Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

VICTORIA CLAFLIN WOODHULL
(1838-1927), a radical fro woman's rights

SUZANNE E. CONDRAY

Distinguished in 1872 as the first woman to promote herself as a candidate for the nation's presidency, Victoria Claflin Woodhull used oral and written rhetoric to challenge social and political norms with her views on woman's rights, social freedom, and economic and political reform. Assailed by the press, the church, and the state for her radical views, she was ridiculed by supporters of the institutions she sought to transform.


BACKGROUND

Born in rural Homer, Ohio, Claflin acquired the principles of Methodism and spiritualism from her mother Roxanna Hummel. With only two years of formal education, she pursued self-education throughout her life and amassed an extensive personal library. Accompanied by her father Reuben Buckman Claflin, she and her sister Tennessee learned the skills of self-promotion as clairvoyants traveling the region. At age fifteen, she married Cincinnati physician Channing Woodhull, whose alcoholism and extramarital affairs ignited his wife's interest in woman's rights and social freedom. After an unhappy eleven-year marriage, she divorced Woodhull, retaining his name for the sake of their children, Zula Maud and Byron.

During these years, Claflin Woodhull embraced spiritualism, traveling as a clairvoyant and later marrying Colonel James Blood who introduced her to the American Association of Spiritualists, a national organization that she afterward served as president and chief spokesperson. In the 1860s, the Claflins and Bloods moved to New York where the sisters presented themselves as spiritualist physicians.

Intrigued by their beauty and their ability to predict the movements of the stock market, the wealthy Cornelius Vanderbilt helped the sisters establish themselves as the first women stockbrokers. In February 1870, Woodhull, Claflin and Company opened at 44 Broad Street. Vanderbilt introduced the sisters to an influential New York clientele and provided the financial means for their success. They enjoyed being touted by the New York press as "queens of finance" and "bewitching brokers." The sisters sparked press publicity for daring to breach societal constraints and for challenging other women to act on their own initiative.


CLAFLIN WOODHULL'S RHETORICAL CAREER

Claflin Woodhull began her rhetorical career late in 1870, after her first public declarations on political and social matters appeared in Woodhull & Claflin'sWeekly

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