We all know who the first president of the United States is, but who was the first woman to run? Before Hillary shattered ceilings as the first woman to win the nomination for a major political party, a few other badass ladies had to pave the way. This particular woman didn’t win of course, but she was the first, and certainly wasn’t afraid of controversy seeing as she made her historic run in 1872, almost 50 years before women gained the right to vote under the 19th amendment.
Victoria Woodhull, an Ohio native ran as an Equal Rights Party candidate against incumbent President Ulysses S. Grant. Being the incredibly intelligent woman that she was, Woodhull’s career is full of achievements. She is responsible for opening the first woman owned brokerage firm on Wall Street. And then just casually decided to run for president.
Woodhull was extremely passionate about equal voting rights, both for women and minorities, and made it a priority to speak to Congress about this issue even before her bid for the White House. Her platform included radically progressive changes such as an eight-hour workday, women’s suffrage, and an end to the death penalty. She also selected abolitionist Frederick Douglass, allegedly without his consent, as her running mate.
Did I mention she was also a black woman? All the odds were stacked against her at that time, and she knew it. Come election day, Woodhull failed to secure any electoral votes, unsurprisingly given the time. Even if she had won, the Constitution requires any incoming president to be at least 35 years of age. Woodhull was only 34 at the time, and would not have been permitted to enter the White House, though I doubt age was the biggest obstacle in her way.
A trailblazer by nature, Woodhull inspired many other women to follow in her footsteps and create political careers for themselves. In 1880, eight years after Woodhull’s defeat, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm was the first woman—and the first African American—to seek the Democratic nomination. Then came Lenora Fulani, the first woman to get on the ballot in all 50 states when she ran as a third-party candidate in 1988. And of course, finally, there is Hillary Clinton who won the Democratic nomination and became the first woman to ever win the popular vote.
Despite their efforts, we have yet to see a hint of estrogen make it to the highest office in the land. It’s disheartening, and frankly a little strange for a western, developed nation. The list of countries that have had female leaders long before the U.S is extensive and slightly embarrassing. It’s time to add this country to the list and make Victoria Woodhull proud.
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