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Other Powers: the Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull Paperback – March 24, 1999

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1st edition (March 24, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060953322
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060953324
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #109,237 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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This is a fascinating read and wonderfully written.
Jeffrey W. House
LOL Goldsmith is such a good writer, in her introduction she described some of the surprises she noticed as she researched this book.
Amazon Customer
Fascinating book on a subject that doesn't get much attention - history of spiritualism and Victoria Woodhull.
Jill Stevens

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey W. House on August 11, 1999
Format: Paperback
What an absolute joy of a book. Goldsmith seems to have found the perfect centerof the femininist storm in Victoria Woodhull, an outspoken advocate of women's rights, free love, and spiritualism. The telling of her tale (and this book reads like a plotted novel) involves the inclusion of tales and talk from Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Henry Ward Beecher, President Ulysses S. Grant, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, and cameo appearances from a host of others (including the prudish New York City "in"fighter, Anthony Comstock). Much of the telling involves the infamous Tilton-Beecher scandal, a story whose recitation touches on much of the post-Civil War atmosphere of spiritualism,financial skullduggery, the new religious practices of revised Calvinism, and, of course, equal rights for women. This is a fascinating read and wonderfully written. You don't need to be a history buff to pick this up.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Stan Vernooy on January 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
Goldsmith has done a real service with this book. It is more or less the history of the 19th-century women's suffrage movement, with special emphasis on the influence of Spiritualism and on the life of Victoria Woodhull (of whom I had never before heard, even though I regard myself as fairly well-versed in American history).
The book is full of fascinating characters and events, most of which are given unconscionably short shrift in our educational system. Goldsmith fleshes out the stories and personalities of many people who were previously just vague images in my mind, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Henry Ward Beecher. It seems from this book that female suffrage could have occurred as much as 50 years earlier than it did, if it hadn't been for a couple of missteps on the part of the supporters of suffrage. For one thing, there was a bitter division among the suffragettes about whether the female right to vote should be part of the movement for enfranchising the recently freed slaves. Sadly, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, despite her many wonderful and even heroic contributions to the movement, comes across as an out-and-out racist on this issue, and probably damaged the very cause to which she devoted her life. Secondly, some of the foremost spokespeople for female suffrage got caught up in unrelated, controversial issues, and even in personal sexual scandals.
If you have an interest in American history, you may very well have the same reaction I did while reading this book. Almost every other page, I found myself exclaiming, "Hey, I didn't know that! How come that's not in any of the history books?"
The only reason I gave this book four stars instead of five is that I think the organization and focus could be a little better.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Eleanor Latimer on December 2, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is a terrific read -- fast paced, racy, with an unbelievable cast of actual historical characters dealing with issues like free love and marriage. Meticulously researched, it provides a more complete picture of the lives of both ordinary and leading women and the strictures of 19th century polite and not-so-polite society than most historical books I've read. I have found it very difficult to put down. It has provided me with a picture of the 1800's, women's lives and the struggle for women's rights that I was very ignorant about before. I wasn't really interested in the topic of women's issues until I started to read this book, but it has opened my eyes to how far we have come, where some of our society's problems are rooted, and how far we have to go.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Benjamin R. Cox, III on December 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book was first recommended to me by a Church of Christ pastor who was into history. He said,"You've got to read this book! You'll love it!" He was right! As a Spiritualist, I had heard of Victoria Woodhull, but that was about it. This is a complete, researched biography that goes beyond biography. It gives a picture of an age of searching, inquiry and intellectual activity that most Americans are not aware of. Victoria Woodhull is a fascinating character, emerging from very poor beginnings to become involved in the feminist movement, being a spiritual medium, a part-time hooker and eventually becoming involved in politics. She ends up being in a very conventional marriage to an Englishman and leading a very respectable life. No, she never won the presidency, but the reader will learn a lot about the cultural development of America in the 19th century from reading this book.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Rachel E. Pollock on July 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book is huge at 560 pgs; of course, i guess that's nothing compared to these past couple Harry Potters so perhaps i should just say, "substantial." It covers literally Woodhull's entire life (and a good deal of her sister's, Tennessee Claflin), as well as offering am in-depth view of the political and social climate at the time. It devotes a particular amount of time to the changing nuances of her "free love" doctrine and other participants in that movement (one which was, most certainly, ahead of its time--we don't generally think of Victorian times and Free Love in the same boat these days), and the Beecher-Tilton adultery trial.
I found the book to be facinating from a suffrage-history POV, contrasting events depicted/documented within with my memories of the "women's movement" from history classes. Goldsmith isn't afraid to throw stones (mostly by quoting their own less than tolerant words) at suffrage icons Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B Anthony, and others, in the course of depicting an unbiased view of the debate that raged for both women's and black men's suffrage at the time. She is both sympathetic to Victoria and Tennessee (she does a very good job in depicting the bizarre, abusive, nomadic carnival-like nature of their childhoods and family life while growing up), and willing to point out their flaws and transgressions (both women engaged in prostitution, blackmail, and other acts of "questionable ethics").
There's not as much focus on the Spiritualism movement, though the overview is thorough and the author depicts in great detail the ways in which Victoria and Tennessee were involved in it as trance speakers and predictors of the future, both from a very young age.
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