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Woodhull, Victoria C] Oliver, Leon.

Great Sensation, The.


A Defense Of Woodhull's Role
In The Beecher-Tilton Scandal,
Inscribed, Together With A Rare Photo
(Woodhull, Victoria). Oliver, Leon. The Great Sensation: A Full, Complete and Reliable History of the Beecher-Tilton-Woodhull Scandal, with Biographical Sketches of the Principal Characters... Chicago: The Beverly Company, 1873.
8vo.; illustrations throughout; preliminaries, occasional pages faintly offset, foxed; blue cloth, stamped in gilt; covers rubbed, tips and edges of spine lightly frayed; else sound. Housed in a cloth folding box, together with a photograph of "Miss Woodhull," contemporary owner's notes on verso.
First edition. A nice association copy, inscribed by the catalyst of scandal herself to a fellow suffragette and radical: Louise Cuppy Smith From Victoria C. Woodhull Feb. 24, 1874.
Oliver's strange book, a combination of yellow journalism and serious reportage, prints an extremely pro-Woodhull version of the Beecher-Tilton scandal which erupted in 1872. Although Victoria Woodhull inscribed few books, it is not all that surprising that this copy of The Great Sensation bears Woodhull's presentation signature and, implicitly, her blessing: the 360-page text provides an encyclopedic compendium of the events, including detailed biographical accounts of all involved parties (Beecher & family, Tilton, Woodhull and her sister Tennie); many chapters on Woodhull as an activist and businesswoman; a history of her arrests and of the attempts to silence her by authorities and by fellow feminists; many pages on Woodhull's philosophy of women's suffrage, socialism, free love, and the like; and much hitherto unpublished correspondence to Woodhull from Susan A. Anthony, Elizabeth Tilton, and others.
This volume-not to mention Woodhull's choice of it for presentation-documents one of the most preeminently sexual scandals to ever strike the pre-20th-century radical left feminist movement. Briefly put, the facts are these: by 1871 Woodhull had alienated herself from mainstream feminists by becoming a vocal proponent of the free love movement, which supported the right to multiple ongoing sexual relationships among, and between, consenting married and unmarried adults. Woodhull's advocacy of "pantarchy" (her term for this free love state) caused Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, previously political allies, to distance themselves from Woodhull's work: the lines were firmly drawn in 1872, when a horrified Anthony ousted Woodhull from the National Woman Suffrage Association and refused to back her bid as the first female Presidential candidate in the United States. The strident Woodhull, who would not refute her controversial opinions, painted herself into a corner: she found herself politically and personally isolated at the very time that she most needed organized support. As the year progressed, Woodhull was increasingly abandoned by suffragists and other radicals, who were disturbed both by her bold statements and by the allegations of financial impropriety that surrounded Woodhull and Claflin.
In September 1872, a defensive and angry Woodhull struck back against those whom she felt had betrayed her: in a public speech, Woodhull regaled her audience with the details of a purported love affair between the liberal Congregationalist Minister Henry Ward Beecher and his parishioner Elizabeth Tilton, wife of newspaper publisher Theodore Tilton and poetry editor of the post-Susan B. Anthony Revolution. She was telling the tale of the extra-marital affair, Woodhull alleged, to point out the hypocrisy inherent in the anti-free love position. Woodhull's rumor-mongering infuriated leftists and feminists-especially Stanton, who had informed her of the Beecher-Tilton affair under strictest confidence. The situation exploded: rather than retract her original charges Woodhull printed them, in a more elaborate version, in her newspaper Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly for November 2, 1872. By evening the scandal-packed issue of the paper was selling for $40 on the black market; within two days, Anthony Comstock, in concert with U.S. marshals, arranged for the arrest of Woodhull and her sister Tennie on the grounds of distributing obscene literature. Woodhull spent the next year in a cat and mouse game with authorities: she managed to get herself released from jail, wherein she promptly reprinted her account of the Beecher-Tilton story and was promptly re-arrested.
In June 1873 Woodhull was finally acquitted of obscenity charges; she devoted the remainder of her life to her public speaking campaign against American sexual hypocrisy. In terms of Beecher and Tilton, Woodhull was eventually vindicated: in 1875 Theodore Tilton finally sued Beecher for the alienation of his wife's affections; upon the suit's out of court settlement, his wife Elizabeth published her full confession of the affair.

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