Hillary Clinton now claims that she is the first female nominee for President. However, upon closer historical examination, that claim is found to be false.
As Hillary Clinton’s official campaign announcement nears, expect much more talk about the historical importance of a woman becoming president—it was, after all, a precedent-shattering approach that helped deliver Barack Obama to the White House in 2008.
Despite two women appearing on national tickets—Sarah Palin in 2008 and Geraldine Ferraro in 1984—the nation’s highest office remains elusive to the female sex. In fact, with the exception of Clinton, there’s not another woman in either party well positioned to win the nomination (face it, progressives, Elizabeth Warren is a pipedream, not a possibility). Clinton owns the glass-ceiling territory, and that’s pretty compelling for women voters who happen to constitute a majority of the electorate yet have spent their entire voting age lives choosing between candidates of the other gender.
Based on the rhetoric surrounding her historic candidacy in 2008 and, in more recent months, leading up to the 2016 campaign, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Clinton was the first woman ever to run for the nation’s highest office. Far from it.
Clinton, as she dropped out of the 2008 presidential race, celebrated the groundbreaking success in her race. “Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it,” she told supporters.
Few know, though, the name of the woman who put the first crack in that highest, hardest glass ceiling. That honor belongs to a beautiful, colorful and convention-defying woman named Victoria Woodhull, who ran for the office in 1872, 136 years before Clinton made her first run in 2008. Woodhull, who died nearly twenty years before Clinton was even born, hazarded a path on which no woman before her had ever dared to tread. Even more amazing is that she did it almost 50 years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 gave women the right to vote. On Election Day, November 5, 1872, Victoria Woodhull couldn’t even vote for herself.
Although it must be noted that she could not have voted for herself in any case, given the fact that she was incarcerated on Election Day, and for a month or so after, in New York City’s Ludlow Street Jail on obscenity charges. (Details below.)
Woodhull ran under the banner of the Equal Rights Party—formerly the People’s Party—which supported equal rights for women and women’s suffrage. The party nominated her in May 1872 in New York City to run uphill against incumbent Republican Ulysses S. Grant and Democrat Horace Greeley and selected as her running mate Frederick Douglass, former escaped slave-turned-abolitionist writer and speaker. On paper, it was an impressive pick, but not really: Douglass never appeared at the party’s nominating convention, never agreed to run with Woodhull, never participated in the campaign and actually gave stump speeches for Grant.
But that’s just one more of many caveats about Woodhull, who, throughout her long life—she died in England in 1927 at age 88—never much cared for rules or regulations of a game she considered egregiously rigged against women. On inauguration day, she would have been just 34 years old. Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution requires that the president be 35 on the day “he” takes office. In the end, though, her youth was the most moot of moot points, because Victoria received zero electoral votes. (There’s no record of how many popular votes she received; though we do know that 12 years later, another woman running for president under the banner of the same Equal Rights Party racked up 4,149 votes in six states.)
The only thing that is historic about Hillary’s nomination is the fact that such a corrupt career criminal has been nominated.