Sunday, July 24, 2016

Victorial Woodhull, "Madame Presidentess" by Nicole Evelina

Please welcome Victoria Woodhull, the main character of Madame Presidentess and historically the first woman to run for President in the US in 1872, forty-eight years before women got the right to vote.

RW:    What's your story/back story? Why would someone come up with a story about YOU?
VW:    I am a woman of great firsts whose story didn’t make it into the history books thanks to three angry, vindictive women who succeeded in quashing it. Fortunately, my author believes it is time for that to change. After all, I was the first woman ever to run for President, the first woman to own a stock brokerage on Wall Street (which I ran with the help of my sister, Tennie), the first woman to testify before a sitting committee of Congress (not that they listened to me), and one of the first women to run a weekly newspaper, also with Tennie.

Beyond those grand accomplishments, the world still needs my messages. Women got the right to vote when I was 82 years old, but you haven’t made enough progress since then. All the things I was saying back in the 1870s about women’s need to rise up and seize our own rights, especially related to our bodies and sexuality, are still valid today. Abuse may not be condoned like it was in my time, but it still happens far too frequently. And your prudish views on marriage, divorce, and affairs are astonishing; 144 years later and you still follow that silly Biblical rule.
Don’t even get me going about your current political race. It makes mine seem tame by comparison.
RW:    Can you tell us about your hero/ine
VW:    As my first husband doesn’t deserve use of my breath to speak his name, I’ll happily tell you about my second husband, Colonel James Blood.  He was a wonderful, loving man who supported all of my ambitions and helped me where he could. He’s the reason I became involved in the suffrage movement, and the person who taught me about Free Love. I should probably clarify that I don’t mean it as your hippies used the term; my definition of Free Love is based in the idea that the government should have no role in private affairs. Marriage should begin when two people love one another and end when the love is no longer there without the law or religion being involved.

Anyway, back to my husband. He was the silent partner behind my Wall Street brokerage, the success of which is what made my Presidential bid possible. He also served as my secretary, as I had terrible handwriting, and he helped write many of my speeches. But most of all, he gave me the courage to go against the mores of my time and speak my truth. I couldn’t have done what I did without him.

RW:    What problems do you have to face and overcome in your life?
VW:    Where do you want me to start? I was born poor to two parents who were more interested in making money illegally than anything else. Both of them were abusive. I only had three years of formal education, then my Pa put me and Tennie to work as magnetic healers and clairvoyants. We really did have those gifts, so we weren’t swindling people, but no young girl should have to work such long hours.

Then there was my abusive ass of a first husband. He started frequenting brothels a mere three days after we were wed. I’m still convinced his addiction to alcohol and laudanum is what made my baby boy be born an idiot. Or, what is it you call it today, “mentally challenged?” When my little girl was born, I was determined she wouldn’t grow up to fear her father, so I left him.

When I finally started to make something of myself, people immediately mistrusted or demeaned me because I’m female. I hear you still have that problem today. So I had to work at least twice as hard to get people to listen to me and take me seriously. Even after the election, there were plenty of doubters.

RW:    Do you expect your hero/ine to help or is s/he the problem?
VW:    Oh yes, James was a big help. He not only protected me from my father, he introduced me to a much more stable and higher class way of living. He really was my hero.

RW:    Where do you live?
VW:    I was born in a tiny town called Homer, Ohio, but we moved all over.  I lived in Cincinnati, San Francisco, St. Louis, New York City and even for a few months in Washington, D.C., not to mention in a dozen tiny Midwestern towns. But New York City is where I spent most of my political career.

RW:    During what time period does your story take place?
VW:    Though I lived from 1838 to 1928, the part of my story my author chose to tell spans from 1853 through 1873.

RW:    How are you coping with the conflict in your life?
VW:    Like I always do, with the guidance of the spirits. You see, I’m a Spiritualist, and I’ve been able to communicate with the spirits since I was a little girl. They always tell me what I need to hear to hang on when things are tough, and they have even told me when and where to move so that a new opportunity can cross my path. My spirit guide, the Greek orator Demosthenes, never lets me down.

RW:    Tell us about your family.
VW:    Oh, heavens, they are crazier than swarm of bats! Pa has always been a con-man, stealing money when he was postmaster, painting horses in order to make them look better so he could sell them, and swindling people in any way he could think of. But his favorite was selling snake oil to treat all manner of diseases. That stuff was so dangerous, it even killed a woman. Poor Tennie took the fall for that one. Bastard.

Ma wasn’t any better. She was a religious nut who would praise us one moment and beat us the next. She passed the time by blackmailing people. Even taught my sister Polly and a few of my other siblings how to do it.

I have seven sisters and two brothers. Two of my sisters died as babies, but they are some of the spirits I regularly commune with. I don’t like my living siblings much—Polly and Utica are useless cheats and drunks. My younger sister, Tennie, is the only one I really love. She and I have banded together since we were little and don’t intend to stop now. We survived Ma and Pa together, opened a successful brokerage firm together and co-run Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, our newspaper. There’s nothing we cannot do together.

RW:    If you came with a warning label, what would it say?
VW:   Warning: Speaks her mind with no regard for what others may think.

RW:    What is your secret guilty pleasure?
VW:    I really like men, and since James and I practice Free Love, I’ve taken a few lovers since marrying him. I felt guilty at first, but now I don’t; after all he does it, too.

RW:    You'd never be able to tell, but (fill in the blank).
VW:    I am actually quite vulnerable. Beneath my hard façade, I am still the scared little girl cowering beneath my Pa’s hand. I have a terrible fear of not being accepted, but my need to share my message is so strong that I barrel on through the fear.

RW:    That’s all the questions we have for you. Thank you for speaking to us.

VW:    It was my pleasure. I’ll speak with anyone who shares my author’s desire to get my name back into the history books where it belongs.

Your Bio:

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.

Her website is

*Note: Check out my five-rose review of Been Searching for You next door at Roses and Thorns.

Book Blurb:

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, the daughter of a con-man and a religious zealot, vows to follow her destiny, one the spirits say will lead her out of poverty to “become ruler of her people.”

But the road to glory is far from easy. A nightmarish marriage teaches Victoria that women are stronger and deserve far more credit than society gives. Eschewing the conventions of her day, she strikes out on her own to improve herself and the lot of American women.

Over the next several years, she 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.

This is the story of one woman who was ahead of her time—a woman who would make waves even in the 21st century—but who dared to speak out and challenge the conventions of post-Civil War America, setting a precedent that is still followed by female politicians today.


Among the morning’s speakers was my old friend from St. Louis, Virginia Minor. After she was introduced, Mrs. Minor wasted no time in getting to the point of her speech. “You may know that my husband and I are vocal proponents of the idea that the Constitution already gives us the right to vote. But we are willing to put before you an additional piece of supporting evidence, found in the Fourteenth Amendment, that I believe gives all women the right to vote.

“As persons born in the United States, women are citizens. Nowhere in the text does it specify ‘males’ or ‘men,’ only ‘persons,’ which is a term without gender and therefore should include both men and women. The Constitution gives all citizens the right to vote. Therefore, as citizens, we already have the right to vote. The next line of the amendment elaborates, noting that no state is allowed to legally deprive citizens of their rights or deny them equal protection.”

I followed Mrs. Minor’s words closely, taking in each argument and dissecting it carefully. I was not trained to debate the finer points of law, but I could find no flaw in the woman’s logic. In fact, the longer I listened, the more I found myself agreeing. Around us, women whispered to each other, nudging husbands and companions in agreement with Mrs. Minor’s peaceful call to arms.

“Therefore, if the right is already ours, all we need do is take it back. Yes,” her voice rang out like the peal of an Easter church bell, “I mean we must take action. Perhaps you have heard of the Spiritualist town of Vineland, New Jersey? There, late last year, nearly two hundred women cast their votes. They pledge to do so annually until they are acknowledged. This is what I call on you to do.

“What I am asking of you is revolutionary, this I know. It goes against all we are raised to believe and how society demands we behave, but I urge you to open your minds to the idea. As a group, we have the power to change state laws, something which Miss Anthony, Mrs. Stanton, and other leaders of this group will be working to put into action. But each of us bears personal responsibility as well. So on your next election day, I ask that you hand over your ballot, not meekly but with pride, and demand to be counted among the citizens of this fine country. Only in that way can we hope to affect change in time to cast our votes for the next president in 1872.”

The crowd roared with applause, and I leapt to my feet, clapping as loud as my hands would let me. This woman was onto something.

“We should do this,” I mouthed to Tennie, who nodded enthusiastically. I would have to discuss the possibilities taking shape in my mind with James.

“They’ve got motivation now,” said a man in the row behind me. “Too bad they don’t have the money to see it through.”

His offhand comment snagged my attention. The party needed money, and I needed a way into its upper echelons. If Josie’s stock tips had taught me anything, it was that there was money to be made in the stock market—lots of it. Perhaps that could be my entry into suffrage society. I mulled over the thought as other people spoke. By the time Elizabeth Cady Stanton delivered the closing address, I was determined to work with Tennie to see how our budding business relationship with Mr. Vanderbilt might help advance our work for women.

When Mrs. Stanton said, “The need of this hour is a new evangel of womanhood to exalt purity, virtue, morality, true religion, to lift man up into the high realms of thought and action,” a chill raced down my spine. Those words were meant for me.

My sight blurred, and I blinked as a vision took over my consciousness. I stood in the center of a spotlighted stage, speaking to throngs larger even than the crowd gathered for this convention, as Demosthenes had promised.

A flash, then I sat on a platform next to the three Fates who ran the organization. I was the golden child sent to breathe new life into a movement desperately in need of new energy.

The next thing I knew, Miss Anthony was announcing me as president of the National Women’s Rights Convention.

Another shift and the vision began to fade, but not before a newspaper headline blared the fulfillment of the highest of Demosthenes’ prophecies: “Victoria Woodhull Makes History as First Woman President.”

Yes! I will bring this movement to the masses. I will show them that a woman like them, raised in the dirt, who works for a living, can be an agent of change. Then they shall see one Victoria sitting on the throne of England while her namesake guards the interests of women in the United States. Less than four years from now, I shall be president.


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