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Woodhull, Victoria and Tennie C. Claflin)

Constitutional Equality: A Right of Women, by T.C. Claflin.


Claflin's Eccentric Feminist Masterpiece
Woodhull, Victoria and Tennie C. Claflin. Constitutional Equality A Right of Woman...With Her Duties to Herself-Together with a Review of the Constitution of the United States, showing that the right to vote is guaranteed to all citizens...New York: Woodhull, Claflin & Co., [February] 1871.
8vo.; frontispiece portrait of Claflin; brown endpapers, front endpaper chipped; green cloth, elaborately stamped in gilt; lightly worn at edges; a handsome copy. Housed in a cloth slipcase.
First edition of Claflin's legendary declaration in favor of women's constitutional rights. Number of copies unknown, though it is safe to assume-considering the self-published nature of the enterprise, and the infrequency with which copies surface-that the run was quite small.
Constitutional Equality, A Right of Woman is the earliest and the most influential political work by Tennie Claflin, the radical activist who, with her sister Victoria Woodhull, transformed the face of 19th-century feminism; it provides detailed and cogent arguments for a feminist overthrow of the political state. With this, Claflin and Woodhull launched their most enduring critique of the patriarchal status-quo: "...Woodhull and Claflin succeeded in making explicit issues concerning sex that few others were willing to take on, and the publicity they received contributed to a gradual lessening of restrictions on women's lives and sexual conduct" (AR, p.900).
Radical activists Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927) and her younger sister, Tennessee "Tennie" Claflin (1845-1923), were born and raised in rural Ohio. The duo first acquired fame not from their politics but from their purported psychic powers, which they demonstrated as part of their parents' traveling medicine show. At age 15 Victoria married a physician, Canning Woodhull; the match did not last but Victoria used her first husband's name throughout her life. Eventually, Woodhull and Claflin moved to New York City and became the first female stockbrokers on Wall Street. Rumor had it that much of their business success was due to their odd liaison with the aging railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, through whom they acquired both influential friends and financial backing.
The sisters' already dubious reputation-in Ohio, they had been regarded as women of ill repute-sunk even lower when Victoria turned her attention to politics, speaking out in support of controversial social reforms. In 1870, she published a series of articles in the New York Herald which advocated "Pantarchy": a so-called perfect state in which free love reigned among consenting adults and children and property was managed in common. That same year, she  announced her candidacy for the presidency of the United States; her platform, articulated in her journal Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly, amazingly supported full sexual rights for women, legalized prostitution, socialism, tax, housing, and dietary reform. The following year, Woodhull and Claflin published Claflin's scandalous Constitutional Equality, A Right of Woman. Not surprisingly, these radical ideas, which were far to the left of standard-bearing feminists of their era, lost them their chance at a lasting public affiliation with the women's suffrage movement: In 1872, a mortified Susan B. Anthony ousted the sisters from their leadership posts at the National Woman Suffrage Association.
In October 1885 Tennie Claflin wed Francis Cook, a wealthy English dry-goods merchant. After endowing a home for artists in London, he was made a baronet; she, in turn, became Lady Cook. The two lived for years at the baronet's castle in Lisbon, Portugal. Charges of past scandals, however, continued to dog Tennie and Victoria, and the sisters regularly responded with threats of libel litigation. After her husband died in1901, Claflin made frequent trips to America to lecture on women's rights, prostitute's rights, and the rights of children born out of wedlock. During World War I she called for an "Amazon army" of 150,000 female troops, an idea which, like many of her others, never gained popularity. She died at 77 in London, and was buried in West Norwood Cemetary. Victoria died four years later.

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