Abstract

This article explores the figure of the "public woman" in the United States through an analysis of media representations of sex radical and cultural politician Victoria Woodhull. "The Woodhull," as she was epithetically known, became a dangerous icon of the public woman in the 1870s because her personal behavior and politics transgressed the boundary of the public/private divide. In this context, suffragists contended with Woodhull's radical public image while asserting an alternative public woman and seeking a rationale for suffrage that was acceptable for 1870s popular culture. Woodhull's class difference from most suffrage women allowed her to take flamboyant positions in the debate over public womanhood, and her public demonstrations in turn contributed to a "respectability crisis" within the suffrage struggle. As the representative "sex radical" suffragist, Woodhull forced the movement to redefine the suffrage woman, and a new maternalist rationale for suffrage emerged, opening the prosuffrage cause to more conservative women. At the same time, her insistence on bringing the most private issues into public and political debate set a precedent for future challenges to the sexual status quo.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 89-111
Launched on MUSE
2000-04-01
Open Access
No
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