Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age” as Want to Read:
The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age

3.46 of 5 stars 3.46  ·  rating details  ·  249 ratings  ·  68 reviews
A fresh look at the life and times of Victoria Woodhull and Tennie Claflin, two sisters whose radical views on sex, love, politics, and business threatened the white male power structure of the nineteenth century and shocked the world. Here award-winning author Myra MacPherson deconstructs and lays bare the manners and mores of Victorian America, remarkably illuminating th ...more
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published March 4th 2014 by Twelve
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
Virginia Woolf by Hermione LeeTestament of Youth by Vera BrittainThe Pillow Book by Sei ShōnagonThe Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de PizanThe War That Ended Peace by Margaret MacMillan
112th out of 198 books — 34 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,457)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
It is hard to imagine these sisters and their incredible lives. You follow them from a childhood that is painfully hard to read about (how did they ever live through it?) to their celebrity and later in life (perhaps) successful marriages. They advocated causes that were far from the norms of the day. They had what today we call “baggage” and lots of it.

If you bemoan the recent Supreme Court decision on birth control, you can take comfort that things were worse in the Gilded Age when, despite th
Joe Drape
In the gilded agae, sisters Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin were a cross between the Kardashians and Hillary Clinton. They opened a brokerage firm,conquered Wall Street and - 100 years before women could vote - Victoria became the first woman to run for president. She chose former slave Frederick Douglass as her running mate. The sisters were smart, beautiful and free living. This lost episode of history unfurls as a page turner.

I really liked the subject matter of this book, the story of two sisters who crusaded for women's rights in the 1860s/1870s. As I had never heard of the two women, I found almost almost all of the information new and enlightening. But I wasn't wowed by the writing style, which seemed more like a list of facts dates and facts than a compelling story. This resulted in some parts of their lives seeming to drag on too long. But, on the whole, I would recommend the book as an important and interestin ...more
Richard Gartee
A non-fiction book to blow the contemporary ideas of women leaders. Two sisters, whom prior to reading this I was unaware of, broke too many glass ceilings to count. Victoria Woodhull and Tennie Claflin came from poverty, rose to power, went broke, got rich, all the while promoting a variety of liberal and women's causes. Will Hillary Clinton be the first woman to run for President? No, Victoria Woodhull did it in 1872. The first woman to testify before congress, the first women to open and oper ...more
Another excellent read! The Scarlet Sisters are a fascinating pair who were very much advanced in their environment and if they had been able to have continued would have further advanced the causes of suffrage, feminism and equality among the classes. Having come from a poor background where they were forced by their father into being con artists and for at least Tennie prostitution they managed to rise up from these ashes and fight for the advancement of women. In a short space of time they we ...more
Fascinating subject matter -- I really wanted this to be great! It got rave reviews from some pretty impressive people, including Jim Lehrer and Carl Bernstein. The story definitely grabbed my attention -- the lives and times of two sisters who challenged the beliefs of the world and paved the way for some major social and political changes, refusing to let the hypocrites of their day continue on with business as usual. But with so many characters, events, and years to cover, this story needed a ...more
I found The Scarlet Sisters to be a highly interesting read. I do not recall ever having heard of the Claflin sisters prior to encountering this book, which I feel is rather a shame considering the ideas these two had. Victoria and Tennie were truly well ahead of their time, more than 150 years ahead easily. Many ideas they put forth about women's rights in particular are still being fought for today. This puts their forward thinking and courage in the spotlight but also highlights how ridiculou ...more
Fascinating account of infamous sisters Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin, their lives in Victorian times, and their place in history. The author's well-researched attention to a puritanical era in which corruption, misogyny and hypocriscy thrived reveals striking parallels to modern socio-political events, and creates the contextual backdrop for these original drama queens, whose lives and spirits give substance to the saying that "well behaved women rarely make history." The sisters' sav ...more
What a fascinating book. I had never read any books about this time period! I found the history & lives of Victoria Woodhull and Tennie Claflin to be incredibly interesting. I had learned a little about Woodhull in my Women's Studies classes in college, but how amazing to get a more in-depth view of her childhood, complexity of her political views, and how those views shifted over time. It's terribly easy to forget that history didn't have to turn out the way it did and that these people wer ...more
Mary Rose
Before I heard of this book, Victoria Woodhull and her sister Tennie Claflin weren't known to me. But reading about their lives and struggles, and their prescient cries for progressive social justice was thrilling.

MacPherson doesn't lack for subject matter, these two women were firecrackers. And I appreciated her focus on truth and mentioning other sources that used conjectures and hearsay as fact. When MacPherson conjectures about motive, or an incident that can't be cited in personal notes or
In May of 1872, the world watched in utter incredulity as a woman took to a stage in New York City and announced her candidacy to run for the President of the United States in the 1872 election, the first woman to ever do so. She named Frederick Douglass, the famous runaway slave turned abolitionist, as her running mate for VP. The contender: Victoria Woodhull – a woman long forgotten today, but so infamously known in the Gilded Age that William Randolph Hurst probably made thousands on newspape ...more
This book is both enlightening and disheartening. Enlightening in its treatment of two women who were reviled by many of the men of the Gilded Age because of their beliefs and actions. Disheartening because it shows we have not come all that far in the treatment of women. Victoria Woodhull and her sister Tennie Claflin were used by their parents in various criminal schemes and their family continued to be a thorn in their sides for the rest of their lives. Be that as it may, the sisters made a n ...more
"Put a woman on trial for anything--it is considered as a legitimate part of the defense to make a most searching inquiry into her sexual morality, and the decision generally turns upon the proof advanced in this regard." Tennie Claflin, 1871 #waronwomen
A good overview of the lives of the famous, or infamous, Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin, free love advocates and among the first suffragists to not come from somewhat upper-level backgrounds.

That much I knew. As I did the basics of their Spiritualism. Where that came from, and just how dire, both economically and morally, their childhood background was, I did not know.

Nor did I know that, after the Beecher scandal and run-ins with bluenose Anthony Comstock, both married into British mon
So, I knew one thing about Victoria Woohull, that she was the first woman to run for President of the United States on a platform of votes for women and free love. I only know this because at one point in the early 1970's, Carol Channing was working on a musical about her (it was never finished). Well, this book is just chock full of all sorts of fascinating information - these women were 150 years ahead of their time. Really enjoyable read, very well researched, and bringing Victoria's younger ...more
Although I was not impressed with MacPherson's writing style, I was fascinated with this tidbit of the history of women's rights. Sisters Victoria Woodhull and Tennie Claflin were two women I'd never heard of--the history books ignore them in favor of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton--but these ladies were well-known in post-Civil War America. In fact, Woodhull even tried to run for president, 120 years before Hillary Clinton! MacPherson pieces together their astounding story, beginni ...more
David Schwan
An interesting book in that it gives a view of America's suffrage movement from the perspective of two sisters Victoria and Tennie Clafin who were a very daring pair of ladies. They ran the first female owned brokerage on Wall Street, ran for US President, advocated free love and where quite connected with the then nascent progressive movement. The only negative is that the story is very detailed with regard to a scandal involving a famous preacher, almost too detailed.
(In the hardcover copy of this book that I read, the text goes to p. 323; the remainder is bibliography, notes, and so on.)

I picked this up on a whim at my library; I'd never heard of Victoria Woodhull or Tennie Claflin before. Victorian/Gilded Age history isn't usually my thing, but these women were incredibly intriguing. They came from humble, even disreputable origins as the children of a quack medicine seller, and were pressed into that con-artist lifestyle themselves, being billed as medium
Sally Cabot
I had no idea . . .
Laura Burkholder
Very engaging book and certainly read like a tabloid figure of today. I have to wonder how they would fare in the 21st century not being able to invent and reinvent their pasts like they did so fluidly in the book. Amazing they were able to become what they did despite their childhood and early years.
My only negative was the epilogue where I felt the author turned it into an editorial of her opinions by word usage that made it clear her feelings of those she didn't agree with. It could have bee
Betsy Brainerd
These sisters were feminists, suffragettes,spiritualists and free love advocates in the late 1800s- ahead of their time on many issues and the details of their lives are fascinating. Given their dysfunctional family and poor start in life, it is incredible what they were able to accomplish. I'd heard of Victoria Woodhull in a women's studies class, but I had no idea about her sister, Tenny Claflin, or the societal context in which they lived. It gets a bit long, but is well worth reading, even i ...more
Every now and then I stumble upon a remarkable woman from history who leaves me flabbergasted by her accomplishments and simultaneous disappearance from generally known American history. But now here are two more to add to my list!

Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin were each so remarkable in their own right. Out of a childhood of Dickensosian poverty -- the children of an actual snake oil salesman -- they eventually climbed their way to the top, befriending Vanderbilts, founding the first
It’s really astonishing how certain figures are left out of our history. Prior to reading this biography, I had no idea that Victoria Claflin Woodhull and her sister, Tennessee Claflin, existed. Yet when one speak about pioneers in areas of women’s rights, the two of them deserve to be remembered just as much as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Myra MacPherson’s work here in highlighting the public lives of these women is tremendously important, and if The Scarlet Sisters was slightl ...more
I grew up knowing that Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for president (almost 50 years before women had the right to vote), with Frederick Douglass, former slave nominated as her running mate.

I knew that Victoria was the first woman to address House Judiciary Committee to argue that the 15th Amendment and other sections of the Constitution guaranteed rights to “citizens” — forcing Rep. John Bingham of Ohio to sputter out, “Madam, you are no citizen — you are a woman!”

I didn't know
This is a book that so very interesting about women's history and a couple of sisters who heated up issues.had associations with Beecher family . The whole Spiritulists in the 1800s. They came from poor and father who was a snake oil salesman. There is a little of almost everything . I recommend this book
I really enjoyed this book. I found the descriptions of the competing personalities and strategies in the women's suffrage movement to be the most interesting part of the book. The one part of the book I didn't like was the final chapter, with the contrast between what the sisters' advocated for and the current political situation. The reduction of the anti-choice movement, in particular, took a serious complicated debate and represented it as nothing other than a battle over women's freedom.
I liked this. It was interesting to read about two radical feminists in the late 1800s whom I hadn't heard of before. Victoria and Tennie were on the extreme radical end of feminism for the time, expressive views that would even be considered radical today by some, such as women who marry a man for money/financial stability and not love are no better than prostitutes. Unfortunately, the ladies turned their backs on their supposed beliefs later in life and even tried to do some weird Nineteen Eig ...more
This book really filled in some important voids in my knowledge of the women's movement in the US. I am grateful for the stories, the fascinating character's that I did not know, the the background information that needs to be understood about this nation's history.
I had to fight to get through this book so I consider finishing it to be a victory. The information was good and the sisters, themselves, incredibly interesting, but the writing in this was a chore at best. I had never heard of these two women prior to reading this book, but I think they deserve a better attempt at a biography than this.
Becky Loader
If you have a pre-conceived notion that 19th century females were softly-spoken, well-mannered princesses who sketched, embroidered, and read poetry, you need to meet Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Clafin. Let's just say they broke the mold!
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 81 82 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation
  • Notorious Victoria: The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored
  • Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote SCUM (and Shot Andy Warhol)
  • American Queen: The Rise and Fall of Kate Chase Sprague — Civil War "Belle of the North" and Gilded Age Woman of Scandal
  • Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly: The Remarkable Story of the Friendship Between a First Lady and a Former Slave
  • Dear Abigail: The Intimate Lives and Revolutionary Ideas of Abigail Adams and Her Two Remarkable Sisters
  • A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation
  • Six Women of Salem: The Untold Story of the Accused and Their Accusers in the Salem Witch Trials
  • Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics
  • Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners
  • Swimming in the Steno Pool: A Retro Guide to Making It in the Office
  • The Great Divorce: a Nineteenth-Century Mother's Extraordinary Fight Against Her Husband, the Shakers, and Her Times
  • The Movement, Vol. 1: Class Warfare
  • Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman
  • Mightier Than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America
  • The Brontë Myth
  • Without Lying Down: Screenwriter Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood
  • Washington: The Making of the American Capital
Fifth book to be published March 4. The Scarlet Sisters: Six Suffrage and Scandal in the Gilded Age.The reads-like-fiction true story of VIctoria Woodhull and Tennie Claflin, Free Lovers who shocked the world and upset the white male power structure fighting for women's equality everywhere--from the board room to the bedroom--in the 1870's.

I was a long time reporter for the Washington Post and wr
More about Myra MacPherson...
Long Time Passing, New Edition: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I. F. Stone She Came to Live Out Loud: An Inspiring Family Journey Through Illness, Loss, and Grief The Power Lovers: An Intimate Look at Politics and Marriage

Share This Book

“Henry Ward Beecher used the parade and the IWA’s eight-hour-day battle to hector the working poor from the pulpit. Fewer hours would tend “to make men feel that work is not a good thing… hard knocks, and a good many of them” were the only way to “carve out independent fortunes.” Beecher admitted that underpaid workers could not make enough in an eight-hour day to advance from their lowly state at their present pay, but he neglected to denounce the owners who paid them so poorly. Working longer hours was his Christian solution.” 0 likes
More quotes…