Rights for Women: The Suffrage Movement and Its Leaders

Victoria Claflin Woodhull (1838-1927)

Victoria Clafin Woodhull created a stir in politics in the late nineteenth century as a suffragist and proponent of free love. She ran for president in 1870, coming from relative obscurity, and caught the attention of the suffrage movement. In 1871 Woodhull urged Congress to legalize woman suffrage and members of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) were impressed with her oration. Courting “the Terrible Siren” was a mistake the party did not realize soon enough. Woddhull unsuccessfully attempted to usurp Susan B. Anthony’s leadership role.

Woodhull practiced mysticism, believed in free love, and embraced her own type of socialism called Pantarchy – a perfect state where free love reigned among individuals while children and property were managed in common. She also published a weekly magazine, Woodhull and Clafin, as a mouthpiece for her philosophies, passions, and to publish such documents as the Communist Manifesto. Woodhull’s political career was fleeting, yet she exacerbated existing tensions within the NWSA which lead to its eventual split. Woodhull was a woman of notoriety who, for better or for worse, left a lasting impression on suffragists throughout the century.



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