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The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and…

The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age

by Myra MacPherson

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Being an account of the lives of the eponymous sisters, Tennessee Claflin and Victoria Woodhull, concentrating on their years of great celebrity in post-Civil War America as they brought their wit, beauty, and charisma to bear in bringing to America their heady philosophy, a mix of feminism, libertinism, spiritualism, and an unfamiliar twist on Christianity. Several very good biographies on the sisters, especially Woodhull, have been published over the years, but this new entry passes the "why?" test quite handily, given the author's fluency with words, attention to historical detail, and, especially, expanded attention to the sisters' relatively sedate but not uninteresting later years abroad. The book is marred by a clunker of an epilogue in which the author takes us on an opinionated survey of the current state of women's rights in the United States; perhaps most readers of a book of this sort will be sympathetic to her opinions, but many of these issues are at best tangential to anything the sisters concerned themselves with, and calls into question authorial historical objectivity. MacPherson is well-enough known that she could more easily have aired her views in lectures, interviews, and articles without burdening a fine visit to another world in another time with a partisan pep talk. ( )
  Big_Bang_Gorilla | Jun 21, 2015 |
A biography of Victoria Woodhull and her less well known sister, Tennesse Claflin. Woodhul was the first female Presidential candidate, running in 1872 with Frederick Douglas as her running mate. The sisters opened a Wall Street brokerage house (the first run by women), fought for the vote for women, advocated sexual equality and ending government interference in marriage. Macpherson covers the high and low points of their careers, from their early work as spiritualists and con artists to speaking before Congress; from their financial ruin thanks to continued legal attacks, the Women's Movement of the time rejecting them, and the hostility of Anthony Comstock. Colliding with and tarnishing Henry Ward Beecher, the two sisters fled to England, only to land rich husbands. Even then, the sisters (especially Lady Cook, nee Tennesse Claflin) continued to fight for women's suffrage and rights. Macpherson notes the sisters' failures, and Victoria's tendency to pugnacity causing great difficulties; but she also observes that Woodhull's claim to be a hundred years ahead of her time was actually far too optimistic, and that many of the issues the two battled against are still problems today for intelligent, ambitious women. Since Tennessee has been neglected in prior histories of Victoria, this book tries to correct that error and give credit where it is due. Well worth reading. ( )
  BruceCoulson | Apr 15, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0446570230, Hardcover)

A fresh look at the life and times of Victoria Woodhull and Tennie Claflin, two sisters whose radical views on sex, love, politics, and business threatened the white male power structure of the nineteenth century and shocked the world. Here award-winning author Myra MacPherson deconstructs and lays bare the manners and mores of Victorian America, remarkably illuminating the struggle for equality that women are still fighting today.

Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee "Tennie" Claflin-the most fascinating and scandalous sisters in American history-were unequaled for their vastly avant-garde crusade for women's fiscal, political, and sexual independence. They escaped a tawdry childhood to become rich and famous, achieving a stunning list of firsts. In 1870 they became the first women to open a brokerage firm, not to be repeated for nearly a century. Amid high gossip that he was Tennie's lover, the richest man in America, fabled tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, bankrolled the sisters. As beautiful as they were audacious, the sisters drew a crowd of more than two thousand Wall Street bankers on opening day. A half century before women could vote, Victoria used her Wall Street fame to become the first woman to run for president, choosing former slave Frederick Douglass as her running mate. She was also the first woman to address a United States congressional committee. Tennie ran for Congress and shocked the world by becoming the honorary colonel of a black regiment.

They were the first female publishers of a radical weekly, and the first to print Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto in America. As free lovers they railed against Victorian hypocrisy and exposed the alleged adultery of Henry Ward Beecher, the most famous preacher in America, igniting the "Trial of the Century" that rivaled the Civil War for media coverage. Eventually banished from the women's movement while imprisoned for allegedly sending "obscenity" through the mail, the sisters sashayed to London and married two of the richest men in England, dining with royalty while pushing for women's rights well into the twentieth century. Vividly telling their story, Myra MacPherson brings these inspiring and outrageous sisters brilliantly to life.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:04 -0400)

Describes the adventures of two sisters who tried to overcome the male-dominated social norms of the late nineteenth century and achieved a remarkable list of firsts, including the first woman-run brokerage house and the first woman to run for president.… (more)

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