Suffragette Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president of the United States, knew all too well the hardships of women in America. Married off at 15 to an alcoholic philanderer twice her age, Woodhull chose divorce at a time when divorced women were often ostracized and supported herself as a single mother. And she did so quite capably, becoming one of the first female stockbrokers on Wall Street — after having secured seed money by serving as a fortune teller for a railroad tycoon.
Woodhull’s career as an activist took hold after she attended a suffrage convention in early 1869. And although, two years later, she was the first woman to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, she was not the first to make the case she presented that day — that women already had the right to vote under the 14th and 15thAmendments to the Constitution. But Woodhull spoke with such spirit and charisma that she made a strong impression on many, including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Isabella Beecher Hooker.
Propelled into a position of influence in the women’s rights movement, Woodhull was nominated for president of the United States in 1872 by the newly formed Equal Rights Party. She ran on a platform supporting women’s suffrage and equal rights. (Her running mate — unbeknownst to him — was Frederick Douglass, who campaigned in support of Ulysses S. Grant.)
Though Woodhull’s candidacy was mostly viewed by others as a novelty, she would run for president two more times. Her unconventional stances, including support for “free love” and the legalization of prostitution, were scandalous to many. Meanwhile, the favor she won from other notable suffragettes was short-lived as they found her proud nonconformity a liability. She spent the second half of her life as an expatriate in England, remaining unapologetically unconventional to the end.