Who exactly were the Queens of Finance? The New York Herald reserved this title for Victoria Claflin Woodhull and her sister Tennessee Claflin (or Tennie C Claflin). These sisters surmounted incredible odds by establishing a highly lucrative brokerage business on Wall Street in 1869. Born in Homer, Ohio they were not privy to the comforts and education afforded by wealth or high social stature. In fact, their childhood was quite tumultuous. Born to an alcoholic father, the sisters took charge of providing for the family while Tennessee was still an adolescent. Victoria and Tennessee moved to New York with their family and manage their combined living expenses with money earned from the brokerage business and profits made from their publication the Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly. Not only are they were they successful in finance but later both become involved in politics. Victoria actually ran for president in the 1872 election, before women even had the right to vote! As I researched them I began to wonder how these tenacious women achieved so much during the period of time in which they lived. Here’s what I gathered from what I’ve read about them:
They reinvented themselves: The sisters were examples of the power of flexibility. They were bold about career changes, moving from fortune-telling to finance to publishing to politics, all in the span of a few years. They understood the power of networking: They were also quick to attach themselves to the right people like financier, Cornelius Vanderbilt and New York Herald editor, Stephen Pearl Andrews.
They were outspoken: As one of the most controversial figures in women’s rights of her day, Victoria and Tennessee drew much attention. They also earned the hatred of many. In fact, editorial cartoonist, Thomas Nast referred to Victoria C. Woodhull as Mrs. Satan, for her support of the free-love movement. Thankfully, there are now far more resources available to women than were present in the nineteenth century. One which I’d like to mention is the NYC Women’s Resource Network which connects women in New York City with non-profit and government agencies which service the needs of women and families. Thanks to Gina Halkias-Seugling for tipping me off about these amazing women and for providing most of the above mentioned references! Works used to compose this post include: American National Biography, Victoria Woodhull’s Sexual Revolution and Notorious Victoria.
Image from Harper's Weekly, February 17, 1872