So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Notorious Victoria: the Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored. Mary Gabriel

Victoria Woodhull was one of the boldest, most renowned, and most villified woman of the United States in the 19th century . Yet today many people have never heard of her. Also, what has been written about her has been so biased by attempts to either deify her or demonize her. Thus today's reader is well-served by this factual and chronological presentation of what can be known of the life of Victoria Woodhull. Mary Gabriel puts her background in journalism to good use in putting together this unbiased account of the woman and her times.

With chapter titles that consist of place names, months and years Ms. Gabriel takes the reader on a trip through Victoria's live from her birth in Homer, Ohio to her last days on her country estate in Glooucestershire, England. More than half the book is focused on the years 1971-1973 when Victoria, with her sister Tennie C. Claflin, rose to fame in a meteoric fashion. In this brief time they opened a brokerage house on Wall Street and published a news weekly on topics of social and political reform. In addition Victoria was the first woman to address a committee of Congress; she ran for president of the United States with Frederick Douglas as her running mate; and she presided over the women's suffrage movement, a New York chapter of the International Workingmen's Association, and the American Spiritualists Association.

Her stated goal was to rescue the women of America from sexual slavery and guarantee their rights to their own sexuality. When she found out that the famous minister Henry Ward Beecher was sleeping with members of his congregation during the week and condemning her politics from the pulpit on Sundays, she exposed his hypocricy. He was never condemned for his duplicity, but she was hounded into jail and ruin until her only recourse was to leave the country.

Mary Gabriel does a wonderful job of presenting the complex story, picking through the slanders and exagerations, and creating a readable history of this social reformer and her impact on her times. This is the best account of the life of Victoria Woodhull that I have read and I recommend it highly.


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