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The First Woman to Run for President, Dr Rebecca Stone comments on BBC Midlands Today Evening News

Rebecca1Dr Rebecca Stone, Teaching Fellow in North American History took part in an interview recently on BBC Midlands Today discussing the first woman to run for the Presidency of the United States,

"On November 8th 2016, Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first woman to win the popular vote in a US presidential election, but she was not the first woman to run for this highest office. In 1872, forty-eight years before American women even won the right to vote in US elections, Victoria Woodhull made history by becoming the first woman to run for the Presidency of the United States.

Woodhull was a colourful character. Born Victoria California Claflin to a family of charlatans in 1838, she spent her childhood travelling from place to place, working intermittently as a clairvoyant and a faith healer. Aged only 15, she married her first husband Canning Woodhull; from him, she acquired her name, two children and by 1864, a scandalous reputation as a young divorcee.

As a single mother, Woodhull thrived. Along with her sister Tennie Claflin, she successfully pursued one of the wealthiest men in America, Cornelius Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt was desperate to reconnect with his dead mother, and Woodhull was only too happy to oblige. Vanderbilt later set the sisters up in business as the first women stockbrokers on Wall Street. On opening day, the sisters drummed up publicity by causing a stir; they wore shockingly short skirts, the hems of which were said to only just graze the tops of their boots. The financial security garnered from this firm allowed Victoria and Tennie to found a newspaper, Woodhull and Claflin Weekly, and through this they achieved yet another first: the first English language publication of the Communist Manifesto.

Needless to say, Woodhull’s formative years differed greatly from Clinton’s, but they were both heading towards the same defining moment. In 1870, Woodhull wrote to the New York Herald and declared her decision to put herself forth as a candidate in the upcoming presidential election. She understood that this act would cause her to be ridiculed, but accurately declared that “what may appear absurd today will assume a serious aspect tomorrow”.[1] Like Clinton’s, Woodhull’s campaign did not run smoothly; her Vice-Presidential pick, prominent abolitionist Frederick Douglass, did not acknowledge his nomination and actively campaigned for her opponent Ulysses S. Grant. Worse still, Woodhull spent election day in jail on obscenity charges.

History has not recorded how many votes Woodhull received, but it certainly did not come close to the 59,755,284 so far attributed to Clinton.[2] Even the women who submitted protest votes (and were arrested for doing so) did not vote for Woodhull, instead choosing to cast their ballots in favour of the Republican candidate. Unlike Clinton, however, Woodhull did not enter to win. Indeed, she knew that she was legally prevented from assuming the office even if she did gain the necessary votes: American Presidents must be at least thirty-five years old; in 1872, Woodhull was only 34. Woodhull ran in order to inspire others, and in this pursuit she succeeded. Hillary Rodham Clinton did not shatter that hardest glass ceiling on November 8th 2016, but like Woodhull, she has inspired countless, pant-suited, nasty women to follow in her footsteps, and has brought us one step closer to finally inaugurating a Madame President."

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Alex Buxton: Media Relations Manager, University of Warwick

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