Portrait of Victoria Woodhull

Mr. Cotton—I would say that I wanted fifteen minutes, and I have had them. {Laughter.}

Mrs. Woodhull—I am a little confused. I am thinking whether I shall lose any of my womanly dignity if I stoop to answer this man. I am really considering whether I shall. A man questioning my virtue! Have I any right as a woman to answer him?

The Chairman—I hardly think it necessary.

Mr. Cotton—I do not think I am worth the powder to shoot at. I have only told what I can prove. {Hisses}

Mrs. Woodhull—I hardly know if it is necessary for me to answer this man. If this Convention want to know anything special about my sexual organs let us have it understood.

Mr. Shaw—Did he tell the truth?

Mrs. Woodhull—Suppose he did tell the truth. Has Mr. Cotton ever had sexual intercourse with Mrs. Woodhull?

Mr. Cotton—No.

Mrs. Woodhull—Do you know of any man that has?

Mr. Cotton—No.

Mrs. Woodhull—Then, what in the name of heaven can you prove? Have you in your eagerness to do something for the public weal, which, I suppose you consider in danger, caught up the uncomprehended sayings of some busybody who thinks he knows more about my business than I do myself and better how to manage it, that you come before this Convention and arraign me for hypocrisy? I hurl the intention back in your face, sir, and stand boldly before you and this Convention, and declare that I never had sexual intercourse with any man of whom I am ashamed to stand side by side before the world with the act. I am not ashamed of any act of my life. At the time, it was the best I knew. Nor am I ashamed of any desire that has been gratified or of any passion alluded to. Every one of them are a part of my own soul’s life, for which, thank God, I am not accountable to you. Therefore, sir, I have nothing to offer up on the altar of the confessional. If others have, I have no objections. I had intended to put these things before the world in my own time and way; but I shall not be forced to explain anything, by any job put up, to compel me to take a position that does not belong to me to assume.

[It] may however, be a fit time for this issue when a man, and such a man, feels called upon in the name of virtue to come before this Convention and arraign me for my sexual virtue, when you are compelled to say you do not know of any man with whom I ever had sexual intercourse. I think [it may] be a fitting time—a fitting ending to this Convention [since] it brings the question down to just this: Of what does virtue consist? But I fear I may lose myself and say things I am not quite ready to say. It is not, however, from cowardice I hesitate; but out of respect to some of my friends who, thinking to do the cause a service, have forced this issue at this time. I am full cognizant of it all, but it has assumed a form for which they did not provide, and has passed from their control to that of the opposition, which having failed to crush out the doctrine of social freedom, now at this late stage of the Convention, think to do something by springing this issue. They are welcome to all the comfort it will afford them. But I am not yet entirely satisfied as to how far I ought, indeed how far I can, indulge them and maintain my womanly dignity. A woman questioned on the public platform, and that too by a man at this stage of agitation for freedom!

But what is it that this man is after? He wants me, because I claim that Moses and Elvira Hull had a right to do what they have done, that I shall divulge the private history of my life, and whether I have prostituted myself to carry on this work. Did this man or did any other person even hear me make any pretentions to any special line of sexual life? I am an advocate of freedom. I have openly declared that I had the right to change my love every day of my life if I wanted to and could. What more does he want? Does he want me to say that I have the right to change love oftener than that? Is that sufficient for the man? Is that freedom enough to satisfy his longing? Can I say anything more to assuage his desires? Or is it that he would make me an inconsistent advocate of sexual freedom by the acknowledgment that, when questioned, I have a right to stoop to explain? I should really like to know at what it is he is driving—

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