In Other Powers
Barbara Goldsmith takes a wide-ranging approach to the life of controversial feminist Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927). Goldsmith places her buccaneering subject within the context of 19th-century America's fascination with spiritualism, which enabled an accomplished medium like Woodhull to escape her impoverished origins and amass considerable wealth. Goldsmith also ably delineates the freewheeling Woodhull's uneasy relations with more respectable ladies in the women's suffrage movement and portrays the hatred of sexual hypocrisy that ultimately brought Woodhull's relentless enemies who wrecked her public career. History illuminates biography--and vice versa--in this boundary-defying work.
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From Publishers Weekly
Women's rights advocate Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927) was a spiritualist, clairvoyant, faith healer and apostle of free love who maintained that her spirit guide had set her on a mission to create a social revolution. These facts, downplayed by her previous biographers, are at the center of Goldsmith's riveting portrait. Raised by an ignorant, brutalized mother and a tyrannical father who apparently sexually abused her, Ohio-born Victoria Claflin eloped at 15 with Canning Woodhull, a morphine-addicted, alcoholic doctor. A destitute actress and prostitute, she went from rags to riches by becoming a financial adviser, as well as a trance medium, for blustering, sexually insatiable New York railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt. In 1870, Woodhull founded Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly (with her sister, Tennessee Claflin), a newspaper that argued for women's rights, though, in time, her outspoken views on free love would split the women's movement. As Goldsmith (Little Gloria... Happy at Last) reveals, Woodhull had her eye on the political prize: in her 1872 presidential campaign against Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley, she blackmailed rival suffragists into supporting her by threatening to publish articles in her newspaper exposing their sexual behavior. Election Day found Woodhull in jail on charges of libel and obscenity for her expose of Brooklyn revivalist preacher Henry Ward Beecher's extramarital affair with the wife of his best friend, newspaper editor Theodore Tilton. She moved to England in 1877, shed her past and married a wealthy British banker. Through Woodhull's life, Goldsmith's colorful, well-researched saga speaks volumes about the oppression of women in Victorian America. Illustrations.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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