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

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3.44 of 5 stars 3.44  ·  rating details  ·  227 ratings  ·  61 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
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Louise
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
...more
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.


April
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
Yasmin
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
Megan
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
Nikki
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
Tania
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
...more
Jeff
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
Bruce
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
Jen
"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
Socraticgadfly
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
...more
Alisa
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.
Sally Cabot
I had no idea . . .
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
Renae
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
Tracy
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
...more
Sandi
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
Laura
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.
Lauren
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
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!
Joan Mueller
Could not finish this book. There was too much back and forth between childhood and adult with much repetition of the same material. While the topic was interesting, an orderly timeline without repetition would have made it a better read.
Rose
Victoria Woodhull and her sister, Tennessee Clafin, first woman stocknbrokers and involved in the Beecher case. Interesting and more attention given to their post-scandal lives theN I have seen in other treatments.
Layla Johnston
MacPherson offers a balanced and nuanced view of the roles of Victoria Woodhull and her sister Tennie Claflin as early agitators for social reform. One of the best books about Woodhull and Claflin I have read. MacPherson provides a well researched narrative that counters some of the more speculative and sordid versions of biographies of Woodhull. I especially appreciated her in-depth treatment of Tennie Claflin, who is often written about in the shadow of her sister.
Nicki Schwenkbeck
Great read about two sisters forgotten by history but who caused quite a stir during the socially rigid Victorian era. The public reaction to these outspoken women (especially among men) was often cruel and demeaning, showing how strong, independent women were and sometimes still are slandered in the public. Victoria and Tennie fought for equal rights for women, including the right to vote and divorce. At times they defended the lowest women in society, bringing to the forefront the male/female ...more
Grace P.
Bravo Myra MacPherson. I had never heard of theses sisters and, although they weren't perfect, they stood up for women's rights, took persecution for it, and had ideas ahead of their time. An enjoyable read.
Tracy
I like historical biographies and the topic seemed very interesting but not really. Interesting life events but just too much info to let the reader get invested in the two characters.
Amanda
While some parts of this book were entertaining, the author brought up a lot of topics that detracted from the focus. She also tied up the book by grandstanding her own political views - not all of which I necessarily disagreed with, but all of which seemed inappropriate and out of context.
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46486
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
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

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