Book Review Club: Madame Presidentess by Nicole Evelina

Madame Presidentess coverThe topic for my March readers group was Girl Power, so I read

Madame Presidentess
by Nicole Evelina
Fictionalized Biography

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.

Madame Presidentess is a fictionalized biography of Victoria C. Woodhull, spiritualist, stock broker, suffragette and the first woman to run for President of the United States in 1872. Yes, that’s right. 1872. She challenged against President Grant, who was running for a second term.

Victoria was born into the infamous Claflin clan, a family of spiritualists and grifters. She grew up poor, her family sometimes run out of town because of her father’s scams. As a teenager, she and her sister Tennessee, who achieved her own fame, were forced to give spiritual readings to line the family’s coffers. According to the book, Victoria and Tennessee inherited their mother’s ability to speak to spirits. Victoria’s spirit guide was none other than the Greek philospher Demosthenes.

To escape her abusive parents, Victoria married “Doctor” Canning Woodhull, who seemed like the answer to her dreams, but she soon learned that he was abusive as well. She eventually divorced him and met another man, James Blood, who was connected with the suffragette community. Victoria was a great believer in the need for women’s rights, given her own history.

In New York, she and Tennie met Commodore Vanderbilt, who was interested in spiritualism. The became confidants, and Tennie became his mistress. The sisters learned a lot from him about the stock market, after he asked them to consult the spirits for financial advice. (Victoria found another way to help him.) Thanks to what they learned, the sisters were set up as stock brokers in their own right and were successful for a while.

Victoria Woodhull was a fascinating woman, clearly far ahead of her time. In my opinion, had she stuck to spiritualism and women’s suffrage, she might have gone down in the history books as one of the most influential women of the 19th century. Her downfall was her belief in free love, which she espoused openly. This led to her downfall, her ostracism by the suffragists, and legal troubles.

In the author’s notes at the end of the book I learned that Victoria and Tennesse went to England where they both married well, Tennessee to a viscount! Victoria received only brief mention in Susan B. Anthony’s opus on the history of the movement.

I heard the author speak at the 2017 Historical Novel Society Conference in Portland, Oregon, and bought a Kindle copy.

I found the book quite interesting and readable. I wish it had ended on a higher note for Victoria, rather than her fall from grace, but I understand the need for drama and conflict in even fictionalized biography. This is a powerful portrait of a remarkable woman, one nearly lost to history. Recommended for anyone interested in women’s history.

Linda

As always, click on the graphic below for more great reviews in Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club.

 

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We Hold These Truths… Independence Day Thoughts #4thofJuly

Fourth of July graphic

Happy Fourth of July!

The Declaration of Independence states “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” But nowhere does it mention women.

When I was growing up, I was told that the word “men” was intended to refer to all mankind, including women, a comforting notion. Howevere, I no longer believe that, in large part because I now know that Abigail Adams* wrote to her husband John in March of 1776 with the words “remember the ladies”. Since I’m quite certain he did not have dementia at the time, it’s obvious that the ladies were deliberately excluded.

suffragette with sign

Yeah, they were pissed off. (Suffragette With A Sign
@ Therealdarla)

Nor are women mentioned in the US Constitution, and the right to vote is not delineated. In the early history of our nation, laws about who could vote were decided by each individual state. None allowed women to vote. Wyoming Territory gave women the right to vote in 1869, followed by Utah Territory (1870) and Washington Territory (1882). When the territories became states, they preserved women’s suffrage. It may seem odd that these Western states were the first, but given the fact that women were scarce in the Old West, I suspect suffrage was a way of attracting more women to settle in the Far West. Or perhaps the Western territories were more egalitarian, since there was no existing old-style patriarchy to run things, like there was back east. Hard to say for sure. You can find out what year your state first allowed women to vote at the National Constitution Center’s website.

My point is, women’s rights are not something we can take for granted. The right to vote was hard won by several generations of women, starting in 1848 and finally culminating in victory in 1920 by passage of the 19th Amendment, 130 years after the Constitution was ratified.

As our current president would say, “Sad.”

I hope to live long enough to see full gender equality.

Equality between man and woman

Equality between man and woman
@ BrianAJackson

In the meantime, have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

Linda

* For more on Abigail Adams, check out Alina K. Field’s Fourth of July post.