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Woodhull, Victoria.

Elixir of Life, The; or, Why Do We Die?

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Woodhull's Sexual Liberation Manifesto
Woodhull, Victoria. The Elixir of Life; Or, Why Do We Die? An Oration Delivered Before the Tenth Annual Convention of the American Association of Spiritualists, at Grow's Opera House, Chicago, Ills., by Victoria C. Woodhull, September 18, 1873. New York: Woodhull & Claflin, 1873.
8vo.; white printed wrappers, string-tied; lightly used; pages fresh, bright. Housed in a specially made cloth slipcase.
First and only edition of a remarkable and extremely scarce pamphlet, printing the text of a speech delivered at the Annual Convention of the American Association of Spiritualists, at which she was elected president of that organization. Woodhull and Claflin had first acquired fame in their rural Ohio home due to their purported psychic powers, which they demonstrated as part of their parents' traveling medicine show, before gaining infamy for their radical political agenda. Partly to counter the rumors about her ill health, Woodhull launched a national lecture campaign in the fall of 1873. This time her talks centered not in women's suffrage nor the sexual double standards of the radical left but in spiritualism, through which, she maintained, women could ultimately attain sexual and social emancipation.
This scarce pamphlet was published at a particularly pivotal time in Woodhull's volatile career-after 1872, Woodhull, shunned by "respectable" feminist leaders, turned to her first calling, spiritualism, and began to earn her keep as a speaker, lecturing across the nation on a variety of quirky subjects. In this 24-page manifesto Woodhull espouses truly radical beliefs: her talk ostensibly concerns "the immense issue of sexual freedom" (p.1), but manages to touch on the spiritual dimensions of sexuality, the sexual dimensions of spiritualism, the connection between sexual magnetism and healing ("But what is Animal Magnetism? It is Sexual Vitality merely; and it is nothing else. A person, whether male or female, cannot be a magnetic healer, except he have sexual vitality; and it will be found, that the most successful healers are those who have the most of this element..." [p.5]), religious freedom, promiscuity, and other scandalous topics. In part:
...We must affirm, and, as far as we are able, must secure for all human beings this most sacred of all rights-a right which belongs to every man and every woman (unconvicted of crime) at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances; and of all functions in the body of a man or woman to which this greatest of liberties most especially pertains, the sexual function is the most important: it must not and ought not to be disturbed in its offices by arbitrary laws, unless it unwarrantedly invades another's liberties; and the effort to reduce it to legal or religious bondage has resulted, and must ever result, in introducing into society misery, bestiality, anarchy, and destruction. If we would change the present rotten state of the world with regard to our sexual horrors, all that we have to do is to acknowledge and inaugurate this grandest of all liberties; to recognize the right of woman to rule in the domain of the affections; to aid the full development of the natural love that exists within the sexes; and to guard our children from that ignorance in sexual matters which has decimated and is decimating the present generation of mankind... (p.22)
Today, Woodhull's words are riveting; one can imagine how shocking they must have been in her time.
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