Victoria Woodhull: Daring the Impossible
My displaced Canadian tweep @jessiebellelane loves history so much she’s written about it. No joke, you’ll find it here (she wrote chapter 3). So, when looking for inspiration for a obscure historical wonder woman to write about this week, she was the first person I asked.
Her unequivocal answer: Victoria Woodhull.
I sheepishly admit I’d never heard of her. Afraid it was Canadian ignorance at play, I asked my American husband who she was.
He didn’t know either.
David: “Oh, but you know who they did teach us about? Betsy Ross.”
Me: “Who’s that?”
David: “She sewed the American flag.”
I sighed and passed him the drill he was looking for. We were assembling our IKEA wardrobes, that, after much finagling, had ALL arrived, with all the pieces – we think.
David: “Why the sigh?”
Me: “The most famous woman you can remember from school is a seamstress.”
David: (smiling) “What? You don’t consider sewing heroic?”
Me: “Flags are important. Sewing is important, or we’d never have clothes. There’s so many seamstresses that are literally my heroes for the amazing creations they can produce. But no, its just, in history, there were some real kick-a$$ women. And they don’t teach about them.”
David just smirked. “Pass me the screwdriver, will you?”
Me (grinning): “Just call me Vanna.”
My patients are often shocked to find that nurses can – in exceptional circumstances – deliver babies. Moreover, they’re surprised to find that when it comes to managing labour, we’re it, until the doctor is needed, that is. And perhaps that’s why I love what I do. Though history may have painted us as ‘girl Fridays,’ we’re far from that now. We have our own scope, governing board, and we definitely have our own opinions. In fact, one of the reasons I love my job is that I meet so many women with nerve.
But, if you’re interested in women with moxie, let me introduce you to Victoria Woodhull. How I’ve never heard of her until now baffles me. Though I don’t agree with everything she stood for, or entirely how she went about it, I find her a hero for all the things she did that others thought impossible.
Victoria was nominated for the US Presidency by the Equal Rights Party in 1872. Long before the days of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, this woman dared to run when most of her gender still could not vote.
A true believer in ‘leveling the playing field,’ Woodhull offered hospitality to both prostitutes and royalty, published her own newspaper, formed ‘congresses’ or ‘Victoria leagues’ in her home where her followers could debate societal issues, and was the first female stockbroker on Wall Street.
She must have been a viable candidate for presidency, for, like most modern political campaigns, her opponents refused to debate her on campaign issues and instead attacked her character.
They labeled her a witch and a prostitute. They rumoured she had affairs with married men. Though initially ignoring the slander, Victoria eventually responded in kind, exposing a long-running affair of one of her accusers.
It destroyed her financially, and landed her in jail.
Thus, America’s first female candidate for president spent election night behind bars. And though years later information came forth that provided a measure of vindication, she lived the rest of her life under the cloud of false accusation and discrimination.
I learn two things from Victoria. First, take on the impossible.
I know, you’re thinking I’m crazy. Victoria’s impossible quest led to a miserable end. But I wonder if she’d ever have been satisfied with her life had she stepped back and did what she was supposed to. Though not ‘successful’ in her quest, she left an impact on history. Not only were the moral failings of her accusers at least brought to light, but fifty years after her run for the presidency, the 19th amendment of the US Constitution passed, giving the right to vote to all US citizens, men and women.
Second, we don’t change the world without opposition.
No one likes change. We’re creatures of habit. Look at the electronic age: it takes several months or years of complaining about a new invention before we adapt. In fact, if a gadget of some sort is garnering enough of our attention for us to complain about it, chances are, it may be doing some good.
The same is true of people.
If we garner enough attention to have others criticize, condemn, or judge us, we just might be stepping in the right direction.
Of course, the way we step in that direction is also important. If we can achieve the same results with gentleness and kindness; if we maintain a state of readiness and follow the tide of organic development, we will likely be more successful in convincing those around us to listen.
Leadership is all about influence. And Victoria Woodhull – like another Victoria I’ve written about before – made people listen.
How about you? Do you have something to say?
For more information on Woodhull, check out her Wikipedia article here. Or, contact my tweep @jessiebellelane on Twitter. She’s studied her for a year now, and likely has far more reliable information than I – or the internet – can provide.
Happy world-changing today, ladies! Even if all you seem to do is change diapers, clean messes, and try to claim a few moments of sanity, you are world-changers. Believe it. None of us would be anywhere without you. And if you’re having trouble believing that today, maybe you’d be interested in hearing why I think we’re all made with strength, and how we wield it in different ways. If so, check out my post: Why the World Needs Strong Women.