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June was a good month. Among its many other important decisions, the Supreme Court agreed that states could not discriminate against gays and lesbians, thereby instantly granting thousands of Americans equal rights under the law. gay rightsAfrican American RightsMarriage equality has been a long time coming, and now, in the month of Independence Day, we should celebrate the liberties we have fought for and won throughout the history of this great nation. We should also, as good Americans, continue to strive for the freedoms we have not yet won and those we have lost. 

The struggle for equal rights has come a long way since the 19th century. Women and African-Americans, both of whom were barred from voting until the early to mid-20th century, now enjoy that unalienable right. And before SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) even had a chance to rule on same sex marriage last month, a growing number of states had already affirmed that, yes, gays and lesbians did have the right to marry one another. Democracy can seem like a messy process sometimes, but we have to believe that things get better, either by popular vote, legislative action, or court ruling. We are progressing, and times now certainly seem better than in yesteryear.

Womens Rights But even as equal rights expand to more and more people, there are still some places (I’m thinking especially of my home, the Southeastern United States) where people’s rights are eroding. State legislatures are rolling back women’s reproductive rights and refusing to expand Medicaid to the working poor, thanks in large part to Super PACs infusing huge quantities of dark money into the American political process. 


When I was a kid, I heard a simple quote that blew me away: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Doubtless, it’s a cliché, but it’s one of the more poignant ones I can think of. It encapsulates the human condition and brings to mind another phrase coined by the famous author George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Even in our modern-day world of constant revolutions and technological advancements, it seems that not much changes from year to year or even from generation to generation.

Still, the world has changed in important ways, and many of those changes were thanks to the efforts of women who, of course, history promptly forgot or demonized. The world is a much better place for women to live in nowadays, compared with how it looked a millennia or even a century ago. But women still have to fight the good fight just to get equal recognition in a lot of society’s arenas. That’s why we say, when it comes to the plight of women, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

womens rights
The news world is ablaze with women ascending to positions of power these days, and rightly so. We still have a long way to go to ensure that women are paid and treated equally in Western societies, but this is an exciting time for women coming into positions of power. As NPR reported in May, Ada Colau was recently a protestor in Spain during the Occupy movement, and she is now the Mayor of Barcelona. Angela Merkel is another hugely powerful woman in politics. She is the first female chancellor of Germany. In the United States, some of the most powerful politicians and government officials in recent years have also been women, including Nancy Pelosi, Michelle Bachmann, Kathleen Sebelius, and Janet Napolitano.

News outlets often depict Hillary Clinton as a trailblazer because she has a very good chance of becoming the first female president of the United States, and her presidency would definitely be a historic first. But she obviously isn’t the first female politician, and she’s not even the first female candidate to vie for the office of President of the United States. That title belongs to a woman named Victoria Woodhull, a rebel who had a radical idea: women ought to be equal to men. This was way back in the ‘70s. No, not the 1970s—the 1870s. According to the National Women’s History Museum, she was a stockbroker, a spiritual leader, and the owner of a newspaper—all in an age when women were supposed to stay at home and be content as mothers and wives.Hillary Clinton

The Museum’s website continues: “Woodhull became a trailblazer in another area as the first woman to run for president representing the Equal Rights Party. Woodhull’s presidential platform showed her foresight as she supported issues like an eight-hour workday, graduated income tax, new divorce laws, and social welfare programs that we enjoy today.” She enjoyed great support among equal rights advocates and socialists, but because women still couldn’t vote, she failed to gain the traction needed to win much support from the people whose opinions mattered most back then. That is, men.

An informative webpage on history.com also features some interesting factoids about Woodhull’s eccentric life. If we learn nothing else from this amazing woman, it’s that we should always strive to be something better than what we are, no matter what the odds. Even if we don’t succeed, we might still be remembered as the first at something, just as Woodhull was the first female presidential candidate. She was also, according to history.com, “the first woman to address a congressional committee.”

But perhaps most interestingly of all, during part of her early years, Woodhull and her sister Tennessee made their living as clairvoyants who traveled across the country. They were also alternative healers and caught the attention of well-known capitalist Cornelius Vanderbilt.Victoria Woodhull

Additionally, she and her sister Tennessee “were the first female brokers on Wall Street.” During their time betting on stocks, their clairvoyant abilities apparently paid off. Thanks to Tennessee’s relationship with the famous captain of industry Cornelius Vanderbilt, the sisters made tons of money, definitely proving they had business savvy, if not true clairvoyance. According to history.com, “Stock tips gleaned from this relationship [with Vanderbilt] proved handy during an 1869 gold panic, during which the sisters claimed to have netted around $700,000.”

Victoria Woodhull’s amazing life can be summed up into one simple point for the rest of us. She provides a great reminder that, even though living a comfortable life is nice, being bold and adventurous might actually make you happier. And if you’re lucky, it will also get you into the history pages.

 

 

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 171 - September 1819
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