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VICTORIA C. WOODHULL (1838 – 1927) First Woman to Run for U. S. President

In American History, American Presidents, Biography, Feminists, History, People, Presidential Candidates, Trivia, Victorian Women, women on June 14, 2010 at 9:21 PM

Victoria C. Woodhull

While Victoria California Woodhull’s endeavors did not all end successfully, she was very successful at laying a foundation for women to build on in business and politics.

Woodhull’s childhood was unstable.  Her family was poor, and love seemed to be a commodity her parents, Roxanna and Reuben Buckman Claflin, couldn’t afford.  The best way Claflin knew to deal with his ten children was to beat them.  Ironically, he had acquired wealth through real estate speculations, but lost everything when Victoria, the seventh child, was three.  Roxanna was born into money, the heiress of a rich Pennsylvania German family.  Being waited on hand and foot limited her motivation, and she never became literate or gained any ability to fend for herself.   

Woodhull’s formal education copied her mother’s.  She only spent a few years in school because she was pressed upon to help out so much at home, being treated almost like a slave.  Woodhull missed going to school and was an excellent student, but she acquired knowledge from other sources.

 BEING GUIDED BY THE SPIRIT                                                                              Woodhull believed in angels and lived with them as friends.  Every day she went into a trance and communicated with them, often sitting on the roof of the house for hours to escape the cruel, demanding life inside.  She had a simple faith in God, and took great comfort in relating to the angels and receiving channeled messages from them.  She credits these beings with giving her the ability to retain everything she read.

The angels were not imaginary beings but the spirits of people close to Woodhull.  When she was three, her nurse died suddenly.  Woodhull clearly remembered joining the nurse on her journey to the spirit world, being carried there by her.  Her mother recounted that her daughter’s body lay immobile, as if she were dead, for the three hours of this experience.  Woodhull also lost two sisters who died in childhood, and they became invisible playmates to her.  She also claimed to receive a prophecy from a spirit who confirmed that she would one day be a writer and publisher and leader of her people.

THIRD TIME’S A CHARM                                                                                           On the way to fulfilling her destiny, Woodhull married at age 14.  Her husband was 28, and it was not a happy union.  For two years she had become increasingly sick with the fever, and eventually Dr. Canning Woodhull was called to treat her.  When she recovered, he escorted Woodhull to a picnic and on the way home proposed marriage. This terrified her but her parents accepted the offer, and four months later they were married.  Dr. Woodhull’s fidelity lasted two days before he resumed his life as a philanderer and a drunk who lived beyond his means.

Within two years they had a baby boy, and it was born developmentally disabled.  Woodhull and the baby returned to her family and she earned her living with her clairvoyance and wisely invested her money. Then she had a healthy baby girl by another drunken philanderer.

Woodhull finally met her soul mate in Col. James H. Blood, a loving and compassionate man who was also a Spiritualist.  They were married spiritually if not legally, and Woodhull retained the name she was known by.  When Woodhull would go into a trance and channel the messages of the angels, Blood would diligently write down every word.

GOING WHERE NO WOMEN HAD GONE BEFORE                                          In 1869 Woodhull turned her attention to business and with her sister, Tennie, became the first female brokers on Wall Street when they established Woodhull, Claflin & Company.  They were supported partly by Woodhull’s investments and the respect and deep pockets of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who appreciated Woodhull’s clairvoyant abilities.  The sisters did not participate in the daily operations of the company, but they were nevertheless mocked in the press for being women in influential positions in finance.

The following year, these entrepreneurs started a journal called Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly which became a platform for their views on politics, finance and women’s issues.  If they weren’t controversial before, they were now.  Their opinions varied widely from the mainstream, and no topic was off limits.  They advocated the elimination of the gold standard, graduated income tax, legalized prostitution, spiritualism and vegetarianism.  They promoted women’s rights including sex education and “free love.” Woodhull believed in monogamy, but also that a woman retained the right to determine with whom she had sex.  And, contrary to the social mores of the time, she strongly defended a woman’s right to leave a bad marriage.  Woodhull quickly became a leader in the women’s suffrage movement preaching equality, freedom of choice, and the right to vote.  

IT’S AN HONOR TO BE NOMINATED                                                                 In 1871 Woodhull received a message from the same spirit that had earlier predicted her future, telling her to run for President.  Her husband dismissed the notion as ridiculous, and the friends that she consulted laughed at her.  But, the idea grew on her, and she trusted her spirit’s guidance. She announced her intention to run, and in June 1872, she was officially nominated as the candidate to represent the newly created Equal Rights Party.  Frederick Douglas, a former slave, was nominated as her running mate, but he did not accept. Woodhull’s platform was to advance women’s political equality with men. She received support from trade unions, socialists and women’s rights advocates, but some of her ideas were so radical that more conservative suffragists like Susan B. Anthony would not support her.

Woodhull’s nomination was controversial not only because of her gender, but the legality of it was suspect.  Technically she was ineligible because she wouldn’t be 35 years old, as mandated by the Constitution, until six months after the inauguration.  However, since Ohio, her birth state, didn’t require birth certificates until 1867, Woodhull’s age couldn’t be confirmed.  Also, the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote wasn’t ratified until 1920, which implied that a woman couldn’t run for President either.  And some believed that because she was a woman she was not a citizen, also a requirement for President.

Ulysses S. Grant easily won reelection, leaving Woodhull’s destiny unfulfilled.  In 1876 she divorced Colonel Blood and a few months later moved to England with her children.  She earned her living on the lecture circuit.  Wealthy banker John Biddulph Martin attended one of her talks and ended up becoming Woodhull’s third husband when she was 45 years old.  This time she assumed his name.  As Victoria Woodhull Martin, she and her daughter published a magazine called the Humanitarian until she was widowed.   She died in England on June 9, 1927.

QUESTION:  What are the best and worst things about being President of the United States?

© 2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

http://www.victoria-woodhull.com/tiltonbio.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victoria_Woodhull

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_1872

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAWwoodhullV.htm

http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/ww/people_woodhull.html

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LI XIAQING (1912-1998) Aviatrix & Actress

In adventure, Biography, Chinese history, Feminists, Movies, People, People from China, Pilots, Trivia, Uncategorized, women on May 3, 2010 at 9:02 PM

Li XiaQing

 

Li was born in the Canton province of China to a wealthy, patriotic family. She was given the nickname “Dandan,” a homophone for the Chinese word for “bomb,” because her family used her baby carriage to stealthily transport explosives.  

At age 14, she wandered onto a movie set, and the director was smitten with her stunning looks.  He offered her the opportunity to act in a silent film, and she thought it would be fun.  Despite her lack of experience, Li, using the stage name Li Dandan, quickly won the admiration of audiences, which she capitalized on for six more films.   

Her most famous role was the title character in Hua Mulan Joins the Army in 1928.  Hua Mulan was the young girl who dressed as a boy to go to war, the basis for the Disney animated movie Mulan.  In order to play the role convincingly, Li learned martial arts, archery, boxing, fencing and horseback riding.  

Li XiaQing as Mulan

 

These new skills gave her an edge off the set as well and made her a hero to the production company.   One night while they were on location, robbers snuck into the camp and stole the production money.  Li jumped on a horse, prevented the thieves from crossing a bridge, and after fighting with them for a while, tossed them over the bridge into the river.  

Li’s father wanted her to continue her education, so he sent her to Europe.  He was also ready to pass off responsibility for her to a husband.  He changed her name back to Li Xiaqing and hired a matchmaker.  She picked Zheng Baifeng who was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris and worked for China’s Foreign Service. This seemed like a match made in heaven, and the couple was married in 1929 and made their first home in Geneva.  Li was 17 years old and Zheng was almost 30.  

By 1932, Li had become a mother to a son and a daughter.  This new responsibility did not, however, interfere with her love of travel.  In 1933, Li attended the Paris Air Show and was enamored by flying.  Immediately upon returning to Geneva, she enrolled in flying lessons. One year later, Li made her first solo flight and was the first woman to receive a private pilot’s license in Geneva.  

Li’s reason for learning to fly was patriotic: to help her country advance through aviation.  In order to accomplish that, she needed to become a more proficient pilot and mechanic.  She enrolled at the Boeing School of Aeronautics in Oakland, California for advanced training.  By the time she graduated she could dismantle and reassemble an airplane engine and was versed in aerodynamics, meteorology, aircraft design and radiotelephony.  

The biggest thrill in flight for Li was aerobatics.  On May 15, 1935 she went up with instructor LeRoy B. Gregg over San Francisco Bay.  At about 2,200 feet Gregg started a barrel roll and turned the plane upside down.  When he looked back, he saw Li falling out of her seat trying to hang on.  Then, in shock, he watched her fall.  After a free fall of about 900 feet, Li remembered to pull the rip cord and activate the parachute she was wearing.  This eased her splash down into the icy cold bay.   

Li was an experienced swimmer, but her water-logged leather suit and the freezing water made it difficult for her to move.  Gregg dropped life preservers, but Li couldn’t get to them.  Luckily, airmen at the U.S. Naval Reserve Base in Alameda saw her fall and were on their way to rescue her in a Loening amphibious plane.  Unfortunately, the pontoons were stuck on this aircraft, and Li had to continue to tread water until a second one could arrive.  Li was in the water for 20 minutes until she climbed aboard the rescue aircraft.  A credit to her gender, Li only had two complaints: she was cold, and she lost a shoe.  In order to “get back on the horse,” Li went up over the Bay in the same stunt plane the following day.  Apparently, the cause of Li’s involuntary ejection was a broken seat belt, although she admitted to a reporter many years later that it was possible she had forgotten to fasten it.  

This harrowing experience earned Li membership in the Caterpillar Club, an exclusive organization of about 100,000 people with only one requirement to join.  You must have saved your own life through an emergency parachute exit from an airplane.   

On November 5, 1935, Li was the first woman to graduate from the prestigious Boeing School of aeronautics.  With a diploma, private pilot’s license and impressive experience, she returned to China.  

In 1934, General Chaing Kai-shek authorized private flying in China for the first time. After passing a demanding test, Li was the first woman to be issued a government pilot’s license, handed to her by General Chaing himself.  With this honor came responsibility.  She was given the use of a government plane and charged with inspecting all the airfields throughout China.   

Li didn’t really have time for family, and didn’t live with her husband and children. This independence had consequences.  In 1935 she divorced Zheng under the new constitutional laws which made Zheng lose face.  As a result, Li had to forfeit seeing her children until they were adults.   

Li wasn’t at a loss for romance, however.  She had met Peter Doo when she was in Europe and they corresponded while she was lived Oakland.  With Li finally a free woman, Doo went to work for her father to encourage a commitment from her.  The most she was willing to commit to was a long distance romance for eight years.  

In Shanghai, Li primarily taught flying and continued to be an example for women. For Chaing Kai-shek’s fiftieth birthday celebration she performed the first aerobatic flight by a woman.  For the finale, she dove straight at the podium full of dignitaries and pulled up at last minute, just a few feet above their heads.  Her popularity skyrocketed.  

In 1937 Japan invaded China.  Li saw this as the ultimate opportunity to use her skills to serve her country.  She was crushed when she was told she would no longer be allowed to fly because she was a woman, not even on courier missions. But she found another way to serve, by founding the First Citizens’ Emergency Auxiliary and using her own money to convert a hotel into the Red Cross Emergency Hospital.  She was driven, doing everything from administration work to assisting with surgery to organizing a refugee camp and orphanage to running the radio station that broadcast propaganda.   

The Japanese were not so appreciative of Li’s contributions and they put her on their black list, forcing her to leave Shanghai. She ended up back in San Francisco where she started working on her idea to fly around the United States raising money to support China.  She sold $7,000 worth of jewelry to buy an airplane and finance her excursions.   

Everywhere she went, Li was given a grand reception.  Audiences were surprised and captivated by her beauty and style.  The Idaho Statesman in Boise described her outfit of sharkskin slacks, no hose, leather sandals, finger and toenails polished to match the lipstick and a carnation behind her ear.  This flower became her trademark.   

Hollywood noticed her, too.  She revived her acting career as a Chinese aviatrix in the movie Disputed Passage starring Dorothy Lamour.  She took time out of her flight schedule for the three-day job, and she did her own stunts, donating her earnings to the war refugee fund.  

By 1939 Li had flown 10,000 miles and raised $10,000 for Chinese refugees.  She extended her efforts to two fundraising tours of South America, returning to Shanghai in May 1946.   

Back in Asia Li only flew for pleasure.  She met international businessman Li GeorgeYixiang (no relation).  Together they shared a love of travel, golf and horseback riding.  They settled in Oakland near where Li had studied at Boeing.  By this time, Li’s American pilot’s license had expired, and the Federal Aviation Administration would not recognize her license from Hong Kong.  So, in 1966, at 54 years old, Li began flight instruction to become recertified.   

Li never lost the thrill of flying.  One day while she was out driving, she saw a crop duster in a field.  She stopped and asked the farmer if she could take it for a spin.  She did tricks and aerobatic maneuvers, pushing the plane to its limits.  When she landed, she thanked the flabbergasted owner and walked away.  

Li was 86 years old when she died in Oakland. For her final resting place she wanted to feel the same expanse she felt while flying.  She had bought four adjacent plots in the Mountain View Cemetery and insisted that she be buried right in the center with lots of space around her.  

QUESTION: What nickname do people call you?  What significance does it have?  How has it influenced your relationship with them?  

                         ©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved  

Sources:  

Gully, Patti.  Sisters of Heaven.  San Francisco: Long River Press, 2008.  

http://www.airspacemag.com/history-of-flight/Chinas_First_Lady_of_Flight.html  

http://160.111.252.58/research/arch/findaids/pdf/Lee_Ya-Ching_Papers_Finding_Aid.pdf  

http://www.chinesemirror.com/index/2009/10/in-search-of-li-dandan-aviatrix.html  

http://softfilm.blogspot.com/2009/01/lee-ya-ching-flying-for-victory.html  

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caterpillar_Club  

http://www.caterpillarclub.org/irvin/irvin.htm  

MADAME C.J. WALKER (1867-1919) First Self-Made American Woman Millionaire

In African-American women, American History, Biography, Entrepreneurs, Feminists, Guiness Book of Records, Hair, History, Millionaires, People, Uncategorized, women on March 22, 2010 at 8:12 PM

Madame C .J. Walker

Madame C. J. Walker turned a bad hair day into a fortune and a Guinness World Record.  She followed her dream, literally, turning her life into a true “rags to riches” story. 

Sarah Breedlove was the fifth of six children born to former slaves in Louisiana. Both of her parents died when she was seven years old, but being an orphan wasn’t a life sentence to poverty.   She moved in with her older sister and brother-in-law and survived by working in the cotton fields of Louisiana and Mississippi.  This turned out to be a bad situation, so at age 14 she married Moses McWilliams to escape her brother-in-law’s abuse.  

Four years after her marriage, Breedlove had a baby girl.  Two years later her husband died and she was again forced to find her own way.  She moved to St. Louis where her four brothers had become successful barbers.  She earned $1.50 a day working as a washer woman and eventually saved enough money to send her daughter to school.  

Breedlove’s own education was spotty.  When she reached school age, there were no funds allocated by the white legislators in Louisiana to educate black children.  Then she was pressed into working full time to contribute to the household of her sister and brother-in-law.  In St. Louis, she managed to improve her reading and writing with the help of the women at the St. Paul AME church.  These women also became her social network and eventually an inspiration for growing her business. 

Loss and abandonment followed Breedlove to St. Louis.  All her brothers died and she married and divorced John Davis.  In addition, an ailment that caused her to lose almost all her hair plagued her. She desperately tried various homemade remedies and store bought products.  One potion she used was created by Anne Malone, and in 1905 Breedlove moved to Denver as a sales rep for Malone.  

Life took a turn for the better in Denver.  Not one to depend on another, Breedlove wanted to develop her own hair products.  The formula for a solution to her problem was revealed to her in a dream.  “…One night I had a dream…a black man appeared to me and told me what to mix up in my hair. Some of the remedy was grown in Africa, but I sent for it, mixed it, put it on my scalp, and in a few weeks my hair was coming in faster than it had ever fallen out. I tried it on my friends; it helped them. I made up my mind to begin to sell it.”1 She worked with a pharmacist to develop her own line that rivaled Malone’s. 

Her love life was looking up, too.  She married newspaperman Charles Joseph Walker.  Breedlove changed her name to Madam C.J. Walker, and it proved to have the sophisticated sound that instilled confidence in shoppers.  Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower scalp conditioner was her ticket to success. As for her marriage, unfortunately the third time was not a charm, and they divorced after six years.  

Madam Walker remembered the relationships she developed with the women at the church in St. Louis.  She saw a large potential market in such fellowships and gave product demonstrations at churches and lodges. She also implemented a door to door, grass roots selling strategy that led to hiring individual sales agents. Walker acknowledged that her level of education was insufficient to run a profitable business, so she hired a former teacher to tutor her privately.  

The Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company was founded with five original products.  Expansion was inevitable, and for a year and a half she moved to Pittsburgh and opened the Lelia College of Beauty Culture, named after her daughter.  In 1910 Walker moved her entire operation to Indianapolis where she built a factory, training school, and hair and nail salon.  

Walker’s success was three-fold.  First, she accrued an enormous personal wealth.  Second, she provided economic opportunity for black women which gave them an alternative to domestic labor. Her sales agents could potentially earn between $5 and $15 dollars a day when unskilled white laborers were only earning about $11 a week.2 The sales force was organized into local and state clubs with opportunities for management on every level, a model that is used in many companies today.  In 1917 the Madam C. J. Walker Hair Culturists Union of America was big enough to hold a convention in Philadelphia.  

Third, Walker believed that with wealth comes responsibility, and she became a role model for using her riches to support political and philanthropic causes.  She gave generously to African-American organizations and instilled this virtue in her sales force.  At the 1917 convention, Walker gave out awards to her agents not just for their business achievements but also for their political activism.  

The headquarters for the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company remained in Indianapolis, but in 1916 Walker and her daughter moved to Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, and Walker supervised the business from there.  Their new home was a 30-room mansion designed for them by black architect Vertner Tandy, and Walker spared no expense on the furnishings.  The estate was named Villa Lewaro after the first two letters of her daughter’s name: Lelia Walker Robinson, and is in the National Register of Historical Places. 

During the last year of Walker’s life, total sales of her company exceeded $500,000 and she had trained some 40,000 sales agents serving customers the U.S., Central America and the Caribbean.3 Her legacy includes The Guinness Book record as the first self-made American woman millionaire, and in 1998 the U.S. Postal Service put her image on a stamp. 

QUESTION:  What would you do if someone gave you one million dollars today? 

                                 © 2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved 

Sources: 

1http://www.brilliantdreams.com/product/famous-dreams.htm 

2Henry Louis Gates Jr., “Madam’s Crusade”, Time magazine, December 7, 1998, Canadian edition. 

3http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5662.html 

http://madamcjwalker.com/bio_madam_cj_walker.aspx 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madam_C._J._Walker 

http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5662.html 

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/theymadeamerica/whomade/walker_hi.html 

http://www.brilliantdreams.com/product/famous-dreams.htm 

http://www.irvingtonhistoricalsociety.org/nrhp/nrhp04.html