Portrait of Victoria Woodhull

THE CHICAGO MAIL

Sachs wasn't the first or the last to accuse Victoria of prostitution, but she did handle the topic with kid gloves. The gloves were off in Barbara Goldsmith's book, "Other Powers," which matter-of-factly told the readers that Victoria was a prostitute. Goldsmith relied heavily on stories that appeared in the Chicago Mail in 1892. The stories indicated that Victoria ran a fortune telling business that may have been a front for a house of prostitution in Chicago in the 1860's. The Mail wasn't certain about the "character" of Victoria's Chicago residence, but they expressed certainty that Tennie ran a "house of assignation" in Cincinnati.

The Mail left no stone unturned. They tracked the Claflin sisters from birth. The paper printed negative stories about them from Homer, Ohio; from Ottawa, IL; Chicago, IL; and Cincinnati, OH. Strangely, the Mail, which delighted in exposing every salacious detail from birth, didn't mention anything about San Francisco, where Victoria allegedly began her career in prostitution. They also avoided the biggest bombshell, the Beecher-Tilton scandal.

The Chicago Mail was edited by Joseph R. Dunlop, who was arrested for criminal libel in 1889 for his Chicago Times expose of the Chicago police department. To his credit, the police were corrupt, but Dunlop had a penchant for sensational journalism. One of the men who put up a $2,000 bond for him in that criminal libel case was the proprietor of the Grand Palace Hotel, Charles P. Newberry. Just three years later, Dunlop showed his thanks to Mr. Newberry by publishing an expose about him. The article was called: "Newberry Is Married. Discovery of Some Very Sensational Documentary Evidence Regarding the Swindler. His Wife a Rich Widow. She Got Him Out of Jail and Was Lately with Him in Detroit." Dunlop honorably left out the name of Newberry's rich widow (Mrs. Newberry?), assuring the reader that "It is on account of the children that THE MAIL suppresses the lady's name. Its publication would create a big sensation."

A few days after the publication of the Newberry article, the Mail slammed Victoria and Tennie C., while apologizing for attacking members of the fairer sex. The editor felt the need to justify his sensational stories and provide a motive:

"The MAIL refuses to believe that the women of the United States look on the Claflin sisters as leaders of their movement, as honorable, chaste, respectable persons. Such a thought is a libel on American womanhood. To prevent such an impression gaining credence in England was the only cause for THE MAIL's expose of the Claflin sisters."

What an odd motive! Certainly, it had nothing to do with increased circulation. They editor boasted that the "last three weeks show a net increase of more than 20,000 copies daily, and every day's record exceeds its predecessor." The stories about Charles P. Newberry and Victoria Woodhull must have been good business for Mr. Dunlop. But why would the Mail be so concerned lest the English believe the Claflin sisters were "leaders of their movement?"

The answer may lie in a story published in the Chicago Times just two years prior. The Times said, "Chicago is just now the center of activity of one of the most amazing scandals which have recently disturbed London society, and no less than six English detectives are in this city today working on the two sides of the case." The two sides were allegedly Victoria and Tennie vs. the pro-Beecher forces in the women's movement.

Wherever the Claflins have lived," said a London gentleman to the Chicago Times, "detectives have been put to work to uncover their lives fully, and wherever any of the old Beecher crowd have had an opportunity to do any talking from Boston to Evanston other detectives are anxiously trying to make up a case that could be brought into the courts." Even the Pinkertons were involved.

Victoria and Tennie C. had their suspicions as to whom the culprits were. They were described by the Times as "one of the leaders of the woman's movement in the west a lady whose name is known and honored wherever the Woman's Christian Temperance union has penetrated. Another is an eastern light of the woman's movement and a great friend of the late Mr. Beecher."

The same week that the scandalous stories about Victoria and Tennie C. appeared in the Chicago Mail, the Mail published, "Able Talks by Women." It was a complimentary story that mentioned among others, Susan B. Anthony, Julia Ward Howe, and Frances Willard who were all conveniently in Chicago at the time. And none of them wanted Victoria Woodhull to be mistaken as a leader of their movement.

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