Please welcome Nicole Evelina back with an intriguing novel about the first woman to ever run for president!
The Free Lover Who Ran for President
If you’ve never heard of Victoria Woodhull, don’t worry. Most people haven’t. That’s because she’s not in 99% of history textbooks. But she was the first woman to run for President in the United States (1872), the first woman to speak before a committee of Congress, the first woman to own a stock brokerage on Wall Street (along with her sister, Tennie) and one of the first women in the country to run a weekly newspaper. But we don’t need to remember any of that, do we?
Ahem. Sorry, I get on my soapbox easily because I became a fan while researching my novel Madame Presidentess (on sale July 25), which is based on her life. Since this is a romance blog, I thought I’d focus on Victoria’s love life. I know, exactly what every woman wants to be remembered for. (Sorry Victoria!) But her views on love and marriage played a huge part in her political career and her adventurous personal life got her into a lot of trouble.
You see, Victoria was an advocate of Free Love. In her day, it didn’t mean unchecked promiscuity as it later would to some in the 1960s; it meant that she believed marriages should come into existence when two people fell in love and be dissolved when they no longer loved each other, without interference from the government or organized religion. It was her second husband, Col. James Blood, who introduced Victoria to this idea. (He was married when they met and likely justified leaving his wife and daughters for her under the tenants of Free Love.)
It was while she was married to James that Victoria supposedly had at least one affair, or up to five, depending on which source you believe. (There are also those who deny that she ever had any, but the majority believes in at least one.) Here’s a quick rundown:
- Representative Benjamin Butler – This story comes from a rumor that while he and Victoria were in Washington D.C. when she testified before a committee of Congress, she went to visit him at night. As if all two people can do after dark is have sex. Also during that time he was said to have gotten the committee to agree to let her speak “in exchange for feasting his eyes upon her naked person.” When asked about that rumor, he replied “half truths kill,” which many took as an admission it was true.
I personally don’t think they had an affair. Benjamin Butler is described as toad-like, short and plump with an overly large head and sunken eyes engulfed in flesh. One of his eyelids drooped and he waddled when he walked. Yet, his vitality and power are said to have attracted many women to him. So it’s possible, but I don’t buy it. I did, however, use this situation as the basis for Victoria’s affair with the fictional Judah DeWitt Reymart in my novel.
- Rev. Henry Ward Beecher – Rev. Beecher was one of the most famous and highly regarded preachers of the late 19th century in America. Despite this, he was widely rumored to “preach to as many as 20 of his mistresses on any given Sunday.” His promiscuity was an open secret. Victoria tried to bring him into the Free Love movement because she knew he had had an affair with Lib Tilton, the wife of Victoria’s own lover, Theodore Tilton. Victoria and Rev. Beecher spent a fair amount of time together when she was trying to sway him to her way of thinking (some of it at night and you know what that means), but nothing I’ve read seems to indicate they had an affair.
Biographer Lois Beachey Underhill is convinced the exact opposite, but I don’t see it, especially since she cites Sachs and Tucker as her sources (see entry on Tucker below), who are suspect at best.
- Theodore Tilton – Here is the most likely and most widely accepted of Victoria’s possible lovers. He was known to be handsome and charming and had a reputation for extramarital affairs that may or may not have been justified by Free Love. Theodore and Victoria may have met when both were a part of the suffrage movement. But they certainly met after she published a thinly veiled threat to expose the affair Rev. Henry Ward Beecher had with Theodore’s wife. Somehow, Mr. Tilton ended up writing for Victoria’s paper and she commissioned him to write her biography. This is likely when their relationship began. Though her biography was considered overdramatic and widely panned (except in spiritualist circles), Victoria remained close to Mr. Tilton for quite some time until their relationship ended over him backing Horace Greeley for President instead of her (he wanted the job Mr. Greeley would have to vacate upon becoming President).
- Joseph Treat – Biographers of Victoria believe that Mr. Treat was in love with her, and when she turned him down, he wrote a malicious pamphlet telling his story and denouncing her as a fraud. She sued him for libel, but the truth or falsehood was never proven, because he died before the case could go to court.
- Benjamin Tucker – He claimed to have been seduced by Victoria, who was much older, when he was only a young man. This claim is highly unlikely to be true. He was paid $5,000 by Emanie Sachs to tell his story for her brutal (and mostly false) 1928 biography of Victoria.
Some books and websites say there were at least a dozen men who claimed to have an affair with Victoria, but these are the main contenders. Between these rumors and Victoria’s open embracing of Free Love in a time when women were meant to be paragons of virtue, it’s little wonder why Victoria wasn’t included in the history books. (Well, there’s more to it than that, but this was also a factor.) Today, she would still be controversial not only for her political opinions, but for her personal behavior. Some would laud her as sex-positive (of which she was likely a pioneer, even though the phrase didn’t exist in her time) while others would call her a slut. Either way, I count her as a strong woman who is worth getting to know.
Forty-eight years before women were granted the right to vote, one woman dared to run for President of the United States, yet her name has been virtually written out of the history books.
Rising from the shame of an abusive childhood, Victoria Woodhull, the daughter of a con-man and a religious zealot, vows to follow her destiny, one the spirits say will lead her out of poverty to “become ruler of her people.”
But the road to glory is far from easy. A nightmarish marriage teaches Victoria that women are stronger and deserve far more credit than society gives. Eschewing the conventions of her day, she strikes out on her own to improve herself and the lot of American women.
Over the next several years, she sets into motion plans that shatter the old boys club of Wall Street and defile even the sanctity of the halls of Congress. But it’s not just her ambition that threatens men of wealth and privilege; when she announces her candidacy for President in the 1872 election, they realize she may well usurp the power they’ve so long fought to protect.
Those who support her laud “Notorious Victoria” as a gifted spiritualist medium and healer, a talented financial mind, a fresh voice in the suffrage movement, and the radical idealist needed to move the nation forward. But those who dislike her see a dangerous force who is too willing to speak out when women are expected to be quiet. Ultimately, “Mrs. Satan’s” radical views on women’s rights, equality of the sexes, free love and the role of politics in private affairs collide with her tumultuous personal life to endanger all she has built and change how she is viewed by future generations.
This is the story of one woman who was ahead of her time – a woman who would make waves even in the 21st century – but who dared to speak out and challenge the conventions of post-Civil War America, setting a precedent that is still followed by female politicians today.
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Nicole Evelina is an award-winning historical fiction and romantic comedy writer. Her most recent novel, Madame Presidentess, a historical novel about Victoria Woodhull, America’s first female Presidential candidate, was the first place winner in the Women’s US History category of the 2015 Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction.
Her debut novel, Daughter of Destiny, the first book of an Arthurian legend trilogy that tells Guinevere’s life story from her point of view, was named Book of the Year by Chanticleer Reviews, took the Grand Prize in the 2015 Chatelaine Awards for Women’s Fiction/Romance, won a Gold Medal in the fantasy category in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and was short-listed for the Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction. Been Searching for You, her contemporary romantic comedy, won the 2015 Romance Writers of America (RWA) Great Expectations and Golden Rose contests.
Nicole is one of only six authors who completed a week-long writing intensive taught by #1 New York Times bestselling author Deborah Harkness. As an armchair historian, Nicole researches her books extensively, consulting with biographers, historical societies and traveling to locations when possible. For example, she traveled to England twice to research the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy, where she consulted with internationally acclaimed author and historian Geoffrey Ashe, as well as Arthurian/Glastonbury expert Jaime George, the man who helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research The Mists of Avalon.
Nicole is a member of and book reviewer for The Historical Novel Society, and Sirens (a group supporting female fantasy authors), as well as a member of the Historical Writers of America, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, Romance Writers of America, the St. Louis Writer’s Guild, Women Writing the West, Broad Universe (promoting women in fantasy, science fiction and horror), Alliance of Independent Authors and the Independent Book Publishers Association.
Her website is http://nicoleevelina.com.
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