Imagine it’s 1872. 48 years before women would gain the right to vote and a whopping 144 years before Hillary Clinton would clinch the Democratic nomination for president. But 1872 is the year Victoria Woodhull became the first woman to run for president of the United States.
Born Victoria Claflin in Ohio on September 23, 1838, Victoria had very little formal education. She married Canning Woodhull at age 15 — her first of three husbands, which in those times earned her plenty of public scrutiny and criticism. After befriending a Vanderbilt with her abilities as a medium (yes, you read that right), Victoria started the first female-run stock brokerage company along with her sister Tennessee Celeste Claflin.
However, Victoria is most well known for her support of women’s rights — especially women’s suffrage aka the right to vote. She spoke in front of Congress arguing that the 14th and 15th amendments already gave women the right to vote as “citizens.” But as we know, women didn’t gain the right to vote for another 50 years.
“Suffrage is a common right of citizenship. Women have the right of suffrage. Logically it cannot be escaped.” – Victoria Woodhull
In 1870, Victoria and Tennessee started a radical publication called Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly where they wrote about women’s rights and spoke freely about “radical” ideas like birth control and other social reform beliefs they held.
Victoria started the Equal Rights Party and became their nominee for president in 1872 — making her the first female to run for the highest office in the United States. She ran on the platform of woman’s suffrage, an 8-hour work week, and that women should have the right to control their own bodies — including when it came to choosing a career in order to give them freedom from relying on men. Many of her ideas were thought to be extreme, and she didn’t win.
In an interview with Radio Diaries, one of her descents Scott Claflin said this about Victoria:
“It was controversial for women to do anything. But she had the foresight not to accept the way society was.”
Victoria later moved to England where she continued speaking about women’s rights. She began publishing a paper with her daughter called The Humanitarian and even went back to the U.S. to attempt to run for president two more times. Victoria later retired in England and died in 1927 at the age of 88.
Victoria lived a long life refusing to conform to societal expectations. Thank you, Victoria, for standing up for what you believed in — despite the criticism it drew. She continued to fight for women for her entire life and we are so thankful.
Happy birthday to Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president of the United States was originally published in Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.