Sunday, September 30, 2018

Madame Presidentess by Nicole Evelina

In the years following the Civil War, a woman blazed onto the national scene.  Victoria Woodhull started life in a family of grifters and con men.  She was used by her parents to further their crimes as she and her sister, Tennessee, were forced to work long hours as fortune tellers.  This was the era of seers and spiritualists and many people believed that the dead could return to predict the future. 

Victoria fled her parents into an early marriage at sixteen, only to find that the man she thought would save her instead was at bad as her parents.  He was an alcoholic and thought nothing of beating her.  But there was a spirit in Victoria that refused to give up.  She and her sister went to New York and managed to meet the acquaintance of one of the nations richest men, Cornelius Vanderbilt.  With his patronage, the sisters managed to break into the heights of society.  Desperate for knowledge, Victoria used her acquaintance with Vanderbilt to learn about the stock market and the two sisters opened the first female stock brokers office. 

But Victoria's interests ran wide.  She yearned to make herself known and valued in all aspects and she became part of the suffragette movement to fight for the vote for women.  That led her to the trade unions with their message of rights and more power for those working.  She opened one of the first female newspapers in order to push her views out to more people.  Finally, in 1872, she became the first woman to run for President, believing that her spirit guide predicted her success.

But Woodhull's views were too outrageous for the times.  She had divorced her first husband and remarried another man but was adamant that she wouldn't be controlled this time.  She advocated for what she called free love, the right of men and women to love where they would regardless of their martial status, what would today be called an open marriage.  She befriended prostitutes and others from the lowest classes.  She fought constantly against the other women in the women liberation movement, like the Stowe sisters as she constantly pushed for more than most considered possible and was considered to be using the movement for her own purposes.  As Victoria came out with more and more radical ideas, she finally lost all that she had accomplished and today, few even know her name.

This novel won the Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction in the U.S. women's history category.  It puts the spotlight back on a woman who dared to want equality and fought her entire life to gain it, not only for herself but for everyone around her.  Although ultimately she failed and was silenced by her critics, she is now being rediscovered and lauded for her accomplishments.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

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