In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ll be highlighting the stories of women in the United States who paved the way and inspired girls everywhere to follow their dreams.
Victoria Woodhull, a 19th century women’s right activist and business owner, was the first woman to run for president in 1872 under the Equal Rights Party, 50 years before women gained the right to vote.
In 1871, the presidential candidate became the first woman to address a U.S. House committee. Woodhull testified before the House Judiciary Committee, arguing that the 14th and 15th Amendments in the Constitution implied a women’s right to vote, but that Congress should pass legislation guaranteeing women’s suffrage.
Woodhull’s campaign for president was reviled and viewed as radical in 1870, as it was still socially unacceptable for women to be seen in public without being escorted by a man. Her platform consisted of “extreme” ideas of women’s rights and free love, which at the time meant women’s rights to choose their husbands and to divorce their husbands. Her progressive viewpoints on women’s rights and equality caused much trouble to Woodhull and her family. In addition to her daughter being forced to leave school, Woodhull was evicted from her home and banned from renting by landlords. Woodhull was even arrested and spent Election Day in jail after she published an article in her newspaper exposing a prominent reverend for having several affairs.
Because Woodhull was left off the ballots, it is unclear how many votes she received; however, her campaign for presidency opened the floodgates for women presidential candidates. In fact only 12 years after Woodhull’s run, another woman in the Equal Rights Party, Belva Ann Lockwood, ran for president and won 4,149 votes in six states. Lockwood was the first female attorney to argue before the Supreme Court.
Since then, women including Shirley Chisholm, Patsy Mink, Margaret Chase Smith, Hillary Clinton, and dozens more have entered presidential races and empowered more women to run.
This year, a historic number of women have announced their 2020 presidential candidacy, marking the first time more than one woman competed for a party’s nomination. Currently, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and self-help author Marianne Williamson have announced their candidacy for president.
Media Resources: Smithsonian Magazine 5/10/16; Politico 4/9/15; Politico 1/11/18; New York Times 3/1/19