Last weekend at our We the People 2018 Family Benefit Party, families celebrated the history of democracy in the United States. One of the ways we explored our past was through reenacting elections from the past three centuries. In one of these recreated elections, families had the chance to vote in one of the most historic and often forgotten elections in U.S history—the election of 1872. Although Ulysses S. Grant won that election by a landslide, our Family Benefit Party voters radically rewrote history with their votes and elected Victoria Woodhull!
Woodhull’s overwhelming victory at the Family Benefit Party—where she won 85 percent of the votes!—is quite a departure from history. In the election of 1872, she gained exactly zero electoral votes. But she made a huge impact on American history. Here are eight things to know about Woodhull.
- Although she is a largely forgotten figure now, Victoria Woodhull’s candidacy in the 1872 election made a major history—she became the first woman to run for president of the United States. That means she ran 136 years before Hillary Clinton and precisely 100 years before Shirley Chrisholm!
- The party that nominated Victoria Woodhull was the Equal Rights Party, which was dedicated to securing the right to vote for women. That’s right—Woodhull ran for the presidency before she even had the right to vote herself!
- Woodhull certainly knew how to pick a running mate. When she was nominated as the candidate for the Equal Rights Party, she named Frederick Douglass as her pick for vice president! Though today, it’s not clear if Douglass ever accepted the position.
- In contrast to her popularity with our Family Benefit Party voters, Woodhull was not a very popular figure in her own time: Cartoonist Thomas Nast famously depicted her as an actual demon in Harper’s Weekly in 1872 when she accepted her party’s nomination and announced her candidacy for president.
- Woodhull’s political career started in 1868 when she arrived in New York City, where she became involved with the women’s rights movement. The cause she was most passionate about, and most critiqued for, was women’s right to divorce.
- Almost immediately after moving to New York, Woodhull befriended the richest man in the United States, Cornelius Vanderbilt. He was so impressed by Woodhull that he helped her establish her own Wall Street brokerage firm. This was another first in women’s history for Woodhull—she and her sister Tennessee Claflin were the first female stockbrokers in the United States.
- The sisters embarked on another groundbreaking project together when they founded the radical newspaper, Woodhull and Claflin’ Weekly—in which they published the first English print of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ Communist Manifesto.
- After losing the presidential election, Woodhull moved to England with her third husband and continued to make history—in fact, she was the first woman in England to own a car!
— Written by Caitlin O’Keefe
Caption to the demon cartoon: This cartoon was published in Harper’s Weekly by the famous cartoonist Thomas Nast. The “Free Love” sign that she holds in her hands is a reference to her controversial position that women should have the right to divorce.