Victoria Woodhull: The Captivating Woman Who Ran For President


Today I want to tell you the story of one of the most fascinating candidates for president of the United States.

Silhouette of Victoria Woodhull giving presidential speech

This candidate was a business person and Wall Street insider, married 3 times, had thousands of fans and publicly slandered whoever they didn't like.

This candidate also believed in women's and children's rights, marriage rights, worker's rights, universal healthcare, great public education and may or may not have spoken to the dead.

This candidate was in jail on election day (not voluntarily!)

This candidate was too young to become president, at only 34 years old.

This candidate couldn't even vote.

This candidate was Victoria Woodhull.

Silhouette of victorian era woman running for president

It's safe to say that everyone knows Hillary Clinton is the first woman to run for president on the ticket of a major party. Which basically means Hillary was the first woman to run who actually had a shot. But Victoria was the first woman to run. No qualifiers, just the first woman.

No one was surprised when she didn't win. We don't even know how many votes she received because no one bothered to count them. (This means that one could make the argument that she actually won the popular vote, because no one can prove otherwise.) But even if you have no chance, there's an inarguable boldness in running for the office of President when you can't even vote for yourself. Victoria ran in 1872, 48 years before women had the right to vote.

Victoria Woodhull rose from absolute poverty. Remember that whole talking to the dead thing? Well, her father billed her as a clairvoyant so he could make money off of people desperate to speak to their departed loved ones. She was forced to marry an abusive addict at age 15, and after eventually divorcing him she raised her children a single mother until marrying again. That doesn't sound so crazy until you think about what divorce and single motherhood meant for a woman at that time. Both were much, much worse than they are today.

I think that just surviving that and living a normal, unremarkable life would have been enough for me to think of Victoria as a rather amazing person. But I guess it wasn't enough for her. Victoria and her sister became the first female stockbrokers when they opened their own Wall Street brokerage firm. (Their short dresses showed off the tops of their boots on opening day. Quite racy.) Then the sisters used the money to start their own newspaper which ran for six years. (This is where the whole slander thing comes in. Although, maybe it wasn't slander and was actually just good reporting. Depends on who you ask. [Oh, and when the slander thing comes in, that's when the jail thing comes in.])

There are so many more things to say about Victoria. I could tell you how she ran for president a second time. Her life after her presidential bids was quieter, but still a strong and lovely ending to her story. But there's only one more thing I must mention, because it's too absurd to skip. Frederick Douglas was Victoria Woodhull's running mate, even though he never agreed to run with her, was never a part of her campaign, and actively campaigned for someone else!

I love Victoria's story on so many levels. It's funny and hopeful, irreverent and bold. 

But it also makes me a little sad to see that in the 145 years since the first woman ran for president, the U.S. has only had ONE woman candidate with a realistic chance of winning. I'd like to see that change. If you would too, consider checking out She Should Run, Running Start or another organization focused on getting more women in public office. Vote for your local candidates. Nominate a friend. 

Or maybe you should run! 

Silhouette of Victoria Woodhull, first woman candidate for president

If you'd like to give back and get a print, I'm giving 10% of profits from the sale of Victoria Woodhull prints to organizations helping women run for office!

3 comments

  • Marlena

    Nice story I have never heared about her before!

  • Laurie Vanderkleed

    Thank you for sharing this story and your beautiful artwork.

  • Laurie Vanderkleed

    Thank you for sharing this story and your beautiful artwork.

Leave a comment