Did you know that 35 women have run for President of the United States? And that the first was Victoria Woodhull in 1872?
Political and social milestones like Victoria's Presidential run capture our collective imagination. Recently the nomination and election of President Obama and the presumptive nomination of Hilary Clinton as the Democratic candidate in 2016 did just that.
It’s a grand thing to watch history unfold, especially when that history doesn't involve war or destruction!
We all love to see and share success, but not every milestone comes with success attached - sometimes, really important milestones are doomed to failure. Victoria Woodhull’s run for President was never going to succeed.
But, as Victoria herself realistically said:
“If my political campaign for the Presidency is not successful, it will be educational.”
Educational it certainly was. And trail-blazing.
Victoria's story isn't well known and in A Woman for President we follow her impoverished and abusive childhood through two broken marriages and a groundbreaking career as a stockbroker to her run for President of the United States of America.
She rose from abject poverty to riches and then used those riches to finance a run for the Presidency in 1872.
And she did it at a time when everything in society conspired against her. Social mobility was rare and women’s rights were virtually non-existent.
Victoria managed to overcome all of that and retain her sense of outrage and passion.
This is a picture book for older readers. Telling a story like this one requires many words, so each page is quite text-heavy for a picture book, but in typical Jane Dyer fashion, the pictures do a wonderful job of supporting the story. They're beautiful and evocative of the time. There’s a haunting sadness to some and a stilted formality to others, but also joy and enthusiasm and promise.
However, the main reason I recommend it for ages 8 and up is that it needs to be pondered on – there’s a lot happening and a lot of issues to think about. The hard realities of Victoria’s life are confronting – important and thought provoking, but still confronting. The status of women in the late 1800’s can be shocking to children and teens as can the way that status translated into their everyday lives.
Victoria had no right to vote – in 1872 only women in Wyoming and Utah had the right to vote. (Utah women later lost the right to vote before regaining it in 1895.)
This meant that Victoria couldn’t even vote for herself!
Because this is a picture book, designed to tell a story of great importance, not everything about Victoria's life is included. Some of her beliefs and policies were radical at the time and would be simply unthinkable in a Presidential candidate today. Victoria's personal life may also give some readers pause - and the story as told in A Woman for President leaves those parts of her life aside. (If you want to read more, there are a couple of books for adults available on kindle that will provide plenty of information.)
But Victoria's impressive drive and passion are evident right throughout the story – it’s admirable and the stuff that tough role models are made of. Her willingness to stand strong and brave the ridicule of society and the media for a cause she believes in is presented with a little bit of sass – probably reflecting Victoria herself.
There’s a great story of Victoria and her sister Tennessee in an upmarket restaurant: They order:
‘tomato soup for two’
but are refused service because they have no male escort. The sisters invite their carriage driver in to dine with them and:
‘“Tomato soup for three,” said Victoria grandly.’
A Woman for President is great to read for:
Capturing a bit of history – Victoria’s life is a reflection of the time she lived and her achievements were extraordinary – it’s history worth knowing.
Celebrating the progress the world has made in embracing human rights and reflecting on the work still to be done.
Preparing for another historic election in November when Hilary Clinton will be the first woman nominated for President by one of the two major political parties.
Beginning or continuing to talk about winning and losing and how to measure success.
Reflecting on judgements made against minorities and disenfranchised people, then and now.
In many ways Victoria’s story is a tragic one, but it’s also a milestone story. It’s a story that has earned the right to capture our collective imagination, one that is grand to read and to unfold.