The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age

The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age

Myra MacPherson

Language: English

Pages: 432

ISBN: 0446570249

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


A fresh look at the life and times of Victoria Woodhull and Tennie Claflin, two sisters whose radical views on sex, love, politics, and business threatened the white male power structure of the nineteenth century and shocked the world. Here award-winning author Myra MacPherson deconstructs and lays bare the manners and mores of Victorian America, remarkably illuminating the struggle for equality that women are still fighting today.

Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee "Tennie" Claflin-the most fascinating and scandalous sisters in American history-were unequaled for their vastly avant-garde crusade for women's fiscal, political, and sexual independence. They escaped a tawdry childhood to become rich and famous, achieving a stunning list of firsts. In 1870 they became the first women to open a brokerage firm, not to be repeated for nearly a century. Amid high gossip that he was Tennie's lover, the richest man in America, fabled tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, bankrolled the sisters. As beautiful as they were audacious, the sisters drew a crowd of more than two thousand Wall Street bankers on opening day. A half century before women could vote, Victoria used her Wall Street fame to become the first woman to run for president, choosing former slave Frederick Douglass as her running mate. She was also the first woman to address a United States congressional committee. Tennie ran for Congress and shocked the world by becoming the honorary colonel of a black regiment.

They were the first female publishers of a radical weekly, and the first to print Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto in America. As free lovers they railed against Victorian hypocrisy and exposed the alleged adultery of Henry Ward Beecher, the most famous preacher in America, igniting the "Trial of the Century" that rivaled the Civil War for media coverage. Eventually banished from the women's movement while imprisoned for allegedly sending "obscenity" through the mail, the sisters sashayed to London and married two of the richest men in England, dining with royalty while pushing for women's rights well into the twentieth century. Vividly telling their story, Myra MacPherson brings these inspiring and outrageous sisters brilliantly to life.

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treatment?… a Galician Bishop declared that she was not human. At the Council of Macon the Bishops debated whether she had a soul.” The audience cried, “Shame, shame,” after she mentioned that a judge had recently said, “ ‘When women go into the witness-box they will swear to anything.’ It is about time,” Tennie cried, “we called for our sons to give us back our good name.” Huge applause followed. Her repetitive call to teach sons respect for women was laced with arguments for birth control and

States Senate from 1986 until the present. 5. The Republican Party brought in coaches: Jill Filipovic, “Why the Election Wasn’t the Feminist Victory Many Had Hoped For,” Cosmopolitan, Nov. 6, 2014; Robin Marty, “Voters Overwhelmingly Reject Extreme Anti-Abortion Measures,” Cosmopolitan, Nov. 5, 2014; Greg Sargent, “Joni Ernst tries to cover her tracks on ‘Personhood,’ ” Washington Post, Oct. 3, 2014. 6. I could go on forever: E-mail interview with MM, March 24 and 31, 2013. 7. Papua New Guinea

argued that women should get the vote before blacks, Stanton’s fervency led her down the low road of racism. She and Anthony, propelled by grief, betrayal, and fear that the women’s vote would be delayed for decades, vehemently opposed males at the convention who argued that this was “the Negro’s hour.” Intense shouting broke out on both sides, and Anthony was drowned out when she argued that discussion of the women’s vote should be first and the Negroes’ last. No one had fought harder for

that “when the sluts are out, the dogs will bark.” When working girls attempted to strike, they were jeered as prostitutes, and foremen threatened to send them to the Tombs, the jail in Lower Manhattan, to await sentencing. Mediums and actresses were considered demimondes. An unmarried society woman who went out at night without an escort could ruin her reputation. The sensational act of conducting business on Wall Street was enough to cast suspicion on the sisters. Now, as sex radicals, their

Instead of ruffles or jewelry, the sisters wore silk bow ties. Their light brown hair had been cut boyishly short; Tennie derided the fashionable nest of curls and chignons as “vile bunches of hair, tortured into all conceivable unnatural shapes.” They’d added a rakish final touch: each had tucked a solid gold pen behind an ear, to flash in the noonday sun or catch the gaslight’s glow. The sisters were showstoppingly beautiful, and their unique costumes only added to their allure. Victoria was

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