Interview with Eva Flynn on Victoria Woodhull, Reconstruction, & Equal Rights

Yesterday, I had a review of Eva Flynn’s The Renegade Queen, about the first woman to run for President of United States during our Reconstruction period. Today, I sat down with Eva to discuss the book, women’s rights, this period in history, and more. Enjoy!

02_The Renegade Queen

Interview

Hi Eva, welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! Happy to have you here to discuss your new book, “The Renegade Queen,” which is about Victoria Woodhull—a forgotten feminist, and yet, so much more. I believe this is your first novel? How does it feel to launch such a unique book to the world? To do your part to help Victoria be remembered?

Eva:  Thank you Erin, and thank you for your kind review, it is much appreciated. I’m happy to be here. Also, I really enjoyed your interview at The Scary Reviews. So much of what you said about writing and editing resonated with me.

Yes, this is the first novel I have published. I’ve written some other ones that aren’t quite ready to see the light of day! It’s been a wonderful experience and I’ve received so much positive feedback from readers. For years I have wanted to call attention to Victoria Woodhull and other unsung reformers. This novel started out as a movie script and I talked to several Hollywood producers about it, but ultimately they passed because they were concerned that there wasn’t a market for it. I hope that this novel will sell well and that Hollywood will see that there is a market. But the ultimate goal is for people to know Victoria and understand the sacrifices that so many people have made in pursuit of a better country, a better life for all of us. So much of today’s society seems to be inwardly focused on achieving prestige or wealth and we forget that we all have something to contribute to society and the current political discourse.

Erin: A movie would be wonderful! And I agree about our society. That’s why what you have done with this book is so important. Thank you as well for reading my own interview as well, I’m honored! It’s fitting you’ve stopped by my home on your tour, as I’m in Ohio, the birthplace of Victoria! Come in and let’s sit down for tea or coffee? Which is your pleasure and how do you take it? I’ll go pour and bring out some freshly baked blueberry muffins as well. I hope you like those (if not, I’ll whip up your choice!).

Eva: I’m happy to be in Ohio! My husband was born in Cincinnati and we never pass up a chance to visit. Earl Grey and a blueberry muffin please. Yummy.

Erin: That’s amazing! Cincinnati is such a historical hub! And Earl Grey is my favorite tea so I’m happy to oblige that!! Now that we are all settled, let me ask you some further questions. I’m very interested in women’s rights and feminism so this book was right up my alley. I’ve studied so much on some of the women in history, such as those who championed for the right to vote, that I was astounded to learn of someone like Victoria, who was the first woman to fun for President of the United States.

I’m sure you get asked this often, but my readers might like to know. How did you learn of Victoria? And how did your inspiration grow to write and collect history about her?

Eva: I am an only child and I was always pestering my parents to entertain me. One day they bought me a set of World Book Encyclopedias. You may not remember hardbound encyclopedias, but these were divided up alphabetically, so the “M” for example would have two big books. The subjects that begin with WXYZ were all in one slim volume. My parents told me to entertain myself by perusing these books. I picked up the “WXYZ” volume and I turned to the two paragraphs about Victoria Woodhull. I was amazed as I had never heard of her, and this is as a child of a political science professor (father) and a staunch feminist (mother). I took these paragraphs to both of my parents and they had never heard of her either. From that point on I have been fascinated not only with Victoria Woodhull but about those who the history books leave out.

And then I majored in political science myself and became fascinated by the political process and those who are live on the fringes of the political process. I admire anyone who has the courage to stand up for their beliefs (whether I agree with them or not), and my admiration for Victoria only grew as I realized how difficult life for women was during Reconstruction.

In the intervening years between hardbound encyclopedias and now, a wealth of resources from the 1870s have been placed on the Internet which makes research so much easier and less time consuming then it used to be. For example, one can find several issues of her newspaper online. Additionally, the Library of Congress has digitized thousands of newspapers from the era. Not everything I’d want is online, but enough of it that I don’t feel the need to travel to remote archives.

Erin: Yes, I do remember the encyclopedia and often spent my own time at home reading them! I so wish we still had them quite honestly! It’s a bit different than being overwhelmed to pick out info from so much content on the Internet. I’m glad you turned your “find” into a pursuit!

victoria-woodhull-1-sized

Above: Victoria Woodhull

Victoria’s childhood that you wrote about in your book was just heartbreaking. How did you research her early years, since so little is written about her, and formulate her life story?

Eva: Excellent question. Her childhood is tricky for biographers because we do only have Victoria’s stories as told to Theodore Tilton for her campaign biography, a few quotes from Tennessee about their childhood, and the Emanie Sachs biography which includes interviews from some of Victoria’s contemporaries. In addition to the above sources, I was able to track down census records, newspaper records, and read general histories about the time period to piece her childhood together. In terms of the rape by her father, which is something that readers ask me about often, she said to Theodore Tilton “my father made me a woman before my time.”

Although this is labelled historical fiction, I spent countless hours on research to make it as accurate as possible.

Erin: From then on, her story is so astounding. Do you feel her life was erased from history because of her voice for the social good for those less fortunate during the Reconstruction such as immigrants, former slaves, the poor? Or further thoughts?

Eva: Susan B. Anthony, both loved and hated, was the most powerful woman in America in the 1880s when she started publishing her four-volume, 5700 page history of the woman’s movement (History of Woman Suffrage). Victoria Woodhull is not mentioned once. Anthony also does not mention other leaders such as Belva Lockwood who was the second woman to run for President. Anthony effectively cemented her reputation as the leader of woman’s suffrage and erased the others with her publication. Her publication was not challenged until very recently in history. To be fair to Anthony, the other women (Woodhull included) did not make an attempt to correct or place themselves in the historical record. Woodhull published volumes of her speeches and political beliefs but did not publish anything that discussed her accomplishments or place in the movement. In absence of conflicting views, The History of Woman Suffrage became the definitive guide to the movement and the one that history authors turn to when they write the history books for this time period. The history of Reconstruction and the woman’s movement should be re-examined and more primary sources should be included.

Another problem with the historical record is that we do not have record of the votes that Victoria received when she was a presidential candidate. The paper ballots were not kept for third parties. So we only know how many votes Grant and Greeley received. Historians have tried to guess at the number, but it isn’t something we could look up at the national archives and determine. Stories of votes being destroyed by the poll workers were rampant at the time as well.  

Erin: Why did she have such a feud with Susan B. Anthony? Did she just like control or feel that things weren’t progressing as they should be? Why couldn’t the women work together for a similar cause?

Eva: Another excellent question. In working on the sequel, I found an interview with Victoria that was conducted when she was living in England and she said that women will never get what they want politically if they cannot get over their petty squabbles. And at times I feel that this is still true today.

I have all the sympathy in the world for Susan B. Anthony. She gave her life for the cause, and then at the age of 50, a younger, richer, more beautiful woman comes onto the scene with an appalling  background and becomes more popular, and wins more support from politicians and the newspapers in a few short months than Anthony did after years of campaigning. Anthony felt that her place in the world was displaced and that she was losing control of the movement.

Victoria was more radical and wanted immediate action to alleviate the inequities for women, the poor, and the immigrants. Victoria knew in her heart that she was right and did not understand why a social revolution could not occur immediately. Anthony, being older, wiser, and perhaps more cynical felt that small, incremental gains were the only way to get to a state of equality. Anthony was focused on the right to vote, thinking women could become a powerful voting group and make these other reforms happen over time. Victoria wanted everything immediately, for she knew that there would be male politicians that women would not cross the street to vote for.

victoria-woodhull-presidential-flyer-1872

Erin: Victoria chose to announce her candidacy for President of United States fifty years before women even had the right to vote. How did this go over during this time and did she have any supporters? Why did she choose Frederick Douglass as her running mate?

Eva: What is heartwarming to me about this story is that Victoria did have supporters. Powerful men such as Commodore Vanderbilt, Benjamin Butler, Theodore Tilton, and George Francis Train may not have voted for her, but they agreed that she had the right to run for President. Elizabeth Cady Stanton supported her. Beyond that you have the free lovers, the communists, the psychics, and the immigrants who pinned their hopes on her. Thousands of people would turn out for her speeches. Of course, she also had her enemies which is why she ended up in jail on Election Day.

The Frederick Douglass question is an interesting one. Douglass and Anthony were friends for years and had a public split on whether the former slaves should be the first to “earn” the right to vote or if women should. So part of me thinks that Victoria picked Douglass to get under Anthony’s skin. But part of me also thinks that she chose him because it was the “Equal Rights Party,” and she knew that she wouldn’t win so she wanted to further the Civil Rights efforts of African-Americans by having an former slave on the ticket.

NYPL Woodhull.jpg

Above: From the New York Public Library

Erin: If she WOULD have been elected President, what do you think might have happened? How different would the reconstruction era have ended up, or even our country today?

Eva: To be honest, I have not allowed myself to even imagine such an occurrence. I’d like to say that a whole host of reforms would have been enacted. But sadly she probably would have been blocked by Congress legislatively or assassinated. In terms of reforms that she would want, female suffrage, a forty-hour work week, punishment for marital rape, and liberal divorce laws would be at the top of her agenda.

Erin: How do you feel about the United States yet having a woman for President? Do you think we are closer than ever before? Would Victoria have liked Hillary Clinton?

Eva: To be blunt, I’m disgusted that we have never had a female president. But I do think we are closer than ever before, and it is wonderful to have both parties have a female candidate. Victoria would support Hillary on many issues, but she would not like the amount of money Hillary makes giving speeches or her relationship with Wall Street (even though Victoria had a cozy relationship with Wall Street).

Erin: What exactly were Victoria’s main motivations? If it was not money, or prestige, or control, what inspired her to work hard every day and toward what goals?

Eva: Victoria spent her entire life blaming herself for her son Byron’s severe mental disability. She felt that if she had not married an addict that Byron would have been born healthy. Her guilt, in her second part of life, turns into eugenics when she lobbies the British government not to allow addicts to reproduce. Victoria believed that if she had been given a choice as to who to marry then Byron would have been spared and she wanted all women to have that choice. I also think she was fighting years of shame from treatment by her parents that she wanted to prove to society that she was a Child of God and deserved respect and that all other women did as well.

Erin: I can take it from your book that though Victoria appalled the dealings of her father, or her husband, or others, in their manipulation of people to make a buck, that ultimately she was a survivor herself and would do anything to get what she needed? How did her relationship with James Blood, a civil war general, hinder or complement that motivation?

Eva: I agree, Victoria is a survivor and her survival instincts go into overdrive when she moves to England. She could be appalled at behavior and simultaneously justify the same behavior in herself. James Blood complemented her motivation because she could do no wrong in his eyes. James was the type who searched his entire life for a cause, something to believe in. His first cause was saving the republic and so he fought in the Civil War with distinction. But once he witnessed the great carnage of war, he questioned his country. And then Victoria became his cause.

Erin: Did you find much research on her first female-owned brokerage firm or the newspaper she owned? Can you tell us a little more about them?

Eva: Yes, the information on her brokerage firm was gathered through the Archives of the Library of Congress newspaper collection, as well as biographies of her and Commodore Vanderbilt. There is some confusion as to whether the sisters conducted trades (or just pocketed the money), but I believed they did conduct trades because I came across articles where Victoria was in court and asked to answer for her trades. Wall Street did not keep great records during this time and they would have had to have a man conduct trades for them since women were not allowed on the trade floor. The chapter on opening the brokerage firm is based on newspaper accounts and interviews. She was frequently referred to as the “queen of finance” and was asked for financial advice by the newspapers. She also advertised in Susan B. Anthony’s newspaper The Revolution.

You can find many of the issues of the “Woodhull and Claflin” weekly here: http://www.iapsop.com/archive/materials/woodhull_and_claflins_weekly/

There is a wonderful scene in My Wife and I by Harriet Beecher Stowe in which the character “Audacia Dangyereyes” which is based on Woodhull is going door-to-door “browbeating” men into subscribing to her newspaper and I imagine Victoria doing just that. The paper’s motto was “Progress! Free Thought! Untrammeled Lives!” So many characters in the book had newspapers back then, that I think of newspapers being what blogs are not. Susan B. Anthony, George Francis Train (for a short time), Henry Ward Beecher, and Victoria all had competing papers. Victoria had a good subscriber base (I believe it was 3000) in that she was also President of the Spiritualists and received support from them, and she was a leader in the Communist movement. Victoria was the first American to publish The Communist Manifesto in English which I think is remarkable for a Vanderbilt protégé.

A character that I do not discuss in the novel is Stephen Pearl Andrews who was her editor. He introduced Victoria to communism and other liberal thoughts. He was a brilliant man and wrote several of the articles in the newspaper.

Woodhull paper

Erin: How after all these many years have women lost such power as some of these women from that time period exuded?

Eva: I don’t know if we have lost power or if we are just more complacent and stratified. Victoria and Susan had a whole host of issues to fight for that affected women at every socio-economic level. I think many women in the middle or upper classes do not feel as affected by the challenges that women in the lower classes face and are therefore satisfied.

And there is something to be said in having a central, consistent leader. Women then had Susan B. Anthony who carried the same message, lobbied for the vote, for 60 years until her death. I cannot think of one woman that the majority of women would support or one central piece of legislation that the majority of women would work towards.

Erin: Why do you call your website “Rebellious Times?” What does this say about the Reconstruction period you study in your efforts to publicize Victoria Woodhull?

Eva: The website name is a play on the fact that so many people then owned and published a newspaper as well as the number of people who were trying to fight the government and remake the laws. Historians seem to dismiss Reconstruction as a big failure for this country, but I’m awe inspired that so many risked everything to start these vital conversations around the role of women, former slaves, the laborers, and immigrants in this country. It’s true that we did not see life improve overnight for those outside the political process, but this time period started the conversation on who we want to be as a country.

Erin: How long did it take you to write your book after compiling your research? Has it been well-received now since so much time has passed or is it still a taboo topic?

Eva: I wrote the movie script first which was really a helpful tool for the novel. Between the script and the book it took about eighteen months. The novel has been out for a month and it has been well-received. The Historical Novel Society just published a fantastic review.

I do get a few emails from readers who think it is wrong that I included the scene of Victoria being raped by her father, but I feel that the incident was integral to Victoria’s life and that sexual abuse is important to discuss. It is also indicative of that time period. In the 1880s, one-third of all prosecuted rapes were against girls from 1-9 years old. It’s just disgusting and heartbreaking to think about.

Erin comments: I completely AGREE with you putting that part in, how else would we know how deeply she was hurt and why she fought so hard for what she fought for? We should not cover these things up and make it easy for it to keep occurring still to this day. I’m glad you put it in, in my opinion.

Erin: You like to travel. Did you travel when researching your book? If so, where?  Where else have been you really enjoyed? Finally, where is somewhere you have on your bucket list?

Eva: I only traveled the Internet in doing research for this book, although I will be traveling for the sequel. I enjoy visiting Europe although I haven’t been since before the kids were born. I did study at Oxford for a year which was the experience of a lifetime. Italy, the French Riviera, and Greece are my favorite destinations.

Erin: You like reading too. What books do you like to read for pleasure? What are some good books you’d recommend?

Eva: I enjoy a wide variety of books. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite books. Right now I’m reading West With the Night by Beryl Markham. And I’m also reading Henry James for he wrote one novel and one short story with a character modeled after Victoria. For light reading I love anything by Anne Lamott or David Sedaris.

Erin comments: Henry James is amazing. I’ll look into those.

Erin: Where can anyone find more books or information on Victoria Woodhull?

Eva: The Chronicling America website at the Library of Congress is a wonderful resource for newspaper articles. You can find Victoria’s newspapers at: http://www.iapsop.com/archive/materials/woodhull_and_claflins_weekly/

And Amazon has a great selection of biographies on Victoria Woodhull including Notorious Victoria by Mary Gabriel, Other Powers by Barbara Goldsmith, The Scarlet Sisters by Myra McPherson, The Many Lives of Victoria Woodhull by Lois Beachy Underhill.

The only book that adequately explains Victoria’s relationship to early American communism is: The Yankee International: Marxism and the American Reform Tradition.

And then Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin also published their own books of speeches. These do not provide autobiographical information but you can read what they said about issues at the time.

Erin: The ending of your book is not the ending for Victoria. Do you have a second book planned?

Eva: Yes, I am writing the sequel! And I’m having so much fun with it. I had to take some time to wrap my head around why Victoria does some of the things she did during the second part of her life but after research I’m starting to understand her better. The second book is really about her struggling with her identity in terms of who she is versus who she wants to be. She is being harassed by those in England who are appalled by her political stances and she has to choose if she wants to continue to fight for women or if she simply wants to retire and be happy.

Erin comments: I look forward to it!

Erin: Have you thought of other women in history you’d like to write about? If so, who? If not, why?

Eva: So many books I want to write! After my sequel to this one, I’d like to go back in time and write a book on Susan B. Anthony. She started fighting for equal pay in 1848! And we’re still not there! The sacrifices she made and the conflict she must have felt between her religion and her sexuality all make for a compelling story. I’d also like to write about Belva Lockwood, another female presidential candidate that Anthony did not support! And I’d like to write a book about the Beecher family. I touch on many of them in this book, but taken together they made immense contributions to this county. And by the time I have all that finished I may be ready to retire. HA!

Erin: Thanks so much for joining me, Eva. It was my pleasure learning about your work and your book. I’m glad you decided to make Victoria a place in history. Best of luck with your new endeavors and please come back in the future! More tea before you head out?

Eva: It’s been a real pleasure! I’ll have a cup to go. Thank you for hosting, you are the hostess with the mostess!

Erin: Thank you! Keep me updated on your next book!

02_The Renegade Queen

A Lovely Cover

The Renegade Queen (Rebellious Times Book 1)

by Eva Flynn

Publication Date: December 15, 2015
Omega Press
eBook & Paperback

Genre: Historical Fiction

Two Renegades So Controversial, They Were Erased From History

Discarded by society, she led a social revolution. Disgusted by war, he sought a new world.

She was the first women to run for President, campaigning before women could vote.

He was the Hero of Vicksburg, disillusioned with the government after witnessing the devastating carnage of the Civil War.

Their social revolution attracted the unwanted who were left out of the new wealth: the freed slaves, the new immigrants, and women.

Who were they?

This is the true story of Victoria Woodhull and the love of her life, James Blood.

Adored by the poor, hated by the powerful, forced into hiding during their lifetimes and erased from history after death, the legend of their love lives on.

It’s 1869 and Victoria has a choice to make. She can stay in an abusive marriage and continue to work as a psychic, or she can take the offer of support from handsome Civil War general James Blood and set about to turn society upside down. Victoria chooses revolution.

But revolutions are expensive, and Victoria needs money. James introduces Victoria to one of the wealthiest man in America—Commodore Vanderbilt. Along with her loose and scandalous sister, Tennessee, Victoria manipulates Vanderbilt and together they conspire to crash the stock market—and profit from it. Victoria then parlays her fortune into the first female-owned brokerage firm.

When her idol Susan B. Anthony publishes scandalous rumors about Victoria’s past, Victoria enters into a fierce rivalry with Susan to control the women’s movement. James supports Victoria’s efforts despite his deep fears that she may lose more than the battle. She might lose part of herself.

Victoria starts her own newspaper, testifies to Congress, and even announces her candidacy for President. But when Victoria adopts James’s radical ideas and free love beliefs, she ignites new, bruising, battles with Susan B. Anthony and the powerful Reverend Henry Beecher. These skirmishes turn into an all-out war, with Victoria facing prejudice, prosecution, and imprisonment. Ultimately, Victoria and James face the hardest choice of all: the choice between their country and their love.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo

About the Eva Flynn, Author

03_Eva FlynnEva was raised on bedtime stories of feminists (the tooth fairy even brought Susan B. Anthony dollars) and daytime lessons on American politics. On one fateful day years ago when knowledge was found on bound paper, she discovered two paragraphs about Victoria Woodhull in the WXYZ volume of the World Book Encyclopedia. When she realized that neither of her brilliant parents (a conservative political science professor and a liberal feminist) had never heard of her, it was the beginning of a lifelong fascination not only with Victoria Woodhull but in discovering the stories that the history books do not tell. Brave battles fought, new worlds sought, loves lost all in the name of some future glory have led her to spend years researching the period of Reconstruction. Her first book, The Renegade Queen , explores the forgotten trailblazer Victoria Woodhull and her rivalry with Susan B. Anthony.

Eva was born and raised in Tennessee, earned her B.A. in Political Science from DePauw in Greencastle, Indiana and still lives in Indiana. Eva enjoys reading, classic movies, and travelling. She loves to hear from readers, you may reach her at eva@rebellioustimes.com, and follow her on Goodreads and Twitter.

Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/therenegadequeenblogtour/

Hashtags: #TheRenegadeQueenBlogTour #HistoricalFiction #VictoriaWoodhull

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @EvaFlyn

04_The Renegade Queen_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL

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