History was made on July 26, 2016 when the Democratic Party nominated Hillary Rodham Clinton as the country’s first female presidential nominee for a major party.
However, she is not the first female nominee in US history. That title belongs to Victoria Woodhull.
In 1872, the Equal Rights Party nominated Victoria as their presidential candidate. Her platform was one of equal rights for all, regardless of gender or ethnicity. She was also an original supporter of “free love,” claiming a constitutional right to love whomever she’d like and to “change that love every day” if she pleased.
Growing up, Victoria had only 3 years of formal education. Her father forced her to work as a childhood clairvoyant to make an extra buck. She was pushed to marry at age 15, but later crossed social boundaries by divorcing her husband to live as a single mother – something nearly unheard of at the time.
Victoria soon moved to New York with her sister, Tennessee, and her second husband, a civil war hero and a member of a growing religion who believed they could speak to the dead. She and Tennessee became spiritualists for this faith and captured the attention of millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt. Supposedly, Tennessee was his lover while Victoria gave him stock advice. Vanderbilt funded the girls’ stock brokerage firm, making them the first female stockbrokers. They used money from the brokerage firm to start a radical newspaper.
Victoria became a celebrity of her generation. Men adored her, women admired her, and thousands of people flocked to her lectures on constitutional equality and free love. In the height of this popularity, Victoria’s newspaper released a story detailing the alleged cheating scandal of a local preacher. The public did not take well to this. She was arrested on obscenity charges and spent election day in jail. Although Victoria was found not guilty, the incident permanently damaged her reputation.
After the scandal, she closed her newspaper, left her husband, and moved across the pond to England. Here, Victoria met a wealthy Oxford graduate who became her third husband. She lived out her days in London lecturing in St. James’s Hall, founding a magazine called The Humanitarian, and becoming an automobile enthusiast.
Looking back on Victoria’s story, taking place in a time when she did not even have the right to vote for herself, it is easy to see how far we’ve come. Although Victoria’s good name was lost in scandal and the sands of time, her story must be told. It is on the backs of women like her that we are able to see a potential female president standing before us today.