Thursday, June 18, 2009

"Mrs. Satan" in Middleborough

One of the most controversial American figures of the post Civil War era was Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927), perhaps best remembered today as the first woman to run for the American presidency. Woodhull was an early suffragist, an advocate of sexual freedom, divorce, social welfare programs, an eight-hour workday, corporate profit-sharing and other progressive measures.

Woodhull and her sister, Tennessee ("Tennie") Claflin, were the first female stock brokers on Wall Street, and the two later edited and published a newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly in which appeared the first English translation of Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto. In November, 1872, during Woodhull's run for the presidency, the newspaper exposed nationally renown preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, an opponent of Woodhull and her support for "free love", as an adulterer, touching off a national scandal which remained in the news for a number of years.

Not surprisingly, Woodhull was an anathema to social and political conservatives who literally demonized her in the press. Most notably, cartoonist Thomas Nast depicted her as "Mrs. Satan" in the February 17, 1872, edition of Harper's Weekly.

Just months following these events, during the summer of 1873, Woodhull passed through Middleborough, stopping long enough at the depot to change trains where she left her photograph with one fortunate admirer.

The Middleboro Gazette says Victoria Woodhull, accompanied by [her second husband] Major Blood, has been to the Camp-meeting on the Cape, and on her way thence she stopped at the Middleboro depot, and as a trophy of the influence of his good graces a gentleman, who may be seen at the depot most every day, has a picture of herself which she donated. Unfortunate man!

It's not readily apparent whether the Gazette's final sentiment is sarcastic or sympathetic, which is perhaps apropos given Woodhull's ability to provoke such widely disparate reactions.

"Victoria C. Woodhull", Bradley & Rulofson, photographers, San Francisco, carte de visite, undated
It was probably a photograph similar to this which Woodhull left with an unidentified employee of the local railroad station in Middleborough.
Harper's Weekly, "Get Thee Behind Me, (Mrs.) Satan!", Thomas Nast, cartoonist, February 17, 1872, page 140.
Nast's cartoon was particularly vitriolic, depicting a demonic-looking Woodhull (notice the cloven hoof peaking out from under the hem of her dress). What makes the cartoon especially viscious is that the second woman with the drunken man on her back and the apparently helpless child is likely intended to represent Woodhull whose first husband, Dr. Canning Woodhull was an alcoholic, and whose son Byron (one of Woodhull's two children) suffered from mental retardation.

Old Colony Memorial, "County and Elsewhere", August 7, 1873, page 1.


Cari Carpenter said...

For more info about her, see:,674201.aspx

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