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Spiritualist, stockbroker, publisher, activist for women’s suffrage, equal rights, and “free love,” Victoria Claflin Woodhull (1838 –1927) was the first woman nominated to run for President of the United States. The Principles of Social Freedom was delivered to a packed New York City audience in 1871. It called for a revolution in the legal, social, and sexual situation of women, for their liberation from the “despotic” control of men, and for their social freedom to live and love as they might choose. Mrs. Woodhull based this radical reimagining of social norms on America’s own values of freedom and equality, and she found a historical precedent: “Men do not seem to comprehend that they are now pursuing toward women the same despotic course that King George pursued toward the American colonies.”
Overtly Christian, optimistic, and forward-looking, Mrs. Woodhull announced the inevitability of political equality between women and men: “Women must rise from their position as ministers to the passions of men to be their equals.” Radically for her era, she called for a social Reconstruction and the sexual freedom of women in and out of marriage, especially their absolute right to control their own reproductive decisions: “I protest against the custom which compels women to give the control of their maternal functions over to anybody.”
Mrs. Woodhull’s own history gave credence to her picture of women’s conditions. Married at 15 to an abusive alcoholic philandering husband, obliged to support a bankrupt family with two children, she had forged successful careers as speaker, advisor, healer, Wall Street broker, newspaper publisher, and finally as a dynamic political force. At the time of this speech, Mrs. Woodhull was a declared candidate for President. She had recently argued before a Congressional committee that the the 14th and 15th Amendments established women’s right to vote. Earlier that month, in a much publicized incident, she had been turned away from the polls while attempting to vote in the New York election. In this daring lecture she imagines how true legal and political equality of women will ultimately revolutionize sexual politics, and holds out the promise of a world where social freedom and free love are inevitable.
women suffrage, sexual politics, presidential candidates
American Studies | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | United States History | Women's Studies
Woodhull, Victoria C. and Royster, Paul (editor), "A Speech on The Principles of Social Freedom, delivered in Steinway Hall, Monday, Nov. 20, 1871" (2023). Zea E-Books in American Studies. 42.