Ricci Levy

Celebrating Women's History Month, Victoria Woodhull and Sexual Freedom

Filed By Ricci Levy | March 31, 2008 8:02 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement, The Movement
Tags: sexual expression, sexual freedom, sexuality, Victoria era, Victoria Woodhull, Women's History Month, Woodhull Freedom Foundation

"A very large proportion of present social relations are commendable. Do you not perceive that the law has nothing to do in continuing the relations which are based on continuous love?"

Victoria Woodhull (1838 - 1927)

The first woman to run for U.S. President (before all women even had the right to vote) is best known for advocating women's sexual freedom during America's repressive Victorian era. That visionary was Victoria Woodhull, a woman living in the Victoria era who refused to be constrained by the sexual repression of that age.

As part of the celebration of Women's History Month, we recognize Woodhull's contributions to the world in which we live today.

At a time when women were expected to be sexually passionless, to engage in sex solely for marital reproduction, and typically denied the right to make meaningful decisions about their bodies, Victoria Woodhull advanced more positive attitudes about sexuality.

"I am a free lover. I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or short a period as I can; to change that love every day if I please."

Women's History Month has been celebrated every March since 1987 to increase awareness of the accomplishments of women, too often omitted from history textbooks. March was chosen in honor of International Women's Day, which was observed for the first time in 1913 by Russian women campaigning for peace on the brink of World War I.

With thousands of annual events throughout the world, Women's History Month has helped create a more complete picture of American and world history for teachers and students across the globe.

One critical aspect of our history being reconstructed and reclaimed through "women's history" is the inclusion of topics such as birth control, sexual freedom, domestic law, and female sexuality. Researchers and social scientists have barely scratched the surface of a rich and fascinating history that helps us understand where we have come from-and where we are today.

"All that is good and commendable now existing would continue to exist if all marriage laws were repealed tomorrow . . ."

For centuries, powerful forces have worked hard to strip sexuality from the West's cultural history. For five centuries the Vatican published lists of books forbidden to Catholics. "Wholesome," Bowdlerized versions of the Bible and Shakespeare polluted the 19th century. Islamic invaders destroyed erotic art across Medieval Europe and Asia. New York Postal Inspector Anthony Comstock destroyed 15 tons of books. Margaret Sanger was jailed for opening America's first birth control clinic. Alfred Kinsey lost his funding as punishment for doing sex research.

"I shall not change my course because those who assume to be better than I desire it."

Women's history IS history, as much as Socrates, 1776, and the steam engine are history. And Victoria Woodhull is a part of that history and her words often reflect the issues we face today.

"My judges preach against free love openly, practice it secretly."

Though much has changed since the Victorian era, we still face negative attitudes about sexuality in our culture today. People are still stigmatized, systematically discriminated against, even brutally victimized because of their sexual expression. Many, many others lack access to the sexual health care and information that should be every human's birthright.

The Woodhull Freedom Foundation is grateful for the contributions that women throughout history have made towards achieving sexual freedom. We are proud to be part of that work today, and reaffirm our commitment to accomplishing Victoria Woodhull's sex-positive vision--the recognition of sexual freedom as everyone's fundamental human right!

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Terrific post, Ricci. My personal discovery of Woodhull's writings and life story came at a critical moment in my own life. To see her emerge and survive in such a conservative era gave me a lot of courage. I still have that battered paperback book in my library.

Hi Ricci. Thanks for a great post to round out the WHM celebration! Women like Woodhull were so far ahead of their time. Obviously . . . since we're still fighting for the freedom to love and control our own bodies today.

One of the things I've enjoyed most about the WHM series has been the broad range of women I've been exposed to. This is no different - I'd never have known who she was without you, Ricci. Now I'll have to spend more time researching her.