It's historic! Hillary Clinton is the presumptive Democrat nominee of the 2016 race for the White House. But wait . . . was she the first woman to be named a presidential nominee? Nope, that honor goes to Victoria Woodhull:We’re not just going to break the glass ceiling. We’re going to break down all the barriers that hold back women and their families.— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) June 10, 2016
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.
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.)