The First Woman To Run For President Was a Clairvoyant Free-Love Advocate

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Getty Images

More than a hundred years before Hillary Clinton, Victoria Claflin Woodhull ran as a third party candidate in the 1872 election. Her groundbreaking, albeit failed, campaign wasn't the only time she made headlines: though history has largely forgotten her, during her lifetime, Woodhull was one of the most notorious women in the country and a “first” many times over in business and politics.

Early Hardships

Victoria Claflin wasn’t born into status or opportunity. She was the sixth of 10 children—seven of which survived infancy—born to an illiterate mother and an abusive crook of a father in Homer, Ohio. Her only formal education consisted of three sporadic years of elementary school between the ages of 8 and 11. At a young age, Victoria and her younger sister Tennessee began supporting the Claflin clan after her father decided that of all his scams, his daughter’s professed clairvoyance had the most potential. For her part, it seems Victoria truly believed that she could communicate with her deceased siblings. Her father was plenty happy to exploit that belief by marketing her and Tennessee as fortunetellers and séance practitioners.

At just 15 years old, Victoria married 28-year-old Canning Woodhull of Rochester, N.Y., a man of some means. But while the union managed to liberate Victoria from her squalid family, it did little to improve her life. Her husband proved to be an alcoholic and a philanderer. Although the marriage resulted in two children—one of whom was brain-damaged, either as a result of a head trauma, or, as Victoria claimed, her husband’s drinking—Victoria finally demanded a divorce, despite the stigma it carried at the time.

There is little information available about what happened to Woodhull just after her divorce (she kept her ex-husband's last name), but by 1866, she had remarried. Col. James Blood fostered her Spiritualism (with a capital “S”), political radicalism, and free love.

It’s worth noting that Woodhull’s 19th century definition of “free love” is not quite as extreme the 1960s movement that comes to mind. And she was likely not a prostitute, despite contemporary slander to that effect. (In fact, she spoke out so vehemently against it as to call women who marry for personal advancement prostitutes.) Instead, the free love she advocated had more to do with a woman’s rights than promiscuity. She advocated for the ability to marry whomever she chose and to divorce without social repercussions. In her mind, marriage should be a system existing outside the sphere of government regulation, and society should reject any double standards for men and women regarding infidelity. She praised monogamy in theory, but admitted that it likely was not practical enough to be state-sanctioned. Incidentally, she and the Colonel married and divorced twice, although it’s not clear if the second marriage involved the law at all.

The liberal-minded Blood encouraged Woodhull and her sister Tennessee to move to New York with him in 1868 and pursue careers. There, they met and charmed millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt. (Tennessee, it was rumored, had an affair with him.) While serving as his personal clairvoyants, the sisters picked up some handy stock tips that allowed them to emerge from the 1869 gold panic $700,000 richer. Using that money—and more from Mr. Vanderbilt—the sisters became the first women to found and run a Wall Street brokerage firm, Woodhull and Claflin, on Broad Street in 1870. The sisters, who weren't actually involved in any stock-brokering activities, wore shockingly short skirts to their office opening and served as fodder for the local papers—reporters dubbed them “the queens of finance” and “bewitching brokers."

Wall Street And The Weekly

That very same year, the women used the funds from the brokerage firm to start their own newspaper. Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly was a far-left leaning paper that proclaimed itself "The Organ of the Most Advanced Thought and Purpose in the World!" It went out to 20,000 subscribers a week for six years.

The paper was radical and bold: It published the first-ever English translation of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ Communist Manifesto. Woodhull had grand plans for her publication. On April 22, 1871—more than a year before the national election—Woodhull announced on the front page her plans to run for president of the United States. She declared herself the nominee of the “Cosmo-Political Party” and noted that this was “subject to ratification by the national convention.” Earlier in the year, Woodhull had become the first woman to address a congressional committee when she argued, before the House Judiciary Committee, that the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments already granted women the right to vote with the statement that “the citizen who is taxed should also have a voice in the subject matter of taxation.” Leaders of the women's suffrage movement took notice of this speech and saw her as a champion of their cause.

Running For President

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Woodhull helped organize the Equal Rights Party and at its May 1872 convention she was officially named their presidential nominee (so much for the Cosmo-Political Party). As her running mate, the party nominated famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass—although he never acknowledged the nomination and even campaigned for Republican Ulysses S. Grant.

Woodhull campaigned on a heavily liberal platform, calling for women’s suffrage, regulation of monopolies, nationalization of railroads, an eight-hour workday, direct taxation, abolition of the death penalty, and welfare for the poor. But Woodhull was never given a fair shake herself. Her personal life was repeatedly dragged through the mud by the tabloids of the day. Her potential presidency was considered such a long shot that virtually none of her contemporaries bothered to point out that at 34, she technically wasn’t even legally old enough to be president.

With universal suffrage still almost 50 years away, Woodhull would not have been able to vote for herself under even the best circumstances. But as it was, she spent Election Day in jail. On November 2, 1872, Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly published a searing exposé of Brooklyn minister Henry Ward Beecher, accusing him of having an affair with one of his parishioners. Consistent with her beliefs, Woodhull was not upset with the affair itself, just his proclamations against such behavior. “I am not charging him with immorality—I applaud his enlightened views. I am charging him with hypocrisy,” she said.

The powerful minister was a beloved figure in the community and Woodhull’s takedown of him brought unprecedented disapproval. With the election just days away, she, her sister, and her husband, who had written many of the Weekly articles, were arrested on charges of “indecency,” and of publishing “an obscene newspaper” and sending it through the mail.

Ultimately, the three were released. But even with the election lost—generous estimates suggest she may have received a couple thousand votes—the public vitriol against her in defense of Beecher persisted. In 1877, having shuttered her paper and (again) divorced Blood, Woodhull moved to England. There, the first woman to ever run for President of the United States lived out the rest of her long and eventful life in relative peace. She ended up taking one more husband, whom she outlived.

Take Advantage of Amazon's Early Black Friday Deals on Tech, Kitchen Appliances, and More

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Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Even though Black Friday is still a few days away, Amazon is offering early deals on kitchen appliances, tech, video games, and plenty more. We will keep updating this page as sales come in, but for now, here are the best Amazon Black Friday sales to check out.

Kitchen

Instant Pot/Amazon

- Instant Pot Duo Plus 9-in-115 Quart Electric Pressure Cooker; $90 (save $40) 

- Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Sauteuse 3.5 Quarts; $180 (save $120)

- KitchenAid KSMSFTA Sifter with Scale Attachment; $95 (save $75) 

- Keurig K-Mini Coffee Maker; $60 (save $20)

- Cuisinart Bread Maker; $88 (save $97)

- Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker; $139 (save $60)

- Aicook Juicer Machine; $35 (save $15)

- JoyJolt Double Wall Insulated Espresso Mugs - Set of Two; $14 (save $10) 

- Longzon Silicone Stretch Lids - Set of 14; $13 (save $14)

HadinEEon Milk Frother; $37 (save $33)

Home Appliances

Roomba/Amazon

- iRobot Roomba 675 Robot Vacuum with Wi-Fi Connectivity; $179 (save $101)

- Fairywill Electric Toothbrush with Four Brush Heads; $19 (save $9)

- ASAKUKI 500ml Premium Essential Oil Diffuser; $22 (save $4)

- Facebook Portal Smart Video Calling 10 inch Touch Screen Display with Alexa; $129 (save $50)

- Bissell air320 Smart Air Purifier with HEPA and Carbon Filters; $280 (save $50)

Oscillating Quiet Cooling Fan Tower; $59 (save $31) 

TaoTronics PTC 1500W Fast Quiet Heating Ceramic Tower; $55 (save $10)

Vitamix 068051 FoodCycler 2 Liter Capacity; $300 (save $100)

AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Home Office Shredder; $33 (save $7)

Ring Video Doorbell; $70 (save $30) 

Video games

Sony

- Marvel's Spider-Man: Game of The Year Edition for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $20)

- Marvel's Avengers; $27 (save $33)

- Minecraft Dungeons Hero Edition for Nintendo Switch; $20 (save $10)

- The Last of Us Part II for PlayStation 4; $30 (save $30)

- LEGO Harry Potter: Collection; $15 (save $15)

- Ghost of Tsushima; $40 (save $20)

BioShock: The Collection; $20 (save $30)

The Sims 4; $20 (save $20)

God of War for PlayStation 4; $10 (save $10)

Days Gone for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $6)

Luigi's Mansion 3 for Nintendo Switch; $40 (save $20)

Computers and tablets

Microsoft/Amazon

- Apple MacBook Air 13 inches with 256 GB; $899 (save $100)

- New Apple MacBook Pro 16 inches with 512 GB; $2149 (save $250) 

- Samsung Chromebook 4 Chrome OS 11.6 inches with 32 GB; $210 (save $20) 

- Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 with 13.5 inch Touch-Screen; $1200 (save $400)

- Lenovo ThinkPad T490 Laptop; $889 (save $111)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Tablet (64GB); $120 (save $70)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition Tablet (32 GB); $130 (save $70)

- Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8 inches with 32 GB; $100 (save $50)

Apple iPad Mini (64 GB); $379 (save $20)

- Apple iMac 27 inches with 256 GB; $1649 (save $150)

- Vankyo MatrixPad S2 Tablet; $120 (save $10)

Tech, gadgets, and TVs

Apple/Amazon

- Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS; $179 (save $20) 

- SAMSUNG 75-inch Class Crystal 4K Smart TV; $998 (save $200)

- Apple AirPods Pro; $169 (save $50)

- Nixplay 2K Smart Digital Picture Frame 9.7 Inch Silver; $238 (save $92)

- All-New Amazon Echo Dot with Clock and Alexa (4th Gen); $39 (save $21)

- MACTREM LED Ring Light 6" with Tripod Stand; $16 (save $3)

- Anker Soundcore Upgraded Bluetooth Speaker; $22 (save $8)

- Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote; $28 (save $12)

Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera with EF-M 15-45mm Lens; $549 (save $100)

DR. J Professional HI-04 Mini Projector; $93 (save $37)

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Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?

Elsa, Getty Images
Elsa, Getty Images

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team was founded in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions will host the Houston Texans.

How 'bout them Cowboys?

The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Washington Football Team on Thursday.

WHat's with the night game?

In 2006, because six-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Pittsburgh Steelers will welcome the Baltimore Ravens.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.