Portrait of Victoria Woodhull

The words of Frank Warner of Ottawa, IL, figured prominently in the scandalous Mail articles and in Barbara Goldsmith’s book. Warner was a Pinkerton detective and a former sheriff of LaSalle County. He said, "There was some queer stories told about them in Ottawa, but I was in this position: I held them at arm’s length the same as I hold all women of bad repute. . . . Victoria called on me frequently to ask me something about some technical point or other and I always closed my conversation with her as quickly as possible. You see I was the sheriff there at the time, and I was compelled to use a great deal of discretion in my dealings with such people."

According to Warner’s account in the Mail, he was sheriff in 1859-60. The Claflins didn’t move to Ottawa until 1863. In the late 1850’s, Victoria was probably in San Francisco until she had a vision of Tennie C., calling her home to Columbus. Advertisements show that Tennie C. was living in Columbus in 1859. If Frank Warner saw Victoria in the sheriff’s office in 1859, she must have been having an out of body experience, or he was a clairvoyant.

Sheriff Warner may have held the Claflin sisters at arm’s length, but it looks like his son didn’t. In 1863, Frank Warner Jr. attended the same picnic as Tennie C. The son of Ottawa’s Baptist minister was there, too. Why on earth would such "respectable" men go to a picnic if they knew a "prostitute" was going to be there? Were they trying to save her soul?

The most puzzling thing about the Chicago Mail’s articles, though, is their assertion that Victoria Woodhull’s eviction was "fully chronicled in the papers at the time." Emanie Sachs hired someone to go through the Chicago newspapers of the 1860’s. Her researcher couldn’t find anything. Maybe it’s because there really was nothing to find?


The best evidence that historians have that Victoria Woodhull was a prostitute comes from the sensational Chicago convention of the American Association of Spiritualists, which was held Sept. 16-18, 1873 at Grow’s Hall on West Madison Street. Most specifically, they cite her response to Mr. A. C. Cotton on the third day of the convention. There are many different versions of the story as follows:


Mr. Cotton made the sensation of the day, charging upon Mrs. Woodhull in about as plain words as it could be done, that she had resorted to prostitution to further the cause. To this charge Mrs. Woodhull came forward, and amidst the greatest excitement, proceeded to answer the delegate. She said she considered her sexual organs nobody’s business, and what she might do with them was her own choice. Then, warming up, she said that she had, when neglected by the Spiritualists, gone out among the men of the world, gamblers, and prostitutes, and made her money; and that if she had used her body to further the cause given her soul to God, it was nothing to anybody. She had not done anything that she was ashamed of.

In reply to a question hurled at his head by Mrs. Woodhull, who said she didn’t know whether he had any sexual organs, and didn’t care, Mr. Cotton, who is a very respectable-looking middle-aged man, said he was indeed a virgin, so far as his life outside of wedlock was concerned.

The excitement through out the assemblage during the scene was intense. It seemed as if blows would have resulted, for Col. Blood came up and took a position by the side of Victoria, and on her asking Mr. Cotton if he knew of any sexual act, which she had wrongfully committed, and his not replying, thundered at him the query, Why don’t you stand up, if you have aught to say. But Mr. Cotton did not rise; and when Mrs. Woodhull asked him what he wanted, he replied, "Fifteen minutes, and I got it," which sally brought down the house. The scene was in every respect disgraceful.

Chicago Interocean

Mr. Cotton here obtained the floor and protested against the Woodhull and her "social freedom" notions. He argued firmly and logically against the promulgation of such ideas as those which had been forced upon the convention, and created a good deal of excitement.

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