Advanced Search

Woodhull, Victoria) Claflin, Tennie C.

Speech on the Ethics of Sexual Equality.


[Woodhull, Victoria C.]. Claflin, Tennie C. Speech on the Ethics of Sexual Equality. Delivered in the Academy of Music, New York City, March 29, 1872. New York: Woodhull, Claflin & Co., 1872.
Slim 8vo.; printed wrappers, sewn; fore- and top edge water-stained, with a spot on the front cover. In a specially made cloth slipcase.       
First edition of this 24-page pamphlet, reprinting the text of Claflin's speech made to an over-full house. The National Union Catalogue reports only what must be a second edition, published in 1873 with a variant title. Arguably Claflin's most important work, delivered at the peak of the Claflin-Woodhull influence, when they were intimately reporting the Beecher scandal in their paper and Woodhull was running for President. The cover notes that "The Academy admits 7,000 people," and excerpts the New York Herald's report that twice as many tried to attend the lecture:
The house was crowded, and, inasmuch as when the doors were opened, a surging multitude, stretching into the middle of Irving Place, was doing its best to get inside, there is little doubt that a report of the police, given subsequently, that the Academy could have been filled twice over, was in all probability true.
By 1872, Claflin and Woodhull, had gained a reputation for views radical enough to get them ousted from mainstream suffrage efforts. Though their previous publications-among them Constitutional Equality, A Right of Woman, Claflin's earliest and most influential political work which provides detailed and cogent arguments for a feminist overthrow of the political state-helped transform the face of 19th-century feminism, the pair's free-love advocacy was unpopular. In 1870, Victoria published a series of articles in the New York Herald which envisioned an American "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, on a platform supporting full sexual rights for women, legalized prostitution, socialism, tax, housing, and dietary reform.
Two years later, they published this scandalous pamphlet-The Ethics of Sexual Equality. Not surprisingly, their 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: a mortified Susan B. Anthony ousted the sisters from their leadership posts at the National Woman Suffrage Association.
That there was an audience for Claflin and Woodhull's ideas and publications is evident by the crowds they were able to draw with such lectures as The Ethics of Sexual Equality, in which Claflin calls attention to the plight of women trapped in loveless marriages for the purpose of procreation against their will. She writes: "¼marriage is a stupendous failure-a gigantic fraud¼the wife unexpectedly finds herself in a strange condition¼Satisfied at length that something is wrong, the services of a Madam Restell, if the parties have the means to obtain entrée to her august presence are secured, and the situation is usually successfully relieved, in a scientific manner." Claflin argues that marriage forces women to become mothers against their will, "and to maintain sexual relations with men for whom their love is not sufficiently deep to always make them happy at the prospect of reproducing themselves in children¼It is, without doubt, the most unfortunate condition to which women are subject, that, as a general rule, they are compelled to rely upon their sex to gain favor with men." Claflin concludes that when women secure freedom for themselves, equality with men will follow:
¼women, before they can attain to their true and best relation in the family of man, must secure freedom for themselves, and after that, equality will come, when they will be competent to match men in all departments of life, and never de dependent upon them¼Then, indeed, will men and women dwell together in unity, and see constantly springing up in their midst beautiful, angelic, God-like children, who, being conceived in joy, gestated in hope, and born to consummate both joy and hope by fullest fruition, shall regenerate the world, since "the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head," and thereby the last enemy, which is death, shall be conquered.
Alan Whitman, in American Reformers, states that "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" (p.900). Claflin actively pursued feminist reform until her death, frequently lecturing 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 Cemetery. Victoria died four years later.

© 2011-2018 Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, Inc. All Rights Reserved.