Notorious Victoria, The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored, by Mary Gabriel, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Notorious Victoria is the biography of Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for U.S. president (sharing the ballot with Frederick Douglass). She was also the first woman to address the U.S. Congress and to operate a brokerage firm on Wall Street. And all this in the 19th century, when women were fighting to become something other than the property of their husbands or fathers. Her path to the history books was unconventional at best.

Victoria worked as a traveling clairvoyant in medicine shows. She was accused of blackmail and prostitution, and was jailed for printing obscenities in a newspaper she edited. She preached and practiced free love and at one point was living with her husband, her ex-husband and her lover at the same time in the same New York apartment.

Woodhull was a lightning rod in the 19th century, and for a period arguably the most notorious and effective woman’s rights campaigner on the circuit. But history has forgotten her in part because she was too far ahead of her time. In 1871 Woodhull told a convention of woman’s rights activists in Washington, D.C., “We are plotting revolution; we will overslaugh this bogus republic and plant a government of righteousness in its stead.” Susan B. Anthony responded, “Dear Woodhull, I have just read your speech of the 16th. It is ahead of anything said or written.” In some ways, it still is.

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