The Scarlet Sisters is the real-life saga of the two most flamboyant, radical and scandalous sisters in American history. Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin rose from a sordid childhood to champion Free Love and women’s sexual, economic and political freedom at a time when women had no power. They became the first women stockbrokers in the world in 1870 (not to be repeated for 100 years) bankrolled by Tennessee’s lover, Cornelius Vanderbilt–the richest man in America. Some 2,000 gaping, shouting stockbrokers crowded the street just to see them open their offices. The beautiful sisters cavorted with capitalists and communists (Karl Marx), published a radical muckraking weekly that exposed high crimes on Wall Street. To crowds of six thousand they shouted down charges of “prostitutes” and “tramps” to crusade for divorce reform, sexual freedom, defend prostitutes and mock Victorian religious hypocrisy. Woodhull became the first woman to run for President– in 1872 with famed orator and former slave, Frederick Douglass, chosen as her running mate on a third-party ticket. Tennessee became honorary colonel of Manhattan’s only black post-Civil War regiment. Victoria was the first woman to address Congress, arguing that women were “citizens” as so defined in the Constitution and thus able to vote without an amendment. To which a congressman sputtered “You are not a citizen! You are a woman!” When they exposed the adultery of the most famous preacher in America, Henry Ward Beecher, they were repeated jailed by Beecher forces on trumped up charges.
After being drummed out of the suffrage movement as too scandalous, the sisters–who grew up in rags as fortune telling con artists–fled to London, where they married two of the richest men in England. Tennessee became Lady Cook and continued a globetrotting suffragist lecturing career, while hobnobbing with Kings, Queens and Presidents.
The sisters lived on to see the vote, as grand dames in the 1920’s flapper era. Yet their crusade for equal pay for equal work 150 years ago still has not come to pass. Above all, this is a timely book; the sexual freedoms and rights the sisters battled for are being threatened once again. The “then” and “now” remarkable comparisons are addressed in detail in the Epilogue.
The true life of saga of scandalous sisters Victoria Woodhull and Tennie Claflin, whose views on sex, marriage, politics, and finance threatened the 19th century white male power structure and shocked the world. Tennie preached the gospel of Free Love to crowds of 10,000 and Woodhull ran for President in 1872. Their blazing feminism astoundingly resonates with today’s women’s issues.
“MacPherson’s enchanting dual biography…the epilogue “hammers home that even [today] men use women’s bodies as political bargaining chips.” ── The Washington Post
Woodhull and her sister Tennessee Claflin made more “headlines than any other women in 19th century America…” The Internet Review of Books
“145 Years of Frat Boys on Wall Street: A history of Wall Street Sexism” Salon.com
“MacPherson’s new book is about two sisters in the late 1800’s but couldn’t be more timely.” Metro
“MacPherson’s fascinating dual biography” of two Victorian feminist firebrands….they continued to “push for women’s rights–rights that, in the era of ‘legitimate rape’ and state-mandated ultrasounds,–remain at the center of our political landscape over a century later.” Vogue
“MacPherson crusades” for 19th century feminists” Vanity Fair
“A lively account of the unlikely lives of the ‘two most symbiotic and scandalous sitters in American History.” New Yorker Website
“In this sweeping, engaging new biography, Myra MacPherson chronicles lives that intersected with nearly all of the era’s great themes and famous figures.” Boston Globe
“THE SCARLET SISTERS …conversation starter for book clubs…I am going to read it again! It is that good.” BookReporter