Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for president, in 1872, almost 50 years before the nineteenth amendment guaranteed women the right to vote. How is that for a kick-ass heroine? She was also, in 1870 the first woman to testify before congress, and man, what a testimony that was! Instead of campaigning for an amendment, as most of the suffragists did, she declared that the United States constitution,
( http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html#Am14) as written by the framers already gave women the right to vote. Nowhere, she testified, did it use the word “male” but instead opted for the gender-neutral “person”. In fact, not until the 14th amendment, ratified 1868, did the word “male” enter the constitution, and that only in relation to voting, not citizenship. All which seems perfectly logical right?
The problem was, there was much logic on the other side of the debate.
In the late 19th century “obey” was still a part of the marriage vows, and women were in many ways still the property of their husbands. This being the case, couldn’t a husband then compel his wife to vote for his candidate? The secret ballot, after all, was not widely established in the U.S. until the 1880’s. Thus a married man would have 2 votes, a single man only one. Consider that the 15th amendment giving all men the right to vote regardless of race or creed, could only come after the 13 amendment, eliminating slavery. Women were still “slaves” to their husbands.
So why do we not hear about Ms. Woodhull regularly in relation to the suffragists? Well. . . .Ms. Woodhull was not exactly a proper Victorian woman. For one thing, in 1872 she was divorce, remarried and living with both husbands. Granted her first husband was an alcoholic and she felt sorry for him. But Ms. Woodhull had numerous other affairs, all with the consent, and encouragement, of her second husband. Both of them believed in the free love movement, and this, in the end was Ms. Woodhull’s downfall. Women’s suffrage was bad enough—free love was a step too far.
Free love, you say? But wasn’t that a 1970’s thing? Oh no, that was an 1830’s thing! And is a subject for another blog.