Many of us including myself may have thought that Hillary Clinton is the first female to run for President of the USA. However, as Nicole Evelina, informs us in her recent work, Madame Presidentess it was in fact Victoria Woodhull (“Notorious Victoria”) who was the first female to seek the office, setting a precedent still followed by female politicians today.
Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest the award-winning historical fiction and romantic comedy writer, Nicole Evelina.
Nicole's Madame Presidentess, was the first-place winner in the Women’s US History category of the 2015 Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction.
Her debut novel, Daughter of Destiny, was named Book of the Year by Chanticleer Reviews, took the Grand Prize in the 2015 Chatelaine Awards for Women’s Fiction/Romance, and won a Gold Medal in the fantasy category in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
Been Searching for You, her contemporary romantic comedy, won the 2015 Romance Writers of America (RWA) Great Expectations and Golden Rose contests.
A member of and book reviewer for The Historical Novel Society, and Sirens (a group supporting female fantasy authors), Evelina is also member of the Historical Writers of America, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, Romance Writers of America, the St. Louis Writer’s Guild, Women Writing the West, Broad Universe (promoting women in fantasy, science fiction and horror), Alliance of Independent Authors, the Independent Book Publishers Association and the Midwest Independent Publishers Association.
Norm: Good day Nicole and thanks for participating in our interview.
How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?
Nicole: Thanks for having me here. I’ve been writing as a hobby since I was old enough to know how to hold a pencil – I guess I’ve always had stories to tell – but I started thinking about publishing back in 2008 when I was drafting my first book, Daughter of Destiny. Telling Guinevere’s story was very important to me, and this, unlike my previous writing, felt strong enough to have a shot at actually being read by others.
As for what keeps me going, I feel a responsibility to my characters to tell their stories. They picked me for a reason, so I owe it to them to do my best to make sure others get to know them as I have. Plus, my characters talk to me in my head, so I also write so they will be quiet.
Norm: What has been your greatest challenge (professionally) that you’ve overcome in getting to where you’re at today?
Nicole: Publishing can be a very tough industry with lots of rejection. I think my greatest challenge has been dealing with all of the ups and downs and almost-but-not-quites that come with it. Taking my career into my own hands was a big step and a scary one, but it has proven to be the right one for me, at least at this moment.
Norm: Who was Victoria Woodhull? How and what motivated you to become involved in writing about her? As a follow up, why do you believe she has been forgotten in the history books?
Nicole: Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for President in the United States in 1872, 48 years before women got the right to vote.
She was also the first woman to run a stock brokerage on Wall Street (with her sister, Tennie), the first woman to testify before a Congressional committee (she argued that the wording of the Constitution already gave women the right to vote), and one of the first women to run a weekly newspaper.
Victoria was an impassioned advocate and speaker on women’s suffrage, Free Love (the right for people to marry and separate/divorce at will without the interference of the government), and worth of women, especially within marriage. Yet for all of that, she’s not included in most of our history texts.
I learned about her by seeing a picture of her with an alluring caption on Pinterest, of all places. The caption said, “Known by her detractors as ‘Mrs. Satan,’ Victoria Claflin Woodhull, born in 1838, married at age fifteen to an alcoholic and womanizer.
She became the first woman to establish a brokerage firm on Wall Street and played an active role in the woman's suffrage movement. She became the first woman to run for President of the United States in 1872. Her name is largely lost in history. Few recognize her name and accomplishments.” I immediately had to know more and began my research. I mean, any woman called “Mrs. Satan” is someone I have to get to know!
Not only is Victoria fascinating, but the fact that she’s been nearly forgotten motivated me. As a historical fiction author, I’m attracted to the stories of people, especially women, who are in danger of being lost to the pages of history. Bringing those stories to light and making sure their heroines are remembered by future generations is my personal mission. I wanted to help get Victoria’s name back in the history books where it belongs.
There are two main factors that helped her name be forgotten. In 1928, less than a year after Victoria died, the first biography of her, The Terrible Siren by Emanie Nahm Sachs, was published. This highly suspect portrayal – she paid some of her sources for information on Victoria – was vindictive and brutal, leading Victoria to get a mostly undeserved negative reputation as a harlot and harpy. On top of that, when Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote their three-volume, 900+ page work on the history of the suffrage movement, they included Victoria only as a literal footnote. This may have been in revenge for her turning on them.
Norm: What were your goals and intentions in Madame Presidentess, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
Nicole: The biggest goals I had were to help get Victoria back into the history books and help educate people on her life. I think a variety of factors are contributing to Victoria finally being given her due, of which I and my book are only one small part.
Obviously, Hillary Clinton being the presumptive Democratic nominee for the presidency is prompting many to look back and realize Victoria came first. You can see that in the number of articles published daily that at least mention Victoria’s name. I believe that by releasing a book about her, I can give people more in-depth knowledge than they would otherwise get. Plus, with it being historical fiction, I can help people envision her as a living, breathing person in a way you can’t typically do in a historical text. Not only that but, fiction allows me to entertain as well as enlighten. I’m satisfied with how things have turned out and feel I’ve achieved my goals.
Norm: What are some of the references that you used while researching this book? As a follow up, what did you learn about the history of suffrage and women’s rights in the process of your research?
Nicole: My main references were newspaper articles from the time and biographies of Victoria, starting with the fanciful one she commissioned from Theodore Tilton during her lifetime and Emanie Sachs’ scathing account published just after Victoria’s death, through more recent works such as Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull by the recently deceased biographer Barbara Goldsmith, Notorious Victoria by Mary Gabriel and The Woman Who Ran for President by Lois Beachey Underhill.
I also read quite a few books on women’s lives in mid-to-late-19th century America, as well as the suffrage movement and electoral politics at the time (voting was very different and not nearly as anonymous then as it is now).
For those who are interested in my sources, I have a complete reference list on my WEBSITE
The biggest thing I learned is that the suffrage movement wasn’t all roses and sisterhood like I expected. That was the picture Hollywood and my high school textbooks painted. But the suffrage movement was actually broken into two competing factions in the mid-1800s, the American Womans Suffrage Association, led by Lucy Stone, that endorsed suffrage state by state and were more conservative, and the more radical National Woman Suffrage Association, led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, which advocated for federal women’s suffrage.
Victoria was a member of the later for several years. In addition to being split ideologically, the women often disagreed and fought with one another more than you would think, penning unflattering articles and messages about one another and speaking out publically against each other. The rift between the two major groups wasn’t mended until 1890, when they joined as the National American Woman Sufferage Association.
Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
Nicole: Doing all of the characters justice at once while remaining historically accurate was hard. This is a story where there are no clear heroes and villains; each person, Victoria included, has obvious flaws and strengths. I couldn’t play up everyone’s strengths or it wouldn’t be realistic, but if I put too much focus on the flaws, I ran the risk of the characters being unlikable to readers, even though they really did the things I portray.
It was a tough balance to decide whom to elevate and whom to vilify and how to handle it when a good person did something the reader may not think is right. Politics has always been a dirty business and that is difficult to portray when we automatically want to idolize our forbearers, especially when they broke such tremendous ground as Victoria did.
Norm: How did Victoria Woodhull pave the way for today’s female politicians, including presumptive Democratic Party 2016 presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton?
Nicole: Victoria was the first woman to challenge the notion that only men could hold the highest seat in the land. At the time, women couldn’t vote or serve on juries, any wages they were paid went straight to their husbands, and there were social taboos against women speaking in public.
Victoria ignored all of that and launched a highly successful speaking career, even arguing (unsuccessfully) before Congress that women were equal citizens to men under the Constitution. She fought battles with her opponents in the newspapers (the social media of the time) and proudly proclaimed that she was for women as well as men from in lecture halls across the country.
Today, female politicians are still saying many of the same things as he did when they go on speaking tours just like Victoria’s. More than 140 years later, they still have to justify their positions and are still calling for reform that will make women truly equal to men.
They are still held to a higher standard than their male counterparts and face discrimination simply because of their sex. But if it wasn’t for Victoria taking that bold first step and flouting convention in favour of what she believed in, we wouldn’t have Hillary today.
Norm: How do you believe Woodhull would have dealt with Donald Trump if the two faced off in a debate?
Nicole: Oh what I would pay to see that! She’d tell him what for! He may call her crooked and demean her as he has done with other female politicians, but she would battle right back at him with facts.
Her speeches were very well researched and composed on a balance of fact and emotion, and in her rebuttals against critics printed in the newspapers were as rational as they were impassioned, so I believe she’d use the same strategy against him in a live debate. She wasn’t one to back down from a fight, so I wonder who would quit yelling first.
Norm: What are the similarities and differences between Woodhull and Hillary Clinton?
Nicole: Both are intelligent, strong women with a passion for those who cannot speak for themselves or who need someone to advocate for them. Both are/were trying to break new ground to become the first female President in order to make things better for the American people.
Perhaps the most obvious similarity is that both survived serious scandal during their candidacy, in part involving their family.
Hillary has the email scandal, while Victoria was repeatedly accused of blackmailing people and spent Election Day in jail on trumped up charges that were later dismissed.
Hillary is forever linked with her husband’s infidelity. Not only did Victoria have a philandering ex-husband, he was also a drunkard and drug addict and was living with her while she was married to her second husband, James, something that was not done in the 19th century, even if it was all innocent as Victoria claimed. On top of that, Victoria’s own mother took James to court and aired the family’s dirty secrets in public.
A big difference was that Victoria had no political experience when she ran, with only her success on Wall Street as credentials. In that way, she’s more like Trump. Also, unlike Hillary, Victoria came from a very poor background, had a con-man for a father and a blackmailing, religious zealot for a mother, and received little formal education, so she was an unlikely Presidential candidate from birth.
Norm: What projects are you working on at the present?
Nicole: Once Madame Presidentess is out and the election is over, I am going to concentrate on writing Mistress of Legend, the third and final book in my Guinevere trilogy. This book will cover the end of Guinevere’s life, including the fall of Camelot and what happens after. In my version, she certainly doesn’t live out her days in a convent!
I will also begin research for a WWII-era historical novel about a Catholic nun who helped hide Jews and aided the resistance in France. She was a victim of the concentration camps and should be on the path to sainthood, but few people outside of her native country know her name. As far as I can tell, there is only one book written about her in the world.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Madame Presidentess?
Nicole: My WEBSITE is the best place. But you can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest by searching for Nicole Evelina.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Nicole: What is the most unusual thing you learned about Victoria? That she was a Spiritualist and believed she had clairvoyant and healing powers. Victoria’s mother encouraged her and her sister Tennie in this belief and her father used these gifts to make money even when the girls were very young.
Say what you will about that, Victoria maintained her whole life that she was guided by the spirits, especially that of the Greek orator Demosthenes, and that he predicted her success in New York as well as her candidacy.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavours