Victoria Woodhull: 19th Century Women's Equality Activist
Recently the team at the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries of the UUA discussed how February being “Black History Month,” March being “Women’s History Month,” and June being “LGBTQ History Month” is positive because it raises up awareness of the history and contributions of these marginalized communities. But we also realized it relegates the history- and current imperfect condition of oppressed or marginalized groups in American society- to time-boxed public awareness. We think this is wrong because we have much to learn in the present moment by lifting up the stories of people who fight oppression all of the time. In this post we introduce you to Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President of the United States, fully 50 years before passage of the 19th Amendment. (A related note: the first black woman to run for president was Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm in 1972.)
Victoria Woodhull was a trailblazer for women's equality practically before the movement existed. At a time in U.S. history when women did not have the right to vote, and custom dictated a woman be accompanied by a man to enter any establishment, including stores and restaurants, Woodhull challenged the restrictions and conventions that kept women from being treated as equal members of society.
Woodhull's other firsts include being the first woman (with her sister Tennessee) to found a stockbrokerage. In 1871 she was the first woman to address a committee of the United States Congress. She argued that the 14th Amendment (citizen's right and equal protection under the law), and 15th Amendment (guaranteeing a citizen's right to vote) gave women the vote. The committee did not act, and women did not gain the right to vote until passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
Woodhull led a colorful life (not surprising given all the barriers she pushed against), and as Caroline Rau, who is making a documentary about Woodhull remarked in an interview in the Smithsonian Magazine :
“It’s curious to us that, even in this day and age, we’re still really resistant to telling certain people’s stories. It’s fine for us to talk about the Betsy Ross es, but if there’s any blemish on a woman, we just won’t talk about her.”
(Interestingly, the popularly accepted history of Betsy Ross creating the American Flag is debatable. Click the link above to learn more.)
We invite you to celebrate with us the contributions Victoria Woodhull made to creating more justice in our world.
Learn more about Victoria Woodhull: