Other Powers Essay - Critical Essays

Barbara Goldsmith

Other Powers

Barbara Goldsmith organizes a social history of American private life from the 1840’s to the 1870’s, around the career of Victoria Woodhull, a spiritualist who briefly became a leader in the women’s rights movement in OTHER POWERS: THE AGE OF SUFFRAGE, SPIRITUALISM, AND THE SCANDALOUS VICTORIA WOODHULL. In 1872 Victoria became the first woman to open a Wall Street brokerage house. A social and political radical, she demanded sexual equality for women. Her magazine published the first English translation of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto in the United States.

Victoria was born in Homer, Ohio, in 1838. She married Dr. Canning Woodhull in 1853. Victoria claimed to be clairvoyant. Her spirits told her to move to New York City in 1868, where her successful seances led Cornelius Vanderbilt to sponsor Victoria and her sister, Tennessee Claflin, as stockbrokers. After announcing her candidacy for the Presidency in 1872, Victoria testified before Congress on behalf of women’s suffrage. Her eloquent performance charmed suffrage leaders who hoped she would invigorate the movement, but the Equal Rights Party she organized further split the women’s rights movement.

When Victoria used her magazine to reveal that popular charismatic minister, Henry Ward Beecher, had sexual relations with Elizabeth Tilton, wife of one of his parishioners, Victoria was arrested and spent election day in jail. A hung jury failed to convict Beecher in a civil trial brought by Theodore Tilton, and Beecher claimed vindication.

Although Goldsmith has been criticized for being overly fond of salacious gossip, her stress on personality makes this biography a particularly lively account of nineteenth century American life.

Sources for Further Study

Commonweal. CXXV, September 11, 1998, p. 34.

Library Journal. CXXIII, February 15, 1998, p. 154.

The Nation. CCLXVI, May 11, 1998, p. 42.

National Review. L, May 4, 1998, p. 50.

The New Republic. CCXIX, August 10, 1998, p. 26.

The New York Review of Books. XLV, May 14, 1998, p. 29.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, March 29, 1998, p. 11.

The New Yorker. LXXIV, April 20, 1998, p. 94.

Time. CLI, January 19, 1998, p. 49.

The Times Literary Supplement. May 22, 1998, p. 27.