In The Nympho and Other Maniacs: The Lives, the Loves and the Sexual Adventures of Some Scandalous and Liberated Ladies Irving Wallace wrote a series of biographies about sensational women. In “Book Three: The Rebel As a Scandal” Wallace featured Victoria Woodhull as “The Prostitute Who Ran For President.” But do you know who Victoria Woodhull was? She was quite a remarkable woman.
Victoria Woodhull (1838 – 1927) has her own biography on the History Channel’s website and is featured in the National Women’s Hall of Fame. On their website they claim that Woodhull was “a passionate campaigner for social justice who combined deep belief in Spiritualism, radical views on achieving equal rights for women, advocacy of divorce law changes, birth control, working people’s rights, and tax reform as her platform for change.
She was the first American woman to address Congress and the first to run for the office of President of the United States.” Tidbits I’ve read about Woodhull suggest that she certainly had no end of lovers, but there’s nothing to indicate she made a vocation of her sex or that she sold it.
I wonder if Mr. Wallace may have misunderstood her advocacy for what she called free love. Unlike the “free love” of our hippie parents or grandparents who lived (and loved) their way through the 1960s, Woodhull’s call for free love was more akin to equality–to the end of racism in many ways. The History Channel noted that in one of Woodhull’s speeches she claimed, “I want the love of you all, promiscuously. It makes no difference who or what you are, old or young, black or white, pagan, Jew, or Christian, I want to love you all and be loved by you all, and I mean to have your love.” While the use of the word “promiscuously” here was often taken to mean sexually, it is quite likely that Woodhull used it as an ill-chosen synonym for the word “freely” or “equally.” After all, though she was quick to spot and take advantage of an opportunity, her education did not begin until age 8 and only lasted sporadically for about three years.
Irving Wallace certainly thought she meant it sexually, however. In John Leverence’s Iriving Wallace: A Writer’s Profile, Wallace said of his book, “I am writing about individual women of the recent past who, whether by plan or by accident, wittingly or unwittingly, refused to accept any simplistic biological definition of female as mere childbearer and the second best of the sexes.” He went on to explain more about the women he profiled in Nympho and Other Maniacs placing Woodhull among his rebels. Apparently openly discussing sex during the Victorian era while declaring women have a right to decide what happens with their bodies and calling for birth control and better divorce laws made her a prostitute in Mr. Wallace’s eyes. I wonder who else he profiled among the “uninhibited ladies” in his “magnificent tour de force“?