Free Woman: The Life and Times of Victoria Woodhull

Open Road Media
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Victoria Woodhull is a historical figure too often ignored and undervalued by historians. Although she never achieved political power, her actions and her presence on the political scene helped begin to change the way Americans thought about the right to vote, particularly women’s suffrage, and she set the stage for political emancipations to come throughout the twentieth century.

Woodhull was a product of and a revolutionary within the socially conservative Victorian era, which predominated in the United States as much as it did in England. She was an anomaly within her time, an unlikely and unconventional woman. She came from a background of poverty and her careers prior to entering politics included fortune‐telling, acting, being a stock broker, journalism, and lecturing on women’s rights. She ran for president of the United States in 1872. At that time, she had twice been divorced and she outraged even the feminists of her day by refusing to confine her campaign to the issue of women’s suffrage. She advocated a single sexual standard for men and women, legalization of prostitution, reform of the marriage and family institutions, and “free love.” She shocked a nation largely because her plain‐speaking was designed to expose the endemic hypocrisy of “respectable” people in society.

Marion Meade has created a vivid picture of the colorful figure that was Victoria Woodhull, but she also fully portrays the era in which she lived, in all of its truest and often most unflattering colors. She makes the 1870s read in many ways like the 1970s, not just because Victoria Woodhull was far ahead of her own time but also because many people in the present era are still culturally behind the times.
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About the author

Marion Meade studied at Northwestern University in Illinois and later received a master’s from Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. She worked as a freelance writer and her articles have appeared in leading magazines and newspapers, including the New York TimesMcCall’s, the Village VoiceMs. Magazine, and Cosmopolitan. Meade has written novels, biographies, and nonfiction books. Bitching was a significant contribution to the second phase of development in the feminist movement. She has written biographies of Victoria Woodhull (Free Woman), Eleanor of AquitaineMadame Blavatsky, Buster Keaton (Cut to the Chase), Woody Allen (The Unruly Life of Woody Allen), and Dorothy Parker (What Fresh Hell Is This?). She has published two historical novels: Sybille, which narrates the life of a woman troubadour in thirteenth century southern France, during Europe’s first great holocaust, the Albigensian crusade; and Stealing Heaven, The Love Story of Heloise and Abelard. She lives in New York City.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Open Road Media
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Published on
Apr 1, 2014
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Pages
176
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ISBN
9781497602281
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Historical
Biography & Autobiography / Political
Biography & Autobiography / Women
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president, forced her fellow Americans to come to terms with the full meaning of equality after the Civil War. A sometime collaborator with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, yet never fully accepted into mainstream suffragist circles, Woodhull was a flamboyant social reformer who promoted freedom, especially freedom from societal constraints over intimate relationships. This much we know from the several popular biographies of the nineteenth-century activist. But what we do not know, as Amanda Frisken reveals, is how Woodhull manipulated the emerging popular media and fluid political culture of the Reconstruction period in order to accomplish her political goals.

As an editor and public speaker, Woodhull demanded that women and men be held to the same standards in public life. Her political theatrics brought the topic of women's sexuality into the public arena, shocking critics, galvanizing supporters, and finally locking opposing camps into bitter conflict over sexuality and women's rights in marriage. A woman who surrendered her own privacy, whose life was grist for the mills of a sensation-mongering press, she made the exposure of others' secrets a powerful tool of social change. Woodhull's political ambitions became inseparable from her sexual nonconformity, yet her skill in using contemporary media kept her revolutionary ideas continually before her peers. In this way Woodhull contributed to long-term shifts in attitudes about sexuality and the slow liberation of marriage and other social institutions.

Using contemporary sources such as images from the "sporting news," Frisken takes a fresh look at the heyday of this controversial women's rights activist, discovering Woodhull's previously unrecognized importance in the turbulent climate of Radical Reconstruction and making her a useful lens through which to view the shifting sexual mores of the nineteenth century.
A fresh look at the life and times of Victoria Woodhull and Tennie Claflin, two sisters whose radical views on sex, love, politics, and business threatened the white male power structure of the nineteenth century and shocked the world. Here award-winning author Myra MacPherson deconstructs and lays bare the manners and mores of Victorian America, remarkably illuminating the struggle for equality that women are still fighting today.
Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee "Tennie" Claflin-the most fascinating and scandalous sisters in American history-were unequaled for their vastly avant-garde crusade for women's fiscal, political, and sexual independence. They escaped a tawdry childhood to become rich and famous, achieving a stunning list of firsts. In 1870 they became the first women to open a brokerage firm, not to be repeated for nearly a century. Amid high gossip that he was Tennie's lover, the richest man in America, fabled tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, bankrolled the sisters. As beautiful as they were audacious, the sisters drew a crowd of more than two thousand Wall Street bankers on opening day. A half century before women could vote, Victoria used her Wall Street fame to become the first woman to run for president, choosing former slave Frederick Douglass as her running mate. She was also the first woman to address a United States congressional committee. Tennie ran for Congress and shocked the world by becoming the honorary colonel of a black regiment.
They were the first female publishers of a radical weekly, and the first to print Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto in America. As free lovers they railed against Victorian hypocrisy and exposed the alleged adultery of Henry Ward Beecher, the most famous preacher in America, igniting the "Trial of the Century" that rivaled the Civil War for media coverage. Eventually banished from the women's movement while imprisoned for allegedly sending "obscenity" through the mail, the sisters sashayed to London and married two of the richest men in England, dining with royalty while pushing for women's rights well into the twentieth century. Vividly telling their story, Myra MacPherson brings these inspiring and outrageous sisters brilliantly to life.
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