Victoria Claflin Woodhull (September 23, 1838 – June 9, 1927) was an American suffragist who was described by Gilded Age newspapers as a leader of the American woman's suffrage movement in the 19th century. She became a colorful and notorious symbol for women's rights, free love, and spiritualism as she fought against corruption and for labor reforms. The authorship of many of her speeches and articles is disputed. Many of her speeches on these subjects were not written by Woodhull herself alone but also by her backers and husband. Either way, her role as a representative of these movements was nonetheless powerful and controversial. She was the first woman along with her sister to operate a brokerage firm in Wall Street and then open a weekly newspaper. She is most famous for her declaration and campaign to run as the first woman for the United States Presidency in 1872. Many of the reforms and ideals espoused by her for the common working class against the corrupt rich business elite were extremely controversial in her time though generations later many of those implemented are now taken for granted. Other ideas and reforms still remain controversial and debated today.
Woodhull was born Victoria California Claflin in Homer, Licking County, Ohio. Her father, Reuben Buckman Claflin was a con man, arsonist, snake oil salesman and occasional fraudulent doctor. Her brothers, Hebern and Maldon, were printers. Victoria was closely associated during most of her life with her sister Tennessee Celeste Claflin, who was seven years younger than she.
When she was just 15, Victoria became engaged to a 28-year-old Canning Woodhull (Channing, in some records) from a town outside of Rochester, New York. Dr. Woodhull was an Ohio medical doctor at a time when formal medical education and licensing were not required to practice medicine in that state. He met Victoria in 1853 when her family consulted him to treat her for an illness. According to some accounts, Canning Woodhull claimed he was the nephew of Caleb Smith Woodhull, mayor of New York City from 1849 to 1851, who was actually a distant cousin. Victoria married Canning Woodhull in November 1853, just a few months after they met, but soon learned that her new husband was an alcoholic and a womanizer, and that she would often be required to work outside the home to support the family. She and Canning had two children, Byron and Zulu (later Zula) Maude. According to one account, Byron was born with an intellectual disability in 1854, a condition Victoria believed was caused by her husband's alcoholism. Another story says his disability resulted from a fall from a window. In 1872 she started a relationship with the anarchist Benjamin Tucker, lasting for 3 years.