Flashback Friday: Victoria Woodhull

vwWho was Victoria Woodhull?

Name: Victoria Claflin Woodhull

Born: 23 September, 1838

Died: 9 June, 1917

Occupation: Politician, stock broker, suffrage leader, activist

Legacy: Renowned suffrage worker, female pioneer in a range of fields, political and financial leader, dedicated campaigner.

Significant Achievements: The first woman to run for President in the USA, first female stockbroker, publisher of own magazine, women’s suffrage campaigner.

Victoria Woodhull was born on 23rd September, 1838 to parents Roxanna and Reuben Claflin in Homer, Ohio. She was the seventh of ten children and in her early years received very little formal education. Her mother was illiterate and her father a criminal; consequently, Woodhull did not start elementary school until the age of eight. At the age of eleven, Woodhull’s father committed arson and attempted fraud, burning down the family’s gristmill after putting it under heavy insurance in an effort to receive substantial compensation. As a result, the family was driven out of Ohio by a group of vigilantes, forcing Woodhull to drop out of school and limiting her educational experience to a total of three years. Though Woodhull’s teachers found her to be extremely intelligent, her marriage to Canning Woodhull at the age of fifteen and the birth of a disabled son would ensure she never returned to school.

Following the birth of her children and two failed marriages, Woodhull and her sister Tennessee travelled to New York City in 1868, where they met Cornelius Vanderbilt. An admirer of Woodhull’s skills as an amateur medium, the wealthy widower Vanderbilt assisted the activist and her sister in setting up their own stock-brokerage company in 1870. As well as profiting the sisters financially, the brokerage firm on Wall Street made Woodhull and her sister the first ever female stockbrokers. Their success was such that newspapers like the New York Herald hailed Woodhull and Claflin (Tennessee) as “the Queens of Finance” and “the Bewitching Brokers.”

That year, Woodhull and her sister used the money they had earned on the stock market to set up the publication ‘Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly’, which provided them with a place to express their ideas on social reforms, including the women’s suffrage movement, feminism, sex education and birth control. The Weekly quickly became well-known for publishing material on controversial topics such as short skirts, vegetarianism and licensed prostitution. In particular, Woodhull was an advocate for free love, believing that women should have the right to escape bad marriages and control their own bodies. She strongly endorsed the right of sexual determination for women and on the topic of her beliefs once stated:

“Yes, I am a Free Lover. I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can; to change that love every day if I please, and with that right neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere.”

However, not everybody agreed with Woodhull. A renowned preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, publicly condemned Woodhull’s policy of free love, prompting The Weekly to publish an exposing article in 1872 which would capture the public’s attention for months.  The issue covered the alleged adulterous affair between Elizabeth Tilton and the reverend, and resulted in the arrest of Tennessee Claflin, Woodhull, and her second husband Colonel James Blood on the charge of ‘publishing an obscene newspaper’. As a consequence, the sisters were held in Ludlow Street Jail for a month.

The same year, Woodhull also became the first women in American history to run for President, doing so on the Equal Rights Party ticket. Woodhull spoke publicly on behalf of the women’s suffrage movement, but the campaign eventually failed (partially as a result of Woodhull’s arrest), and she failed to win the necessary votes. Woodhull tried once again to gain nominations for the presidency in 1884 and 1892, but nothing ever came to fruition. Nevertheless, she continued her work on equal rights and despite moving to England in 1877, maintained her cause until the end of her life. Woodhull spent much of her time writing, and whilst living in the country published a number of works, including ‘Human Body: The Temple of God’ and a magazine, ‘The Humanitarian’, which she founded with her daughter Zulu.

Woodhull died in Bredon’s Norton, Worcestershire on June 9, 1927, but still stands today as an extraordinary example of perseverance and courage in a time of struggle. Not only was Woodhull a leader in the suffrage and equal rights movement as well as a strong financial and political individual, she did so coming from an incredibly limited background, with minimal education and schooling. Her story is one of determination and success, making her undoubtedly a female pioneer of the ages.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Feminism, TedxTalks and Weddings

1. ‘We should all be feminists’

cnaThis was the title of the TedTalk acclaimed author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave in Euston in 2012. Critically praised for enticing new audiences to African literature, Adichie’s talk examined her experiences as an African feminist, and what it currently means to be a woman in society today. She also presented her views on sexuality, masculinity, gender construction and social injustices relating to gender. Her speech went on to be sampled for the 2013 song Flawless, by Beyonce – Adichie herself commented that she thinks it is great that the younger generation starts talking about feminism. The talk is clear, concise and presents many justified, eye opening and valid points on feminism in today’s society. Find it here at TedxTalks or on Youtube.

2. Martha Mosse and Laura Bates

everydaysexismTedxTalks are excellent sources should you be interested in exposing yourself to interesting new ideas and concepts. A lot of the talks given encourage social, political and economic change or suggest new solutions for pre-existing problems. In keeping with HerCause, this week’s media selection features Martha Mosse and Laura Bates, two women who have also spoken on the platform. Mosse, an award-winning performance and visual artist, discusses the labels ‘Slut, Spinster and the Perfect Woman’, whilst Bates talks about her intiative: ‘The Everyday Sexism Project’. Both are informative and interesting – Laura Bates has given several talks via TedxTalks if you would like to venture further.

3. Women and Weddings

weddingThis Upworthy post curated by Franchesca Ramsey looks at the pressure on women to get married and start a family. There are similar chords between elements of this post and the TedxTalk by Martha Mosse. In particular, the post features a clip of Jennifer Aniston talking about public obsession on whether she will get married or have kids, and how judging women by such guidelines is unreasonable and unfair.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Astronauts, Angelina Jolie and Apples for Apples

1. Angelina Jolie

ajWhilst Angelina Jolie is best known for appearing on the big screen, she has made the news twice in the past month for entirely seperate reasons – last week as director of Unbroken, a film based on the life of Louis Zamperini, and in October, when she recieved an honourary damehood for her humanitarian work. Jolie is an excellent example of a person in a position of influence utilising their power to generate positive change. Most recently, she co-chaired the global summit of End Sexual Violence in Conflict (ESVC) in London with William Hague and is currently a special envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Jolie has worked for many years to end war zone sexual violence and is involved in a number of different projects, including the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) which she co-founded in 2012.

2. Astronaut Arrives at Space Station

scItaly’s first female astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti , featured in the news last week when she arrived at the International Space Station. She and other crew members joined Russian female cosmonaut Yelena Serova, who has been at the Space Station since September. Cristoforetti was selected as an European Space Agency astronaut in 2009, following a captaincy in the Italian Air Force.

On the subject of space, have a look at this intriguing story about a young girl who already has the universe in her sights.

3. Apples for Apples

afaThis article by Alisha Huber is a contemplative and explorative piece on modern feminism, including the negative stereotypes attached to the term. She explores feminism throughout society and in her own life, and reflects on what being a feminist means for both women and men in the modern world. Read it here.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Taking a Stand: Queen Rania

Queen Rania of Jordanqueenrania

Queen Rania of Jordan is the focus of this week’s Taking a Stand. The Queen, who is well-known for advocating a number of social, economic and political changes in and out of Jordan, made the news last week when she opened the Abu Dhabi Media Summit, 2014. During her opening speech, Queen Rania took the opportunity to speak out against the extremist group, ISIS, for the terror it is currently creating in Syria and Iraq. She commented that the actions of the group were dragging the Arab world back into the Dark Age, and warned of the dangerous part social media could and was playing in defining Arab culture:

“A minority of irreligious extremists is using social media to rewrite our narrative… hijack our identity and rebrand us.”

The Queen was keen to emphasize that the extremists were not representative of the majority of Arab people, stating:

“These images don’t represent me anymore than they represent you. They’re alien and abhorrent to the vast majority of Arabs — Muslims and Christians. And they should make every Arab across this region seethe. Because they’re an attack on our values as a people. And on our collective story.”

Queen Rania also took the opportunity to highlight a message which is integral to the moralities behind Her Cause – that silence can have as great an impact as sound, if not a worse one. She said that the Arabs were as much to blame in their moderateness, indicating that “A story is told as much by silence as by speech. Well, our silence speaks volumes. We are complicit in their success.” Queen Rania’s message shows the importance of speaking out rather than remaining silent, making her an ideal candidate for ‘Taking a Stand’.

For more, take a look at these sites:

Official Website


Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Flashback Friday: Sophia Jex-Blake

sjbWho was Sophia Jex-Blake?

Name: Sophia Louisa Jex-Blake

Born: 21 January, 1840

Died: 7 January, 1912

Occupation: Doctor, campaigner and teacher

Legacy: The first female doctor in Scotland and a leading campaigner for medical education for women

Significant Achievements: Started various different medical skills, campaigned for the right to a medical education, became the first female doctor in Scotland and campaigned for women’s rights during the Victorian period.

Sophia Jex-Blake was born on the 21st January, 1840, to parents Thomas and Mary Jex-Blake in Hastings, England. At the time of her birth, Sophia’s parents already had two children: an eight year old son and a six year old daughter.  Sophia’s father, Thomas Jex-Blake, was a retired attorney, who along with his wife ran a strictly religious household in which dancing, theatre-going and other similar amusements were forbidden.  Nevertheless, they were both devoted to their children; according to a biography on Jex-Blake by Margaret Todd, Sophia would often insist ‘No one ever had better parents than I.’

As a child, Jex-Blake’s strong will, intelligence and energy often clashed with the views of her parents.  At a time when Victorian girls were expected to settle into the roles of homemakers and mothers, Jex-Blake stood out with her thirst for knowledge and excitable nature. Her inability to fit in meant she was constantly moving schools, as teachers often found it difficult to regulate her behaviour.

In 1858, Jex-Blake enrolled at Queen’s College, London, where whilst still a student, she was offered the post of mathematics tutor. Her parents only consented to her tutoring on the basis that Sophia was not to earn a salary. Jex-Blake’s father was particularly traditional in his principals, and told his daughter  that although he thought her working was  ‘very right and worthy of all praise’ what he objected to was her ‘taking money for it’ as he felt that if she was to marry ‘ I should give you a good fortune.”

To this comment, Sophia replied: “as a man, [you] did your work and received your payment, and no one thought it any degradation, but a fair exchange. Why should the difference of my sex alter the laws of right and honour?”

Jex-Blake’s views were incredibly progressive for the period, and in 1862 (a year after leaving Queen’s College) she joined the Edinburgh Ladies’ Educational Association in Scotland. That year, she also travelled to Germany where she was to teach at the Grand Ducal Institute for Women in Mannheim. Despite her desire to learn about the German educational system, Jex-Blake struggled. She was incredibly homesick at the Institute and many of the pupils took advantage of her lack of discipline in class. Additionally, there was a focus on dancing, singing, playing and embroidery for girls in the curriculum -none of which Jex-Blake was equipped to teach. Consequently, she returned home after only a year in the country.

Neverthless, Jex-Blake’s committment to the education system remained unaltered and in 1865, she convinced her parents to allow her to travel to the United States to learn more about women’s education. Whilst there, Jex-Blake visited various schools and colleges, and was introduced to both medicine and feminism by friend Dr Lucy Sewell. Feminism in America was more advanced than in Great Britain, and Sewell was already an established physician at the New England Hospital for Women and Children. Though not medically trained, Jex-Blake worked with Sewell and other doctors and students at the hospital. During her time there, she was a book-keeper and pharmacist but also engaged in day-to-day practical work and was particularly involved in learning women’s diseases. The trip was transformative; Jex-Blake’s experiences convinced her she should become a physician.

In 1867, Jex-Blake and fellow trainee Susan Dimock, applied to Harvard Medical school, where they hoped to get an education equal to that of a man. Though they were both denied, Jex-Blake convinced some of the faculty to teach her and other women at another hospital. The following year, she was offered a place at a new medical school established by Elizabeth Blackwell, but had to return home to England following the death of her father.

Despite her withdrawal from the more liberal United States system, Jex-Blake continued her persual of medicine. In 1869, she was admitted to the medical school at Edinburgh, only for her application to be overturned by the university. Following the decision, Jex-Blake began a long campaign to promote the inclusion of women in further education and counter her denial of a place at the medical school. Her cause gained her international attention, and in 1870, she and four other women were admitted. However, Jex-Blake still faced strong opposition from faculty members, peers and local communities. The negative feedback finally came to a head in November in a conflict which is now known as the riot at Surgeons’ Hall. Jex-Blake and her classmates were prevented from entering their classroom by 200 protesters. The event was well publicised, and helped to generate support for the women’s cause. Jex-Blake led her peers in a lawsuit against the university for failing to allow them to complete their medical education, which succeeded in garnering significant sympathy for their cause. Although in 1973, the women were forced to accept that they would not obtain a degree from Edinburgh, their fight was taken to Parliament where they eventually succeeded in getting a bill passed which allowed all medical schools in Great Britain to admit women. This did not necessarily mean that women would be allowed to take the exams, yet the move was a large step from previous education standards.

Jex-Blake completed her medical education at the University of Berne in Switzerland, where she was awarded an MD in 1877. Four months later, she and four other colleagues passed their medical exams at the College of Physicians in Dublin, meaning that Jex-Blake could be registered with the General Medical Council and become a licensed medical practitioner. At the age of 37, she was the third registered female doctor in the country.

Jex-Blake went on to thrive in the medical world. Though she was often difficult to work with, Jex-Blake contributed significantly to her field, writing several books on areas of interest. A failed business venture prompted Jex-Blake to leave London and establish a private practice in Edinburgh in 1878, making her Scotland’s first female Doctor. She then opened a cottage hospital known as the Edinburgh Hospital and Dispensary for Women and Children.

Eventually, Jex-Blake retired from her medical career following the death of her beloved mother and (after a series of heart attacks) died in 1912, 18 years after Edinburgh University opened its medical exams to women. Jex-Blake might have been difficult to work with during her lifetime, but her struggle and perseverance means that many women are able to benefit from a career in the medical profession today. Not only was Jex-Blake an avid advocate of education for women, she was also open-minded and courageous during a period that was particularly supressive towards women, making her achievements nothing more than extraordinary.


Sophia Jex-Blake Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved 11 28, 14, from Your Dictionary: http://biography.yourdictionary.com/sophia-jex-blake

Todd, M. (2011, 12 18). The Life of Sophia Jex-Blake. Retrieved 11 28, 14, from Open Library: https://openlibrary.org/books/OL7176559M/The_life_of_Sophia_Jex-Blake

Various. (n.d.). Dr Sophia Jex-Blake. Retrieved 11 28, 14, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophia_Jex-Blake

Webb, A. (n.d.). Sophia Jex-Blake. Retrieved 11 28, 14, from Women in World History: http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/imow-Blake.pdf


Tagged , , , , , , , ,

GoldieBlox, MTV Braless and More

In addition to supporting the achievements of young activists all over the world, recognising individual events or creators in the media industry can also succeed in creating positive change, particularly as media is such an integral part of many societies today. The past few weeks have seen a number of events, businesses and individuals challenge social stereotypes, present new ideas on how to change current situations and start conversations about gender-related issues today. This Monday, HerCause  hopes to recognise some of the media outlets which have caused a stir over the last few days.

1. MTV Braless

MTV Braless

This is the title of MTV’s first YouTube Channel, hosted by vlogger and public sex educator, Laci Green. MTV have currently signed a twelve-week deal with Green for the channel, which aims to focus on gender and sexuality issues in current pop culture. So far, Green has covered ideas about body image in All About that Bass, Taylor Swift and sexism, and the cultural heritage of twerking and its current connotations. Whilst MTV Braless doesn’t claim to have all the answers, it presents ideas about current issues in a clear, concise manner that is instantly relatable to viewers.

2. GoldieBlox vs the Big Sister Machine

goldiebloxFor those of you who haven’t already heard of GoldieBlox, the company was founded by Debbie Sterling with the ultimate  goal of getting more girls into building, and therefore STEM-related subjects. The company is well-known for its creative promotional videos , and this month saw the release of a new clip (‘GoldieBlox vs the Big Sister Machine’) debuting GoldieBlox’s first action figure for girls. The video challenges the existence of dolls like Barbie, which push ideals based on aesthetic perfection rather than innovation and creativity.


3. Karl Stefanovic

karl stefanovicWhilst not a ‘young female activist’, this Australian TV host has recently made the news for announcing that he has worn the same suit all year, in an attempt to highlight gender inequality in the media. Stefanovic said he was frustrated at the sexism his female colleagues faced on a day-to-day basis. He noted that nobody had noticed his repetitive attire, but that the women in the office constantly faced criticism on what they wore and what they said : “they wear the wrong color and they get pulled up. They say the wrong thing and there’s thousands of tweets written about them.” Stefanovic’s subtle point has helped to demonstrate the injustices within the media industry regarding treatment of the sexes.

Do you want more?

For more information, check out these websites here:

Karl Stefanovic wears same shirt for a year

MTV Braless Debut

GoldieBlox vs the Big Sister Machine


Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Taking a Stand

As part of a new segment for the blog, I am going to be publishing a ‘Taking a Stand’ post every Sunday in recognition of an individual who has featured prominently in the news that week for their stance on a particular issue. The feature aims to recognise that acts of courage, determination and integrity (regardless of how small or large) can contribute significantly to positive outcomes in the long term.

Jessica Ennis-Hill

Jessica Ennis-Hill

This week’s ‘Taking a Stand’ candidate is Jessica Ennis-Hill, who has lent her opinion on the Ched Evans controversy currently presiding over Sheffield United. Ennis-Hill stated that she wanted her name to be removed from a stand at the club which had been named in her honour  if they offered Ched Evans, a convicted rapist who was recently released from prison, a contract. The club is allowing Evans to train with them, but has made no decision on whether or not he will be re-signed.

Ennis-Hill said that ‘”Those in positions of influence should respect the role they play in young people’s lives and set a good example. If Evans was to be re-signed by the club it would completely contradict these beliefs.” 

 Jessica Ennis-Hill is not the only person to have acted in the debate – Charlie Webster, a patron of Sheffield United Club, has resigned over the club’s decision to allow Evans to train with the squad.

If you would like to read more on this topic, please see the news articles here:

Name Removal Request

Charlie Webster

Rape Tweet

Ched Evans Petition

Warning: Some of the articles contain information about sexual assault which may be upsetting to some readers.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,