Women in the equal rights movement found spiritualism a healing force in their lives, too. Poorly trained doctors, using primitive forceps on a routine basis, destroyed many women's reproductive tracts and their lives. As an alternative, women turned to herbal remedies like Lydia Pinkham's. It contained a high percentage of alcohol. Victoria and Tennie C. peddled bottles of Buck Clafin's quack medicine, the "Magnetic Life Elixir," consisting of 50% opium and 50% corn whiskey.
Henry Ward Beecher, on the other hand, practiced hypnotism on women members of his church. Mesmerism, as it was called, was a popular method for curing psycho-somatic illnesses, not that people understood much about it.
It is not a historical accident that most spiritualists were women and seances were usually conducted in people's homes. Uneducated women like Victoria could receive communication from kings, queens, and thinkers from the past.
Few students of women's history are aware that the Declaration of Women's Rights read at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 was written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton on the "spirit table" of the McClintocks in Rochester, New York. This table now rests in the Smithsonian Museum.
Susan B. Anthony wrote Stanton, "Oh dear, dear! If the spirits would only just make me a trance medium and put the rights into my mouth...I'd give them a hearty welcome."
Biography of Susan B. Anthony
U.S. vs Susan B. Anthony
put on trial for voting
Feminists had a limited number of ways to raise money for the cause of women's rights. The Lyceum lecture circuit brought the suffragettes not only needed funds but also fame. Anna Dickinson, called the Joan of Arc of the women's movement, was the most charismatic of the women on the lecture circuit. She could earn up $1000 per night. Women envied her independence, her Paris gowns, her freedom to travel and have her opinions taken seriously.
Susan B. Anthony doted on Anna in what some have called a lesbian infatuation. She and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were also very effective public speakers. They separately traveled the lecture circuit, using their earnings to keep their newspaper, Revolution, going. Anthony considered the paper her real "voice." Anyone who had a cause to promote wanted their own newspaper. New York City had 35 newspapers and Brooklyn, 18.
Victoria declares her candidacy in the Weekly
Victoria Woodhull, now rich, decided to set up her own newspaper. Called the theWeekly, it promoted her own blend of spiritualist, free love, communist, and feminist agendas. Her husband, Colonel Blood, and other men penned most of the articles. Woodhull was merely a puppet or as Vanderbilt called her, "a monkey."
Letter from Karl Marx
to Victoria, editor
Vanderbilt then helped Victoria to open the first woman-owned stock brokerage firm. He and his cronies ran it from behind the scenes. Sex workers and other women with their own money entered discreetly through a back door to set up accounts. The firm was very successful.
Few people knew about the love affair between Henry Ward Beecher and Lib Tilton until she became pregnant by him. When Theodore Tilton found out, he went ballistic even though he himself was having an affair with Laura Curtis Bullard. Lib Tilton was so distraught, she spent a night in a graveyard and nearly died. Susan B. Anthony comes to her rescue.
Because prominent members of Beecher's church were involved in business deals with Beecher, there was an effort to keep the scandal quiet. But word spreads through the feminist community. Eventually, Victoria Woodhull learns all the details, and she launches an expose of the preacher. She publishes the story in her newspaper!
In one of the most publicized trials of the century, Beecher was sued by Titlton for seducing his wife. Lib Tilton was coerced into retracting her statements, several times. Afterwards, she was abandoned by her husband. She was taken in by a group of spiritualists and supported for the rest of her life. Beecher survives the scandal, but few of his friends, confidantes, or relatives do. The affair shocked the nation. It discredited the feminists and set back efforts to get women the vote by 30 years.
Newspaper drawing of Beecher on the witness stand.
More about Tilton/Beecher affair
from the Time Machine
You will have to read Other Powers to find out why Victoria
stirred up this brew (ha-ha). There are many more salacious details and slimy characters. I guarantee you will be shocked, and the current sex scandal in Washington will seem trivial in comparison.
Copyright Allison Nies 1998