The first woman to declare herself as a candidate for president, Woodhull announced her run on April 2, 1870, by sending a notice to the New York Herald. This was an absolutely astounding thing to do: women only recently received the right to vote in the two relatively obscure territories of Wyoming and Utah, and it would be another fifty years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment that assured the ballot to all American women. Moreover, she took this step without contacting any leading suffragists, who by then had been well organized for more than two decades. Susan B. Anthony and others were stunned by the action of this controversial woman, whose “open marriage” was the talk of New York City. The next presidential election was two years away, and Woodhull used this time to bring attention to women’s issues, including the right to vote. Undaunted by the fact that women could not vote and that she was not yet old enough to legally become president, Woodhull traveled the country campaigning. Her speeches not only advocated the vote, but also birth control, “free love,” and other positions that were a century ahead of her time. Many listeners were surprised to find themselves more sympathetic than they had expected: her beauty, soft voice, and reasoned arguments took the edge off of such shocking statements as her belief that marriage was “legalized prostitution.” Woodhull and her sister, Tennie C., were in jail, however, when the 1872 presidential election occurred. Because they wanted to draw attention to the era’s hypocrisy on sexual matters, their newspaper published the facts about an adulterous affair between the nationally popular Rev. Henry Ward Beecher and a leader of the women’s movement, Elizabeth Tilton. It was true, but not politically correct, and the sisters were indicted for both libel and obscenity. The charges eventually were dropped, but the scandal was enough to end Woodhull's presidential aspirations, as...
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