Women of Wall Street: Victoria Woodhull

Born into poverty in Ohio in 1838, Victoria Woodhull went on to become one of the most notable—and perhaps most infamous—women of her time. In addition being the first woman to address Congress and the first woman to run for president, Woodhull was also the first woman to open a brokerage on Wall Street when she started Woodhull, Claflin and Co. with her sister Tennessee in 1870. She was an outspoken suffragist, activist and proponent of free love—which in the late 19th century, meant a woman’s freedom to choose whether to remain married, or indeed, whether she wanted to marry at all.

Many of her views were formed as a result of her first marriage– at 15, she married Dr. Canning Woodhull, who was 26, and who turned out to be an alcoholic. She had two children by him, one of whom was severely mentally handicapped. Woodhull attributed his disability to his father’s alcoholism, and was embittered by society’s expectation that she should stay with her husband in spite of it.

Woodhull and her sister used the proceeds from their very successful brokerage business to publish their radical newspaper, Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly. In it, they waged war against Victorian morality, and covered many controversial issues that included suffrage, free love, vegetarianism and spiritualism. Part of the driving force behind the newspapers was Woodhull’s second husband, Colonel James Blood.

In 1872, the Weekly broke a story that Henry Ward Beecher, famous minister of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn who had denounced Woodhull’s views on free love, had been having an affair with one of his congregants.  Woodhull was arrested later that year for sending obscene materials (her newspaper) through the mail. Beecher was sued by his mistress’ husband in 1875, in a highly-publicized trial that was followed around the country.

Woodhull remained a focus of public attention and controversy until she left the United States in 1877, after divorcing Colonel Blood. She remarried John Biddulph Martin and lived out the rest of her life quietly in England.

First Kaufman Series Event 2010- David Walker

Thank you to everyone who attended this year’s first Kaufman Lecture and Symposia Series event on Tuesday evening. David Walker, former Comptroller General of the United States and head of the Government Accountability Office from 1998 to 2008 and current chairman of the United Nations Independent Audit Advisory Committee (see full bio here), spoke to a packed room about the current state and future of the United States and our economy. Promoting his new book, Comeback America, Walker touched on issues of fiscal responsibility, the necessity of policy and operational reforms in government, problems concerning US spending habits and values and the deficit of leadership in government, among other topics. Although Walker painted a somewhat grim picture with his statistics and forecasts, he says his book is about solutions. Signed copies of Comeback America are now available in the Museum Shop. If you would like to hear David Walker’s full speech, it is now available on the MoAF website or there is a short clip of it below.

Last Month of “Women of Wall Street” Exhibit: Profile of Abigail Adams

The Museum’s groundbreaking exhibit, “Women of Wall Street,” is on view until the end of March, which is Women’s History Month.  The exhibit was conceived in January of 2009, when Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and profiles five pioneering historical figures and five of the most powerful women in finance today.

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Museum will post a blog entry about each of the famous historical figures in the exhibit, beginning with Abigail Adams.

Abigail Adams is most famous for being the wife of American statesman and former President John Adams, but few people know that she was a bond trader, or in the lingo of the times, a “stock-jobber.”   Adams’ trading activities were one of the few sources of contention between the pair; John Adams, much more conservative by nature, asked his wife to invest in land.  She would point out to him that the bonds offered a significantly higher return on capital than land (24% a year versus only 2% for land).  Indeed, she ultimately earned a return of about 400% as a result of her speculative activities.

In Adams’ time, Massachusetts coverture laws were such that legally, all of her property belonged to John.  Even so, she would set aside “pin money” (small amounts given to wives to purchase luxuries and other items) and buy the bonds through her uncle.  Many women who lived through the Revolutionary War in America had to make do without their husbands, which forced them to become independent in many ways.  Even so, women’s legal rights remained limited, something that Adams famously admonished her husband to address when she asked him to “Remember the ladies” as he was helping draft laws for the newly-founded United States in 1776.

Museum Café Opens

We are excited to announce that the Museum has opened a new café! Located on the grand mezzanine level of the museum, the café is a great spot to take in the ornate interior of the historic Bank of New York building. The menu includes coffee, gourmet espresso drinks, tea, soda, and a variety of cookies and muffins.

To celebrate the grand opening, we are offering a 10% discount on all coffee drinks this week.  If you’re on Wall Street, swing in for a cappuccino and a mint chocolate chip cookie.

Welcome to MoAF’s new blog!

Welcome to the Museum of American Finance’s new blog!  We are currently in the process of launching several exciting new social media initiatives.  In addition to the Museum’s current new media offerings such as our website, MoAF.org; our new wiki, Recessipedia.com; and our Facebook group and fan pages, we will be rolling out a YouTube channel that will aggregate Museum videos and serve as an online arena for shorter, informal video features.  We plan to profile staff members, provide sneak peeks into the creation of upcoming exhibitions, focus on important objects from the archive and document the behind-the-scenes accounts that usually remain hidden from visitors.  In addition, the Museum can now be followed on Twitter via our handle, @FinanceMuseum  (recent tweets can also be viewed on the blog in the top right hand corner of the page).

These new media platforms will provide fresh venues for the Museum to spread the word about upcoming events and programs, and connect visitors in new and innovative ways.  These platforms will help create a more accessible museum experience, and will enable more interaction between the Museum and patrons – both in New York and beyond – allowing visitors to continue their education about finance and financial history after they leave the Museum. We look forward to hearing from you via comments and e-mails, and invite you to tell us what you’d like to see on the blog, what you’re interested in learning about the Museum, and how you think we’re doing.

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