THE WOMAN WHO RAN FOR PRESIDENT: The Many Lives of Victoria Woodhull by Lois Beachy Underhill

THE WOMAN WHO RAN FOR PRESIDENT: The Many Lives of Victoria Woodhull

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Former ad executive Underhill writes with a flair that perfectly suits the savory, savvy 19th-century feminist whose life speaks to our own sensational and self-styling era. Born humbly in Homer, Ohio, in an era when American culture assiduously constrained its womenfolk in codes of ""decency"" and ""purity,"" Victoria Claflin Woodhull (1838-1927) used her uncanny people skills, flamboyance, and visionary tendencies to ride the national craze for spiritualism in the 1850s. She rode it all the way from married misery in San Francisco to a lucrative life as a fortune-teller in New York City. Woodhull and her sister Tennessee then set their sights on becoming personal clairvoyants to the stars. By 1868, they had bewitched none other than Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, the wealthiest robber baron in America, who would remain a font of financial support for the rest of their lives. With his backing, the two opened their own Wall Street brokerage house, Woodhull, Claflin & Company, and launched a newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly (1870-76), making themselves public personages and earning a small fortune. The stock business, they said, would unveil ""the secrets of money that had heretofore been a male preserve."" The sisters became known as the ""Bewitching Brokers"" -- their positive press no doubt a result of their frequent office soirees at which reporters were regular guests. Their visibility as female sensations and as muckraking editors enabled the ever-ambitious Woodhull to announce in 1870 her bid for the presidency of the United States. She set herself up as a suffrage lobbyist and over the coming months advocated women's suffrage and a range of radical positions, including ""free love"" -- the call for a single sexual standard based on love -- which Woodhull endorsed in both word and deed. Underhill's agile and incisive prose make this sprawling, wildly unconventional life fluid and convincing.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1995
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Bridge Works