'Mrs. Satan,' the Ohioian who became the nation's first female presidential candidate

Hillary Clinton might be the first woman to seize a major party's presidential nomination, but an Ohio woman with a bad reputation was the first to blaze the trail.

One of 10 children born to an illiterate mother and a petty criminal father, Homer native Victoria Woodhull ran for U.S. president in 1872 as a candidate for the National Equal Rights Party.

Her run was long before women even had the right to vote.

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Married off at age 14 to an alcoholic and divorced 11 years later, the mother of two worked as a fortuneteller to support her family.


Tennessee Celeste Claflin,  the sister of Ohio native Victoria Woodhull. Woodhull was the first woman to run for president in the United States. (Source:  National Archives and Records Administration)

Woodhull and her family moved to New York in 1868. That's where she and her sister, Tennessee Celeste Claflin, became railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt's spiritual advisors.

The multimillionaire — Tennessee's rumored lover  —  helped the pair open their own brokerage house in 1870, making the sisters the first female stockbrokers in history and the first on Wall Street.

They used their money to publish the radical "Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly" and call for women's suffrage.

The journal published the first English translation of "The Communist Manifesto" by Karl Marx.


In 1871,Woodhull became the first woman to address a congressional committee. She argued that women had the right to vote under the 14th and 15th amendments.

In November  of that  year, she gave her famous “The Principles of Social Freedom” speech in New York’s Steinway Hall. She talked about free love and said marriage was a form of tyranny for women.

Source: Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection


During her unsuccessful presidential campaign,  Woodhull pushed for an eight-hour workday, regulation of monopolies, a graduated income tax, abolition of the death penalty,  a social welfare programs and improved divorce laws.

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass was her running mate although there is debate about how involved he was in the effort.


Caricature of American suffragist Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927) by Thomas Nast. (Photo: United States Library of CongressPrints and Photographs division)

The publisher, stockbroker, clairvoyant  and magnetic healer was arrested on obscenity charges just before election day in a high-profile libel case involving a prominent minister Henry Ward Beecher, the brother of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" author Harriet Beecher Stowe. 

Woodhull and Claflin published an article accusing Beecher of being an adulterer for an affair with church member Elizabeth Tilton. 

Although eventually found not guilty, the sisters were ostracized and spent a month is jail.

Harriet Beecher Stowe called Woodhull a “vile jailbird” and an “impudent witch.”

The sisters had a falling out with Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other heavy hitters of the women's suffrage movement.

Anthony called the sister “lewd and indecent” in a letter.


American suffragist Victoria Woodhull. Victoria Claflin Woodhull. ( Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum, Historical Photographs and Special Visual Collections Department, Fine Arts Library)

In a time when divorce was looked down upon, Woodhull was married three times, had many lovers and spoke publicly about sexuality and social reform.

It is no wonder she was scrutinized for her beliefs. Woodhull  and her sister moved to England in 1877. Woodhull continued to write, and published a magazine with her daughter for nearly a decade.

She married her last husband,  John Biddulph Martin,  in 1883.


Ohio native Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for president in the United States. (Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum, Historical Photographs and Special Visual Collections Department, Fine Arts Library)

Woodhull saw suffrage in her lifetime.

The 19th Amendment giving woman the right to vote was ratified on August 18, 1920.

Victoria Claflin Woodhull Martin died June 9, 1927 in Bredeon's Norton, Worcestershire, England.

Sources:  National Women’s History  MuseumBiography.com NPR.com and  History.com.

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