Not All Rainbows and Sisterhood

Highlighting Historical Fiction with Nicole Evelina

Someone asked me not long ago what the most surprising thing that I uncovered during my research for Madame Presidentess, a biographical historical fiction novel about Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President in the United States in 1872. I could talk about her crazier-than-life family or how her messages would be controversial even today, but the thing that shocked me the most was that the Women’s Suffrage Movement wasn’t as rah-rah sisterhood as you might think.

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Susan B. Anthony

It started out with the best of intentions in 1846, when the first public debate on women’s rights took place at Oberlin College. The following year saw the first public address about women’s rights, and in the one after that the first convention on women’s rights was held in Seneca Falls. By 1850, we had our first national women’s rights convention.

If things could have continued on that track and the Civil War hadn’t broke out, who knows how early we could have garnered the right to vote. The early movement had very strong momentum and support. However, the war distracted everyone from the cause, requiring men and women to turn their attentions elsewhere. It also fractured the movement along conservative and liberal lines.

In 1860, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association, a more radical arm of the movement. They opposed the Fifteenth Amendment (which would give African Americans and immigrants the right to vote) because they believed it would make it harder for women to get the same rights, and called for a Federal agreement for women suffrage. Opposing them was the conservative American Womans Suffrage Association, led by Lucy Stone, that endorsed suffrage on a state by state basis.

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Lucy Stone

The two groups were often publicly at odds with one another, sniping back and forth in the papers and preventing members of the opposing group from speaking in cities they claimed as their own. Victoria Woodhull, a member of the National Woman Suffrage Association, was prevented from speaking in Boston several times, as that was the territory of the more conservative American Womans Suffrage Association (and the home of Catharine Beecher, who hated Victoria and felt like women should leave politics to men). It’s also recorded that Victoria enjoyed making a nuisance out of herself at the 1872 American Womans Suffrage Association convention in Washington D.C. by leaving copies of her newspaper on every seat so that convention goers had to see her name even though they didn’t like her.

But not all progress in the movement was confined to these two groups. In 1868, more than 200 women in the Spiritualist town of Vineland, New Jersey, cast their votes in a separate box and tried to get them counted among the men’s, an event they repeated for several years. They were not affiliated with any group.

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Victoria Woodhull

Victoria also led a group of women to attempt to vote in November 1871 under her own banner, but they were not successful. The next year, on the election day when Victoria’s name was on the ticket but she was in jail, Susan B. Anthony was more successful, casting her vote, but later being arrested and found guilty of illegal voting.

Attempts by the National Woman Suffrage Association to change voting laws at the Federal level spanned nearly a decade. In 1871, Victoria Woodhull expanded upon Virginia Minor’s idea that the Fourteenth Amendment already gave women the right to vote by the use of the word “citizens” instead of “males” or “men,” arguing before the House Judiciary Committee. Their response was clear before she even began speaking, when House Representative John Bingham said to Victoria “You are not a citizen, madam. You are a woman.”

Still, they kept trying. In 1875, Virginia Minor took women’s suffrage to the Supreme Court in Minor V. Happerstatt, arguing that the Constitution already gave women the right to vote by declaring them citizens and giving all citizens the right to vote. The Court said citizenship did not imply the right to vote, but that the power was left to the states unless the federal government could be persuaded to amend the Constitution.

By 1880, the National Woman Suffrage Association realized the state by state approach was probably best and changed their focus, paving the way for the two factions to reunite as the National American Woman Sufferage Association in 1890.

Looking back on this with the benefit of hindsight, I have to wonder if we wouldn’t have had to wait until 1920 to get the right to vote if the split hadn’t occurred. There is no way to know. But I give all these tenacious, courageous women all the credit in the world for keeping up the fight for 80 years. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have the option of casting my vote in November for our first female President.

Victoria’s role in the suffrage movement is greater than I’ve alluded to here, so if you want to learn more, including about her daring speeches and provocative personal life that would scandalize the nation even today, check out Madame Presidentess, which is now available in ebook and paperback at all major online retailers.

Gabriel, Mary. Notorious Victoria.
Wheeler, Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, ed. One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement.

Madame-Presidentess-eBook-Cover-No-Quote-Large-200x300 Guest Author About the Book, Madame Presidentess

Forty-eight years before women were granted the right to vote, one woman dared to run for President of the United States, yet her name has been virtually written out of the history books.

Rising from the shame of an abusive childhood, Victoria Woodhull sets into motion plans that shatter the old boys club of Wall Street and defile even the sanctity of the halls of Congress. But it’s not just her ambition that threatens men of wealth and privilege; when she announces her candidacy for President in the 1872 election, they realize she may well usurp the power they’ve so long fought to protect.

Those who support her laud “Notorious Victoria” as a gifted spiritualist medium and healer, a talented financial mind, a fresh voice in the suffrage movement, and the radical idealist needed to move the nation forward. But those who dislike her see a dangerous force who is too willing to speak out when women are expected to be quiet. Ultimately, “Mrs. Satan’s” radical views on women’s rights, equality of the sexes, free love and the role of politics in private affairs collide with her tumultuous personal life to endanger all she has built and change how she is viewed by future generations.

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About the Author

Nicole-Evelina-headshot-horizontal Guest Author Nicole Evelina is a multi-award-winning historical fiction and romantic comedy writer. Her most recent novel, Madame Presidentess, a historical novel about Victoria Woodhull, America’s first female Presidential candidate, was the first place winner in the Women’s US History category of the 2015 Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction.

Her debut novel, Daughter of Destiny, the first book of an Arthurian legend trilogy that tells Guinevere’s life story from her point of view, was named Book of the Year by Chanticleer Reviews, took the Grand Prize in the 2015 Chatelaine Awards for Women’s Fiction/Romance, won a Gold Medal in the fantasy category in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and was short-listed for the Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction. Been Searching for You, her contemporary romantic comedy, won the 2015 Romance Writers of America (RWA) Great Expectations and Golden Rose contests.

Nicole is one of only six authors who completed a week-long writing intensive taught by #1 New York Times bestselling author Deborah Harkness. As an armchair historian, Nicole researches her books extensively, consulting with biographers, historical societies and traveling to locations when possible. For example, she traveled to England twice to research the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy, where she consulted with internationally acclaimed author and historian Geoffrey Ashe, as well as Arthurian/Glastonbury expert Jaime George, the man who helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research The Mists of Avalon.

Nicole is a member of and book reviewer for The Historical Novel Society, and Sirens (a group supporting female fantasy authors), as well as a member of the Historical Writers of America, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, Romance Writers of America, the St. Louis Writer’s Guild, Women Writing the West, Broad Universe (promoting women in fantasy, science fiction and horror), Alliance of Independent Authors, the Independent Book Publishers Association and the Midwest Publisher’s Association.

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