The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age
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Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee "Tennie" Claflin-the most fascinating and scandalous sisters in American history-were unequaled for their vastly avant-garde crusade for women's fiscal, political, and sexual independence. They escaped a tawdry childhood to become rich and famous, achieving a stunning list of firsts. In 1870 they became the first women to open a brokerage firm, not to be repeated for nearly a century. Amid high gossip that he was Tennie's lover, the richest man in America, fabled tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, bankrolled the sisters. As beautiful as they were audacious, the sisters drew a crowd of more than two thousand Wall Street bankers on opening day. A half century before women could vote, Victoria used her Wall Street fame to become the first woman to run for president, choosing former slave Frederick Douglass as her running mate. She was also the first woman to address a United States congressional committee. Tennie ran for Congress and shocked the world by becoming the honorary colonel of a black regiment.
died, a telegram was sent to Victoria from the Canary Islands: MARTIN VERY ILL BUT NO IMMEDIATE DANGER–WILL WIRE AGAIN. A flurry of cables followed, from doctors: March 19, 11:10 a.m.: MARTIN WORSE—IN DANGER—FOURTH DAY ILLNESS; that afternoon, 5:50 p.m.: PLEURO—STILL DANGEROUSLY ILL—WRITING AGAIN; March 20, 11:00 a.m.: AFRAID MARTIN SINKING—NO USE COMING—; that afternoon, 5:34 p.m.: YOUR DEAR HUSBAND DIED THIS AFTERNOON. John Martin never knew that his father had died just three days before him.
York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009). For further details see chapter 24 in this book, The Scarlet Sisters, endnote on pp. 383–84: “Stiles skewers Renehan’s unreliable claim.” 4. Henry James and Harriet Beecher Stowe: Richard Wightman Fox, Trials of Intimacy: Love and Loss in the Beecher-Tilton Scandal (Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press, 1999), pp. 302–5, also takes on Barbara Goldsmith, Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull (New York: Alfred A.
only but in so-called best society everywhere. Marriages of love become rarer year after year, while those of convenience are proportionately on the increase… and we prate of the holy marriage covenant!” Every era breeds some rebellion with the past, and Queen Victoria was crowned in 1838 amid a backlash against an “age of debauchery,” when upper-class males routinely kept mistresses. In the Victorian era, the image of the happy family, chaste couples amid the “respectability” of polite society,
months, Woodhull claimed to have “wholly abstained” from responding to such abuse. She was now acting on a reluctant but deep sense of duty, she assured readers. Those who snatched up the Weekly at every newsstand had to wade through an exhausting twelve-thousand-word treatise on love and adultery, written by Stephen Pearl Andrews, proving that even sex in the abstract can be boring. For the first time, the public was reading the account of the stormy night when Elizabeth Tilton raced to her
their thoughts with eloquence, but their court ordeals and prison sentences had drained that spark from both. Suddenly, Victoria suggested a vacation in Europe for the entire brood, a trip that raised great suspicion that Beecher had paid them to leave the country just as the Tilton-Beecher scandal was exploding again. Victoria issued a notice that Beecher had nothing to do with the trip. With their having little money, however, it was hard to believe they were paying their own way. Tucker said,