Who is VW? Student Page 1872 Campaign Library Archives FAQ Store Contact Contact      
Victoria Woodhull & Co.

by Mary L. Shearer

In May I went to Homer, Ohio at the same time as Caroline Kingsley Rau and Rebecca Rau who are producing a new documentary about Victoria Woodhull called "The Coming Woman." While in Ohio I uncovered new primary evidence that means Victoria's childhood history will have to be completely rewritten. EVERY single biographer has the facts about the Homer mill fire wrong. I now know the exact date of the fire. Turns out the Claflin family lived in Homer for years following the fire. So much for the story that they were immediately driven out of the town in the aftermath of the fire. The Rau sisters are hoping to go to England to finish the documentary. I'd like to join them to see if there are any other previously undiscovered stories waiting to be found. They're still accepting donations on their kickstarter fundraiser to pay for the costs of producing their film.

!!!!!!!!!$200 REWARD!!!!!!!!

It's been over a year since I first offered a $200 reward to the first person who can provide me with a genuine copy of an Ottawa, Illinois 1863 or 1864 "Cult of Love" ad. To date no one has provided me with primary evidence that Victoria Woodhull was a prostitute, so the reward remains unclaimed.

In Barbara Goldsmith's 1998 biography of Victoria Woodhull, "Other Powers," published by Alfred A. Knopf, she stated on page 81 that Buck Claflin"advertised in the Ottawa Free Trader that on the first floor of the Fox River House lessons in the 'cult of love' were to be taught. In the summer of 1863, there were several complaints that the extra rooms at the Fox River House were being used for assignations and that Buck's daughters were prostitutes. The charges were never proved." In Goldsmith's notes on page 460 she provides the source as follows: "'cult of love': Ottawa Free Trader (April 4, 1863), courtesy of Chicago History Works...."

All four pages of the April 4, 1863 edition of the Ottawa Free Trader are now online through the Library of Congress:


You can see for yourself there's no "Cult of Love" ad in the Apr. 4, 1863 edition of the Ottawa Free Trader. Considering that it was perhaps a typo, I checked other dates and other Ottawa, Illinois papers, but I still couldn't find an ad for the "Cult of Love" or even an article in the Free Trader in the 1860's accusing the Claflins of prostitution. The earliest mention I can find for the "cult of love" in reference to the Claflins is on page 35 of Emanie Sachs' 1928 book "The Terrible Siren:"The Claflins did well enough in Ottawa to rent the Fox River House, the town's oldest hotel for a cancer infirmary, where the 'cult of love' was taught incidentally." The Terrible Siren isn't footnoted, so Sachs' source for the phrase is unknown. I even sent an email to Chicago History Works asking them for the copy of the ad they supposedly provided to Barbara Goldsmith. They had no idea what I was talking about, although I do admit I contacted them years after the fact. Perhaps whoever obtained it was no longer with the company. This "cult of love ad" is one of a very few pieces of evidence that Victoria's sister Tennessee Claflin could've been a prostitute in the 1860's, and it can't be found and a copy of it has never been published by anyone, including Barbara Goldsmith who cites it as a source in her book.

Barbara Goldsmith is one of the authors who presents as a "fact" that Victoria Woodhull and her sister were prostitutes rather than presenting it as a debatable point of history that may or may not be true. I present the family point of view that Victoria was never a prostitute. At first she ignored the allegations, according to her on the advice of attorneys, but eventually was involved in at least two libel lawsuits in the 1870's denying the allegations. The accusations angered and depressed her. So, to every author who says she was definitely a prostitute, prove me and Victoria wrong! Stop hiding behind the libelous Joseph Treat pamphlet and the libelous 1892 Chicago Mail articles as your evidence and produce primary evidence like an arrest record, court record, or newspaper account from the 1850's and 1860's showing any of the Claflin sisters were prostitutes. Produce the "Cult of Love" ad that Buck Claflin is supposed to have published. If the ad exists, I'll publish it here and send $200 to the first person who provides it to me. I'm waiting....

A few years ago I travelled to Ottawa, Illinois in search of the ad. Someone at the Historical Society said it was very unlikely that an ad for prostitution would have been printed in Ottawa newspapers at that time. While I didn't find any ads for the "Cult of Love," I did find ads for Dr. R.B. Claflin and for Tennessee Claflin. Here's a typical ad for Tennessee Claflin in the April 9, 1864 edition of the Ottawa Free Trader. Make of it what you will:

April 9, 1864 Ottawa Free Trader




My mother was the one who introduced me to Col. Blood. She showed me his picture which was labeled Col. J.H. Blood and I was drawn to it. We pulled out the Fogg family genealogy by her cousin Lillian Fogg Lee and learned together about Colonel Blood's previous marriage to Victoria Woodhull. When my mother was born in Michigan in 1927, Victoria Woodhull was still alive, although Victoria would die a few days later in England, so to me, the era of Victoria Woodhull doesn't seem that long ago. I've had the opportunity to stand on the Indian mound in Homer where she played as a child, and I've visited several of the towns where she lived.

By remarkable coincidence I learned that Victoria Woodhull had been arrested for selling obscene pamphlets in 1873 in Jackson, Michigan, where my business was founded, and the man who had her arrested was Judge Videto. The case was dismissed. When my Uncle Richard Shearer celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary, I ended up seated next to a descendant of Judge Videto's brother. He was a friend of my uncle. What a small world!

For nearly 20 years I've been doing in-depth research about Victoria Woodhull, Colonel Blood, and their families. Based on all the information I've discovered about Victoria Woodhull that others haven't, I probably know more about Victoria Woodhull's life in America than anyone else in the world. Most people who write about Victoria's life between 1838-1869 rely primarily on the 1928 biography "Terrible Siren" by Emanie Sachs instead of consulting original records and newspapers from that time. They repeat the errors Sachs made: Canning Woodhull's father wasn't a judge, Col. Blood wasn't a Colonel, there was no marriage of an Underwood to a Hamilton, etc. By seeking primary evidence, I uncovered Victoria's secret 1865 marriage record and documentation of her1868 divorce which was supposed to be non-existent because of the Great Chicago Fire. I discovered proof that Col. Blood was, in fact, divorced from his wife Marybefore he and Victoria married in Dayton, Ohio in 1866. (Some writers have speculated he never divorced his first wife.) I also discovered the first marriage record, of Victoria's sister, the future Lady Tennessee Cook, Viscountess of Monserrate. I've identified family members who were previously unknown or known by their last names only, trying to flesh out a more complete picture of the family that surrounded Victoria Woodhull and Colonel Blood.

It irks me that so many writers seek out intimate details of the private lives of the Claflins, Woodhulls, Bloods, and Martins, and claim to know for a FACT everything about Victoria Woodhull's love life, but neglect to get simple facts right like a name. For nearly 70 years writers referred to Colonel Blood's first wife as "Mrs. Blood" never bothering to find out her full name. When Barbara Goldsmith finally gave a first name to his first wife in 1998, it was the wrong one! She said his first wife was "Isabel" not Mary Ann Clapp Harrington.

I've seen an article on SIU's web site that claims my web site doesn't follow the published books on this topic. Why should I when I know that some of what has been published about my own family is incorrect. Using Emanie Sachs as his source, M.M. Marberry on page 242 of his 1967 biography "Vicky," wrote about Colonel and my Nanna Blood as follows: "His bride was the mother of Frank Fogg, who was a man his own age. The widow had money and she financed an expedition to mine gold in Africa." Thanks to Sachs and Marberry the impression given over the decades was that Nanna Blood was a wealthy, elderly widow that Colonel Blood had married only for her money, and that he was still madly in love with Victoria when he died and trying to win her back with gold. As a member of his step-son's family, I can tell you with certainty that Isabell was a divorcee, not a widow. Her entire divorce settlement was definitely less than $800 (less than $20,000 in today's dollars) so she certainly wasn't wealthy when Colonel Blood married her. Nanna Blood was born in November 1833 and Colonel Blood in December 1833. My great-grandfather Frank Fogg was born in 1854 and therefore not a man of Colonel Blood's age. While these details may be unimportant to some people, it indicates that Victoria's biographers don't always have their facts right.

This branch of Foggs wasn't and still isn't a wealthy family. The amount of gold returned to this country by Frank Fogg in 1887 was only $25,000. As a young man, Frank Fogg was a shoemaker and a schoolteacher. Later he was a labor orator, newspaper editor, small-town lawyer, and Greenback politician. Only my great-great-aunt Fannie Fogg Koss and her daughter were "rich" and that was largely because Fannie married the attorney for the wealthy Wendel family in 1889 four years after Colonel's death. (Fannie was Col. Blood's step-daughter and supposedly left an estate of about a million dollars in 1927.) It wasn't until years after Col. Blood's death that Nanna Blood made money buying and selling real estate, too late for money to have been a motive for their marriage. While she was well-off enough to leave a total of about $14,000 in cash bequests (worth about $369,000 today), she was hardly a Rockefeller or a Vanderbilt and none of her money passed down to my mother. My mother was a stay-at-home mom and my father was a letter carrier.

Several times the "facts" that other writers have printed have resulted in sending me off on expensive, wild goose chases, and people wonder why I question everything I read in her biographies. One author said Colonel Blood had one son and a daughter. I knew the name of Col. Blood's only daughter, but I spent years looking for the son until I found him. I was in the NY Public Library reading a letter by anarchist Benjamin Ricketson Tucker to Emanie Sachs, and he was talking about Colonel Blood's "son." Finally I would learn his name and find out what happened to him! The letter went on to say that Col. Blood's son went to Africa to bring back the body and that his daughter-in-law was pregnant. All of a sudden I realized the son I had been looking for all these years was my great-grandfather and that his "daughter-in-law" (my great-grandmother) was pregnant with my grandfather! I laughed when I saw how Tucker described my family. He called my family the "genteel poor." How different his portrayal of my family compared to M.M. Marberry. Years later I discovered a birth record for what is most likely Col. Blood's real son, an unnamed infant who died in St. Louis.

So what is my point? If you are doing research about Victoria Woodhull, please seek out primary evidence about Victoria Woodhull and her family instead of relying on third party accounts and hearsay evidence that in some cases can be proven to be incorrect. If an author can produce primary evidence that Victoria Woodhull was a prostitute, I'll be happy to change my opinion and admit that Victoria covered it up and denied it in spite of the evidence. But until someone can produce primary evidence that Victoria Woodhull was a prostitute, I consider her to be a victim of vicious rumor and innuendo.


Looking for VW Books?

Woodhull Merchandise for Sale