company." Eventually, though, her funds ran out. She remarked of her own campaign, "The press suddenly divided between the other two great parties, refused all notice of the new reformatory movement; a series of pecuniary disasters stripped us, for the time being, of the means of continuing our weekly publication, and forced us into a desperate struggle for mere existence. . . . The inauguration of the new party, and my nomination, seemed to fall dead upon the country; and . . . a new batch of slanders and injurious innuendoes permeated the community in respect to my condition and character."

Instead of debating Victoria on the issues, her opponents attacked her personally. They called her everything from a witch to a prostitute. They accused her of having affairs with married men. At first, Victoria responded to the slanders by taking the high road and ignoring the abuse. She believed that the private matters of public figures were just that, "private." Still, the rumors didn't subside, and she found she had to justify her private behavior in public. The rumors eventually led Victoria and her family to be evicted from their home. They literally spent one night homeless on the streets of New York because landlords were afraid to rent to the "Wicked Woodhull." Victoria believed certain members of the Beecher family--Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe--were responsible for the insidious rumors. In desperation, Victoria and her second husband Col. Blood wrote to Rev. Henry Ward Beecher. They asked him to help put an end to the persecution. Rev. Beecher turned a cold shoulder to them.

Because Henry Ward Beecher refused to listen to her pleas, Victoria felt there was no choice but to fight back and reveal the hypocrisy of her attackers. She published the story of Rev. Beecher's affair with a married woman, hoping that his family would stop the personal attacks. Instead, they enlisted the help of the United States marshals.

The first female presidential candidate spent election day in jail. The U.S. government arrested her under the Comstock Act for sending "obscene" literature through the mail. (As late as 1996, this act was still in effect as a part of the Internet Communications Decency Act.) The alleged obscenity wasn't pornography. The obscenity was an article about Rev. Beecher's affair with Lib Tilton, the wife of Beecher's best friend, Theodore Tilton.

The Beecher-Tilton trial was the biggest news since President Lincoln had been assassinated. It received more coverage than the impeachment of President Johnson. It was as widely covered as the O.J. Simpson trial. It created thousands of pages of testimony and numerous books like the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. The country was sharply divided. Some believed Beecher was guilty. Others believed Woodhull made the whole thing up. They thought she published the article because she wanted fame or increased circulation.

Victoria, Tennie C., and Colonel were eventually acquitted of any crimes, but the lawsuits ruined them. They spent a fortune in legal bills and bail. They lost their stock brokerage. The government confiscated their printing press, their personal papers, and their brokerage accounts, which were a major source of their income. They had received death threats and blackmail letters. They estimated their losses at half a million dollars and told the government they would be satisfied if they received $50,000 in restitution. They never received anything. With its malicious prosecution, the federal government bankrupted its first female presidential candidate-- financially and emotionally.

But after another divorce she moved to England. In London a lecture by Woodhull charmed a wealthy English banker, John Biddulph Martin, who proposed to her. Objections by his family, however, prevented their marriage until 1883. Woodhull and her sister became widely known for their philanthropy and were largely accepted in high British social circles.

The Woodhull Foundation Today - http://www.woodhullfoundation.org
Mission Statement
The Woodhull Freedom Foundation is devoted to education and public advocacy in support of the proposition that safe and consensual sexual expression is a fundamental human right.

"To those who denounce me, I reply: Yes I am a free lover. I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can; to change that love every day if I please." - Victoria Woodhull

What We Do
The Woodhull Freedom Foundation brings together experienced, successful sexual freedom activists who seek to eliminate the barriers governmental and private to expressions of human sexuality in the United States and around the world.

Our agenda includes:
Freedom of speech and artistic expression on sexual subjects Empowering women to take control of their bodies and sexuality

Educating citizens and elected officials about the dangers of repressive sex laws and advocating passage of model legislation

Recognizing the right to bodily integrity, including reproductive rights and freedom from nonconsensual circumcision and genital mutilation

Advocating that the U.S. contribute its fair share for the United Nations Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Decriminalization of safe and consensual alternative sexual expression, including public sex and sex work

Eliminating abstinence-only education, and support of age appropriate sex education for all

Working with health providers and public health educators to advocate explicit safer sex education to the public

Support of civil liberties emphasizing issues of sexual expression, sexual orientation, gender and racial discrimination

Advocating for scientific research on sexual expression, race and gender

Links for more information
http://www.victoria-woodhull.com/whoisvw.htm
http://search.eb.com/women/articles/Woodhull_Victoria_Claflin.html
http://www.woodhullfoundation.org

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