Woodhull, Victoria


Born: September 23, 1838

Ohio connection: Birth

Victoria Woodhull was born Victoria Claflin in 1838 in the small Ohio community of Homer. She was the daughter of Reuben and Roxanna Claflin. Her family background was certainly an influence in creating what was a vibrant and radical personality. The Claflins were a nomadic family, making their living through a traveling medicine show, complete with “miracle cures” and fortune telling, with the whole family participating. Victoria claimed to be a clairvoyant. When she was fifteen years of age, her father arranged a marriage for her with a kind but alcoholic doctor, Canning Woodhull. They had two children, but divorced after thirteen years of marriage. Victoria married Colonel James Harvey Blood in 1868, but had no commitment to fidelity and practiced free love. Victoria and her sister Tennessee moved to New York City in 1868, where they opened a literary salon and founded a newspaper, Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly, in 1870. Through the paper, they advocated free love, equal rights for women, birth control, and socialism. One issue even reprinted Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto. Woodhull ran for president in 1872, at the age of 34, at a time when women were not even allowed to vote. Her running mate was Frederick Douglass. Woodhull was, of course, defeated, but her speeches in favor of women’s suffrage before the House Judiciary Committee in 1871 helped sway many former opponents to her side. After numerous controversies, Woodhull suffered financial instability, and the newspaper folded in 1876. After a divorce from James Blood, Victoria moved with her sister Tennessee to England, where she married a wealthy man, John Biddulph Martin. She had something of a “change of heart” in certain areas, as she began to speak of the “free love of God” as opposed to “free love”, and spoke of her belief in the Bible and in the sacredness of motherhood. She continued writing and lecturing, and started a magazine, The Humanitarian. The magazine was used largely as an organ to redeem her reputation and to reprint many of her less controversial writings. Woodhull’s books include The Origin, Tendencies,and Principles of Government; and Page of American History: Constitution of the United States of the World. She also gave many lectures and speeches over the years. Victoria Claflin Woodhull died September 9, 1927, at the age of 89.