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

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

It's been over a year since Victoria Woodhull & Company first offered a $200 reward to the first person to provide a genuine copy of an Ottawa, Illinois 1863 or 1864 "Cult of Love" ad. To date no one has presented 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's 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's 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 alleged 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 cited 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 person who says she was definitely a prostitute, prove me and Victoria wrong! Show proof aside from the libelous Joseph Treat pamphlet and the libelous and discredited 1892 Chicago Mail articles. (One of the Chicago Mail sources, "Mr. Brace" who said Tennessee Claflin ran a "house of assignation" in Cincinnati, has now been identified. He was known to the Chicago police as a "liar.") If Victoria Woodhull was a prostitute, then someone should be able to 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 traveled 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

by Mary L. Shearer

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 that Colonel Blood was married to her great-grandmother and that before that he was married 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, visited the grave of her spirit guide Rachel Scribner and visited several other 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. 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 her 1868 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 Mary before 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 uncovered records for the Homer fire that show that every single biographer got the story wrong. The records show Buck Claflin was likely innocent of arson and remained in Homer for years after the fire. I've also 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. That's the reason I double check their research.

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 correspondence between Benjamin Ricketson Tucker and Emanie Sachs. One of the letters mentioned 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 my family was described as the "genteel poor." How different was this 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.


by Mary L. Shearer

The first attempt to bring Victoria Woodhull to the movie screen was in the 1920's not long after her death. Emanie Sachs, whose husband was on the board of directors of Warner Brothers Studios, wanted Warner Brothers to produce a movie based on her 1928 Woodhull biography, "The Terrible Siren." They passed on it. Since then numerous women have aspired to play Victoria Woodhull--Carol Channing, Katherine Hepburn, Faye Dunaway, Nicole Kidman--but their projects never made it to the silver screen. There have been several plays and operas about Victoria Woodhull. Celeste Holm even played her in the 1960 TV movie "The Right Man," but the epic biopic about her has yet to be made.

Now there are at least two movie projects about Victoria Woodhull that are hoping to make it to theaters. Painted Saint Entertainment is currently in development for Revolution Now. Their drama about Victoria Woodhull is expected to be the first in a series of films "to return women to their rightful place in history."

The second project is from Amazon Studios. They've announced via Deadline that Brie Larson will play the role of Victoria Woodhull. Deadline's logline claims that Victoria's "con-artist father taught her and her sisters to channel spirits in front of crowds to bilk the superstitious." If that's the plot for the movie, it's going to be one more in a long list of historically inaccurate works about Victoria Woodhull. Thanks to a muddled chronology in "The Terrible Siren," it's commonly assumed that Victoria's father Buck Claflin exploited both Victoria and Tennessee as child clairvoyants. Actually it was only Tennessee Claflin who made money as a child clairvoyant. That should have been clear to anyone who's read Theodore Tilton's 1871 biography which was based on the notes of Victoria's second husband Col. Blood. The biography mentioned nothing about Victoria working for money as a child clairvoyant. It said that Victoria's "spiritual vision" went back to her "third year" but she made no money as a clairvoyant until after she lived in San Francisco with her first husband Dr. Woodhull. Tilton wrote, "Hitherto her clairvoyant faculty had been put to no pecuniary use, but she was now directed by the spirits to repair to Indianapolis, there to announce herself as a medium..." Tilton didn't provide the date she started work as a clairvoyant in Indianapolis and Terre Haute, but newspaper ads provide the answer. It was 1860 when she was 21 years old. At the time Buck and Tennessee were residents of Cincinnati, Ohio. No ads for a "clairvoyant" Victoria Woodhull have been found prior to 1860 which is what you'd expect if Tilton's claim were true that she began her career as a medium in Indiana.

According to Emanie Sachs, as a child Tennessee Claflin astonished people in Williamsport, Pennsylvania with her accurate prediction of a fire in the cupola of Dickinson Seminary, now known as Lycoming College. Sachs wrote, "She must have had what might be called telepathic gifts too. When Buckman heard about them, he appeared in Williamsport, and on the outskirts of the town he put up a sign, 'Have your past read, and future foretold. T. Claflin.' The first fee was one dollar." That supposedly was the beginning of Tennessee's career as the "Wonderful Child."

Sachs didn't provide a date for the seminary fire, but newspapers once again provide the answer. There was a fire in a cupola at Dickinson Seminary in 1858. That date was much later than biographer Johanna Johnston presumed. She thought the seminary fire occurred when Tennessee was around the age of five or six. Around the same time as the 1858 fire there was an article about a girl "about 12 years of age" called Miss T. Clafflin [sic] who was "astonishing the citizens of Williamsport, Pa., by her extraordinary clairvoyant powers...."

There are no ads for Tennessee prior to 1858 which is what you'd expect if she began her career in Williamsport. That same year Victoria was living in Chicago, Illinois far away from her sister and mother who were staying with relatives in Williamsport. It would be difficult for Buck to exploit Victoria when he was in Pennsylvania and she was in Illinois.

After Williamsport, Sachs told a story about Victoria and Tennessee creating "spirit music" at Mrs. Webb's boarding house in Mt. Gilead. Since Victoria and Tennessee were living in Mt. Gilead in 1853, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that a fourteen-year-old Victoria and a seven-year old Tennessee were working as clairvoyants there in 1853 or earlier. That conclusion is likely wrong. Sachs found a Feb. 1860 newspaper article in Mt. Gilead advertising a traveling Tennessee "the Wonderful Child." The legendary seance in Mt. Gilead could've occurred in 1860 or later when the Claflins were visiting relatives in Mt. Gilead, or they could've performed the seance for free before Buck realized they could make a living from it. After the account of Mrs. Webb's boarding house, Sachs said little about Victoria's clairvoyant work prior to Indianapolis. She wrote, "Victoria joined them occasionally, but the testimonials in the newspapers were addressed to Tennessee...." Sachs reprinted no ads about the child clairvoyant Victoria. The only ads she reprinted were about "the Wonderful Child" Tennessee. If Buck promoted both Victoria and Tennessee as child clairvoyants, why are there no ads for Victoria? If Buck Claflin was a "snake oil salesman" when Victoria was a little girl, why is the earliest ad for "Miss Tennessee's Magnetic Life Elixir" from 1866?

The early ads for Tennessee claimed that she began traveling with her family at the age of eleven. Even if the ads were correct that Tennessee began her career at age eleven instead of age twelve, it would still be too late for Victoria to have performed as a child clairvoyant. Victoria was an 18-year-old married woman living in Illinois when Tennessee was eleven, provided Tennessee was born in 1845. If you take into account the additional wrinkle that Tennessee's exact year of birth is unknown and she could've been born as early as 1843 if the 1850 census is correct, that would make 1854 (1843+11) the earliest possible year that Tennessee could've worked as a child clairvoyant. Victoria was married and pregnant with her first child in 1854.

It makes for a good story to have the alleged psychic abilities of two little girls exploited by their father in a traveling medicine show, but it's not the true story. Victoria and Tennessee didn't travel together as clairvoyant and magnetic physicians until the 1860's when Victoria was an adult. All of this would have been apparent to previous biographers if they had taken the effort to find out the dates for Williamsport and Indianapolis rather than guessing and relying upon Emanie Sachs's biography. Why the biographers relied on Emanie Sachs's inaccurate chronology instead of primary sources is puzzling. Sachs admitted not knowing when and where the Claflins were at times. She wrote, "It is impossible to fix the Claflins accurately in time or space after they left Homer in the late 'forties. Like gypsies, they wandered for awhile, trackless in their obscurity, until a legend locates one of them."

Until a legend locates one of them....A legend, not a document, not a newspaper, not a court record, not the 1850 census record that shows Buck Claflin was in Homer after Sachs said he had left. That's the reason the history of Victoria Woodhull's early life is so inaccurate. It's based on legends and not facts.

Sachs admitted that, too: "Hundreds who knew her, or whose parents knew her, have told me her legends. They are hearsay evidence, but inasmuch as they came from disconnected sources, without any reason for animus, they are consistent enough to be believable. And surely, when anyone has been interesting enough to inspire legends, they are valuable as an index of human behavior. Both the false and the true are significant, because both show what people thought and felt about Victoria Woodhull, what she meant in their minds and their emotions. Maybe she was merely a symbol of feminine activity in an age of male bluster when feminine activity was dreaded and feared. Maybe she personified men's erotic dreams, too, and women's audacious impulses and like Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan and other Gargantuan American figures, she and her remarkable family were only half real."


Looking for VW Books?

Woodhull Merchandise for Sale