From Woodhull to Harris, the women fight for representation in the US leadership continues

The California senator stands ready to serve as Vice President of the United States of America, 150 years after Victoria Woodhull run for the presidential elections and 100 years after American women won the right to vote.

 Kamla Harris’s delivers her firt speech as Vice President ©Pledge Time

The victory of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is history-making for many reasons;  its arrival in the middle of an international health crisis, for the very troublesome nature of the 2020 contest, and mostly for its Vice President–elect.

Who is Kamala Harris?

Kamala Devi Harris is an American politician and a daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants. She is set to become the highest-ranking woman in the nation’s 244-year existence. Harris has basically spent her entire life crashing through glass ceilings and accumulating “firsts”. She was the first female district attorney of San Francisco, the first female attorney general of California, the first Indian American in the US Senate, the first Indian American candidate of a major party to run for vice-president and the first black and Asian American woman to obtain the United States second-highest office.  And If Joe Biden only serves one term, as expected, there is a big chance that she could become the first black female president in 2024.

Nevertheless, Harris is hardly the first woman to try. A long list and history of women who fought for representation in America’s leadership paved the way for the new Vice President victory.

Victoria Claflin Woodhull (1838 – 1927), the real pioneer. 

Victoria Woodhull, 1870. ©Wikimedia Commons

Victoria Woodhull was the very first woman to run for the office in United states history. When she entered the 1872 election as the nominee of her own Equal Rights Party, she was too young to be president.  People refused to classify her as a true candidate because she was younger than the constitutionally mandated age of 35.  She couldn’t even vote for herself, with the 19th Amendment still decades away. The real element which ended the already sensational coverage of her candidacy was her arrestment on obscenity charges a few days before the election. Woodhull used her newspaper, Woodhull and Caflin’s Weekly to expose popular preacher Henry Ward Beecher as an adulterous hypocrite in an article  which had rather more details than was considered proper at the time.

An activist and a free thinker

Woodhull’s interest in women’s rights began in 1869 when she attended a female suffrage conference. In 1871, she became the first female to deliver speech on women’s right to vote before the House Judiciary Committee and argued that the 14th and 15th amendments gave women the right to vote. This gained her a position of prominence with leading suffragettes Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. 

Victoria Woodhull claiming women’s right to vote before the House Judiciary Committee in 1871. ©Politico Magazine

Woodbull was severely criticised for advocating sexual freedom. As an editor and public speaker, she demanded that women and men be held to the same standras and norms in public life. As a part of her political activity, she raised the topic of women’s sexuality and rights in marriage, shocking critics and inspiring supporters. 

While Kamala Harris and Victoria Woodhull are two American women who were motivated by different causes, their actions and achievements broke ground for women coming after them. As Harris said in her first speech as Vice President “While I might be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last.”

Imane Adou

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