Woman for President: The Story of Victoria Woodhull


Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to do many things: the first woman to own a newspaper, to speak before Congress, and to have a seat on the stock exchange. But her boldest act was announcing herself as the first female candidate for the presidency of the United States in 1872?before women even had the right to vote.

Arguably one of the most revolutionary women in American history, she was many years ahead of her time, braking boundaries. But her presidential campaign, and ...

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Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to do many things: the first woman to own a newspaper, to speak before Congress, and to have a seat on the stock exchange. But her boldest act was announcing herself as the first female candidate for the presidency of the United States in 1872—before women even had the right to vote.

Arguably one of the most revolutionary women in American history, she was many years ahead of her time, braking boundaries. But her presidential campaign, and the backlash it sparked, left her in political ruin and bankruptcy. Amazingly, her name has been practically erased from history.

Acclaimed biographer Kathleen Krull and beloved illustrator Jane Dyer combine their talents to bring one of the most fascinating personalities in U.S. history back to life for young readers.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"It's about time that this remarkable woman's life is made available to young readers."—Cokie Roberts, The New York Times Book Review

"Lively and astute writing does [Woodhull] justice." —Booklist (starred review)

"Dyer's stunning watercolor illustrations vividly portray the life of this unusual woman." —School Library Journal

"This is a gorgeous volume . . . capturing the essentials of the time and place with fine color and detail. Krull, as always, gets it all and makes us want to know more." —Kirkus Reviews

"A passionate biography of an oft-overlooked figure in the history of women's rights and presidential politics."—Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly
PW called this "a passionate biography of an oft-overlooked figure in the history of women's rights and presidential politics." Ages 7-12. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Soft watercolors by the illustrator tell the hard life story of a Ohio woman who rose from a home of poverty and abuse to become one of the most powerful voices in America and the first woman to run for president. Successful as a spiritualist, she predicted Cornelius Vanderbilt's stock would go up and he split profits with her. Her wealth led her to form the first female owned stock company, and economic and social prominence gave her the attention she needed to speak up for women and found a newspaper that gave her an even greater voice. Finally, Woodull was able to form the Equal Rights Party and run for president. While she didn't even make it to the election booths, Woodhull's bravery in the face of what was deemed scandalous behavior let her overcome her times, politics, and economics to voice the need for change. The book has a perfect blend of the personal and the political which give an in-depth sense of the woman, her times, and her contributions. 2004, Walker, Ages 9 to 12.
—Susie Wilde
School Library Journal
Gr 3-5-Despite her impressive number of achievements-first woman to sit on the Stock Exchange, first woman to own a newspaper or speak before Congress, first woman to run for the presidency of the United States-Woodhull is little known by elementary-grade students. This book, though soft-pedaling the more scandalous aspects of her life, rectifies that omission. Born into an impoverished family, Woodhull was supporting her clan by the time she was eight as a gospel preacher. Married at 14 to her alcoholic doctor, she and her sister became well known as fortune-tellers. By the time they became spiritual and financial advisors to Cornelius Vanderbilt, Woodhull had divorced, remarried, and moved her entire family, including her ailing ex-husband, into a large house in New York City where she took an active role in the women's suffrage movement. It was this involvement that led her to declare herself a candidate for president in 1872. Although the campaign was a failure, it did serve to raise the issue of women's rights in an obvious and unforgettable manner. Krull's writing style is lively and engaging and Dyer's large, photo-realist watercolors capture the sense of the age and involve both eye and imagination. Use this lovely book with Jean Fritz's You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton? (Putnam, 1995) for an expanded look at the birth of the movement for women's rights.-Ann Welton, Grant Elementary School, Tacoma, WA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Krull, whose many gifts include the ability to make a complicated life comprehensible, and Dyer, whose pictorial sweetness does not mask an iron vision, offer the life of the feminist, spiritualist, and activist Victoria Woodhull. In immediately accessible prose, Krull tells Woodhull's story, from the bitter childhood that she hid as far as possible, through two marriages, wealth, and poverty, championing what women could do-and doing it. She did indeed run for president in 1872, but she also was the first woman to hold a seat on the stock exchange, the first woman to speak before Congress, and the first woman to own a newspaper (she founded it herself). She was also, apparently, a mesmerizing speaker, an elegant dresser wearing her signature white rose, and indefatigable in her many endeavors. This is a gorgeous volume, with Dyer's full-page, full-bleed watercolors capturing the essentials of the time and place with fine color and detail. Krull, as always, gets it all and makes us want to know more. (bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 7-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802796158
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 8/22/2006
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 1,018,209
  • Age range: 7 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.01 (w) x 11.92 (h) x 0.14 (d)

Meet the Author

KATHLEEN KRULL is a prominent children's book author. Her Wilma Unlimited was named an ALA Notable Book, and her Lives of the Musicians was a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Award Winner. This was her first book for Walker & Company. Kathleen and her husband live in San Diego, California.


JANE DYER is the beloved illustrator of many bestselling books, including I Love You Like Crazy Cakes by Rose Lewis, which received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews and was a New York Times bestseller. A Woman for President was her first picture book biography. Jane lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt

A Woman for President

The Story of Victoria Woodhull
By Kathleen Krull

Walker & Company

Copyright © 2004 Kathleen Krull
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0802789099

Chapter One

She was born Victoria Claflin. Later she liked to recall her cheerful childhood: the pretty white cottage, flower gardens, loving relatives descended from royalty.

In real life, everyone in Homer, Ohio, wanted the Claflin family to get out of town. Their rattling shack lacked furnishings, even an outhouse. Victoria was the seventh of ten quarreling children. Their father beat them, and the boys ran away as soon as they could. At mealtimes the children roamed to other houses to beg for food.

Victoria refused to beg. But one day, when she was five years old, she knocked on a door and asked if there were any chores she could do for pay.

Rachel, the young woman who answered, let Victoria visit almost daily. She washed Victoria's hair, taught her how to read, fed her, and praised her.

After about a year, Victoria arrived to find a coffin in the house: Rachel had suddenly died. The small girl ran to the nearby apple orchard and sobbed. Hours later she felt the spirit of her friend coming to her, offering comfort.

The years after Rachel's death were very hard. Finally Victoria's father noticed her true talent: a glorious voice. When she was eight, he sent her on the road as a child preacher.

At religious revival meetings around Ohio, Victoria would perch on top of crates and call out, "Sinners, repent. Listen to me, for I know things you do not."

Her younger sister Tennessee showed unusual talents, too. Spiritualism, or the belief that the spirits of the dead can communicate, was growing in popularity. Communicating with the dead at a dollar per seance, the two girls soon supported all the other Claflins.

It was a bleak life, and Victoria dreamed of something different.

By age fourteen she was exhausted and ill. She fell in love with her doctor, Canning Woodhull. Much as she hated leaving her sister Tennessee behind, she married Canning and escaped.

But Victoria soon discovered that Canning was an alcoholic and was completely unreliable. He delivered both of her children-a son, Byron, born brain damaged, and a daughter, Zulu-Maud, who almost bled to death at birth. Victoria ended her unhappy marriage but continued to take care of Canning. She read palms, sewed clothes, acted, gave medical aid, and did whatever she could to survive and support her children.

In time, she rescued Tennessee. Traveling from town to town as fortunetellers and healers, the two sisters were inseparable. Always Victoria noticed the hard lives of the women she met. She wondered if she could help.

Once they hit New York City, the pair made a point of meeting Cornelius Vanderbilt, the richest man in America. Victoria put him in touch with his dead mother and offered financial advice as well. Her ways were mysterious, but Vanderbilt grew even richer.

When people asked him for his secrets, he'd laugh. "Do as I do," he'd say. "Consult the spirits." He'd reveal that a certain company's stock was "bound to go up-Mrs. Woodhull said so in a trance." He was so amused by her that one day he said he'd split the profits if her next stock tip proved right.

It did-and Victoria Woodhull was suddenly a millionaire.

Her dream of helping women took off. She and Tennessee shocked everyone by forming Woodhull, Claflin & Co., the first female-owned American company in the business of buying and selling stocks.

Every morning the sisters rode to Wall Street in a carriage with velvety red seats, white horses, and a coachman in shiny boots. Poised at walnut desks, they tucked solid-gold pens behind their ears and offered clients strawberries dipped in chocolate. Newspaper reporters went on about the sisters' gorgeous hair and clothes and sometimes commented that they "knew their business."

Men and boys blocked the sidewalks, trying to glimpse the "Bewitching Brokers," unable to believe that ladies could deal with money without constant headaches. Each night the other brokers retreated to a famous restaurant, Delmonico's, to eat and gossip.

One night after work, Tennessee and Victoria decided to join them. Inside, they sat down and ordered tomato soup for two. The waiter, instead +of serving them, brought the owner, who said he couldn't possibly allow them to eat there without a man, and could he please escort them back to their carriage?

"Don't let us embarrass you," Tennessee said. She left the room and came back in with their red-coated driver.

"Tomato soup for three," said Victoria grandly.

At her fashionable mansion, Victoria splurged on elegant furnishings for her two children and her second husband, Colonel James Harvey Blood, who shared her interest in spiritualism and politics. Neighbors raised their eyebrows when she took in her former husband as well during his final days. Fifteen Claflins also moved in, and though they often plotted against her, her loyalty to her family never wavered.

Victoria walked at least three miles a day, stuck to a healthy diet, and never wore makeup or revealing clothing. She wanted her mind, not her appearance, to attract the attention. A witty hostess, she sparkled at parties given for the thinkers and celebrities of her day.

Wearing a trademark white rose at her throat, Victoria began speaking out at women's rights meetings. Leading suffragists admired Victoria's efforts. Susan B. Anthony hailed her as a "bright, glorious, young and strong spirit." Elizabeth Cady Stanton praised the "work for women that none of us could have done." Isabella Beecher Hooker, sister of the author Harriet Beecher Stowe and the famous preacher Henry Ward Beecher, called Victoria "a born queen."

Women couldn't vote, but Victoria found out one day that no laws kept them out of public office. And so in 1870, she did the unthinkable. She sent this notice to the New York Herald: "I now announce myself as a candidate for the Presidency."

It was the wildest, most outrageous act she could dream up to prove women's equality.

Now she had two years to build a campaign that would get people to take her seriously. She studied history to find women rulers she could learn from. She and Tennessee founded their own newspaper-Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly-and used it to voice Victoria's positions on the country's problems. A leading writer composed her official biography as she began the expensive process of getting her name on the ballot in each state.

Victoria realized her campaign was doomed unless women could vote for her. So on a national speaking tour a year into her campaign, she became the first woman in history to address Congress.

That day she was so tense that her face broke out in red patches. Tennessee took her hand. Then, in a low voice full of passion, Victoria listed sentences in the Constitution that she argued already gave women the right to vote. Congressmen were spellbound.

All the major newspapers covered Victoria's speech. President Ulysses S. Grant invited her to the White House and reportedly told her she might occupy his office someday.

During the next local election, she and Tennessee led a group of women to a polling booth.

Three inspectors stroked their beards nervously as Victoria presented her ballot. An inspector said, "I can't take it. I can't look at it." He kept repeating himself over and over, as a crowd of men gathered around, laughing.

When Victoria finally stepped aside, she was rigid with humiliation at first. Then she promptly gave a stirring speech about women's right to vote.

After the failed voting attempt, Victoria's name began coming up in sermons and at social gatherings. Newspapers tended to belittle the campaign as "entertaining." They called her women supporters as homely as "nutmeg graters." Some people even found her threatening. Harriet Beecher Stowe called her a "witch."

Harriet's sister, Catharine Beecher, tried to warn Victoria. One morning she invited herself along on a carriage ride through Central Park. No woman with "breeding" would directly challenge a man, Catharine explained-the very notion was satanic.

Victoria listened politely. Then she said, "You are misguided."

Appalled, Catharine stopped the carriage and stormed off.


Excerpted from A Woman for President by Kathleen Krull Copyright © 2004 by Kathleen Krull.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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