2016 seems like a lifetime ago. Shit, February seems like it was a decade ago. But in 2016, Hillary Clinton almost shattered the highest of glass ceilings. (And life would be a lot better if she had and we didn’t have to deal with this orange clown absolutely bungling the pandemic response. Can you imagine how much smoother things would be with a badass smart organized mom/grandma in charge. Sometimes I cry in a ball on the closet floor when I think about what we could have had while listening to the Michelle Obama reading children’s books on PBS kids)
But our gal Hillz wasn’t the first female candidate. There have been other women along the way. And most recently in the 2020 cycle, we finally had an incredibly diverse field of female candidates! Even if that field of dreams was winnowed down to just white dudes, we still elbowed our way in the door a bit more this time. But the very first woman? It wasn’t Maragret Chase Smith or Hillary Clinton. Before women even had the right to legally cast their vote, there was Victoria Claflin Woodhull. Vicky was a colorful shapeshifting charlatan of sorts. Feminist icon? Nope. Snake-oil saleswoman? Almost literally. Opportunist? Absolutely!
In 1872 Vicky was 34, which, Constitutional nerds like myself and eighth graders alike know, is a year too young to be president. She straight up chucked that rule in her fuck-it bucket and ran for the highest office in the land. Women couldn’t even vote. And she wasn’t even old enough to take the Oath of Office. She was the OG Karen where rules don’t apply and yes I’d like to speak with the manager now please.
Vicky ran on a platform of women’s rights, labor reforms, and free love. Before you bust out your rolling papers and Woodstock tix, “free love” had a different meaning in the 1870’s than it did in the 1970’s. Free love to Vicky meant she could get married, divorced, and have bebes without any input from Uncle Sam. She believed that women had the right to choose when or when not to have sexual relations. And honestly, she was really ahead of her time with a lot of these points. And girl had some good anti-rape culture ideas. She’d end up being married three times and at one point living with her ex-husband and current husband at the same time.
She was officially nominated to a party. So she didn’t just “run for president” and then bow out for an older white dude to step in and accept the official nomination because America was and is never ready to not be misogynistic. The Equal Rights party nominated her in May 1872. Her “running mate,” and that term is used very loosely, was THEE statesman and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, although, there were no handholding arm-raising conventions with balloon drops or rallies with poster boards. He didn’t even acknowledge that he was on her “ticket” and he campaigned for Ulysses S. Grant, so girl, did not get her shit together, like at all.
She spent election day in jail with her equally enigmatic sister Tennessee Claflin for a few charges including “sending obscene material through the mail,” after the gals published an article in their newspaper (yes, this opportunistic lady also had a newspaper) accusing Henry Ward Beecher (bro of Harriet Beecher Stowe of Uncle Tom’s Cabin fame) as an adulterer.
She lost by such a margin that when researching, I discovered she is left off any of the results. After losing the election and being locked up in the clink, she’d had enough of the good ‘ol US of A. In 1877, she crossed the wide blue and landed on terra firma in England where she married for a third time to a proper rich Englishman. He died. She lived the rest of her life as a rich-ass widow who decided she no longer believed in things like free love or feminism or spiritualism. She focused heavily on speaking against abortion and in favor of eugenics.
Vicky was raised with their nine other siblings by grifter/spiritualist/abusive parents. Her father was a literal snake-oil salesman and burned their home down in an effort to conduct an insurance scam. And there are reports that Vicky was beaten and sexually abused by her father. And let’s face it, there was no Social-Emotional Learning in those days. Vicky had about three years of formal eduction and then took off running finding herself land in a myriad of careers: traveling clairvoyant, presidential candidate, newswoman, Wall Street broker, Women’s Rights advocate, and OG Lady Who Lunches.
Our girl had a real messy-ass energy.
It’s impossible to place Vicky in any one box. Initially, she kind of comes across as a badass ahead of her times. Maybe a sad manic pixie girl that grew up in an impossible and abusive home followed by abusive marriages. But when you scratch beyond the surface it’s hard not to feel that she was a full blown opportunist. The Kanye of her day, if you will, going from Bush hates black people to MAGA hats make me feel like superman kind of vibe. Whatever suited her needs and PR campaign is what she morphed into. Was this self preservation from a lifetime of abuse? Maybe. Does it mean it’s okay that she was that nasty kind of feminism which white women only support it as long as it only benefits white women? No. I can’t reconcile with that. I’m a white woman and I will never apologize for those kind of veneer feminists that share my skin color. Those Karens need to get their heads out of their asses. Are we okay with the fact that she spent so much time promoting eugenics in order to create perfect children?
No thanks, sis.