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Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  358 ratings  ·  68 reviews
Barbara Goldsmith's portrait of suffragette Victoria Woodhull and her times was hailed by George Plimpton as "a beautifully written biography of a remarkable woman" and by Gloria Steinem as "more memorable than a dozen histories." A highly readable combination of history and biography, Other Powers interviews the stories of some of the most colorful social, political, and religi ...more
Paperback, 560 pages
Published March 24th 1999 by Harper Perennial (first published December 28th 1998)
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 ·  358 ratings  ·  68 reviews

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Mar 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, feminism
This book was great! It was such a thorough examination of the context surrounding spiritualism and women's suffrage. I learned a ton, and I was also very frustrated. Reading about how fractured the suffrage movement was reminds me of some of the bs going on today. Obviously we never learn from history. And I knew some details about how some suffrage leaders were basically shitty people, but this book really brought out information that I think is brushed under the rug a lot. Many of them were v ...more
Lora Shouse
Nov 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. Just wow.

This book is the story of what is just one knot of the tangled web of the history of America in the mid-nineteenth century. Its main focus is on Victoria Woodhull, a self-proclaimed spiritualist (and so much more) who was the first woman to run for President of the United States, long before women even had the right to vote.

But Victoria Woodhull was involved in so much stuff during her life that it also picks up at least half a dozen other stories involving
Susan O
I've read this book twice, because I enjoyed it so much. I would say it is more a history book than a biography although I put it in both categories. Victoria Woodhull appears throughout the book, but the main focus is on the suffrage and spiritualism movements. You become acquainted with other personalities that are important in this period in history such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Henry Ward Beecher, Harriot Beecher Stowe, among others. Definitely a good choice if you're int ...more
Robert Stewart
Aug 12, 2014 rated it liked it
I had a real problem with this book. In the introduction, the author tells us that while the records concerning many of the events she depicts were sketchy, contradictory and supremely suspect, she assures us that the reality she depicts was verified through letters, documents, etc. (though these these are never footnoted).

But the text often depicts speculation as fact. At one point, Goldsmith tells us that Tennessee Claflin resented being used by her father to defraud people rather
Jul 02, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a great read. Historians might bristle at the lack of footnotes, but Goldsmith wrote a diverting tale. I love the American history from 1865- 1890, what a heady time America vacillated between mystical discoveries from the spiritualist and scientists. It was also the first time women had a sustained presence in the public sphere. Goldsmith really nails Susan B. Anthony on her Racism and anger at the 14th amendment. She also doesn't spare the Suffragist men who connived and delayed the movem ...more
Aug 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Goldsmith forwards a fairly heady thesis that the initial feminist movement in the United States was helplessly entangled with spiritualism in its many aspects, from charlatan to aspirational. She does a good job of gathering information to back up her claim, too. The photo on the book’s cover displays Victoria Woodhull, America’s first female presidential nominee and on and off spokeswoman for the suffrage movement. The history of this woman serves as a conduit for Goldsmith’s story and for the ...more
Jul 23, 2018 marked it as did-not-finish
I just couldn’t get into this one. It seemed so scattered and unfocused. And it didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know. Meh
An interesting, but unsatisfying panorama of the feminist movement of the second half of the 19th Century....or is it? Although this book apparently started life as a biography of Victoria Woodhull, and claims to be centered around her, in fact the central organizing point is the Beecher-Tilton Affair: a legal contest between two men. The book feels like a late Dickens novel, with several interweaving plot lines, and this case is the Jarndyce & Jarndyce of the book, where all the plots conve ...more
Kathleen Hagen
Other Powers: the age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull, by Barbara Goldsmith, Narrated by Margaret Daly, Produced by Audible Inc., downloaded from

A highly readable combination of history and biography, Other Powers provides
the stories of some of the most colorful social, political, and religious figures of America's Victorian era with the courageous and notorious life of
Victoria Woodhull - psychic, suffragette, publisher, presid
Kate Guinan
Sep 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
fascinating book about Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president. Real insight into a very transformational time in U.S. history.
If you want the dirt on pretty much every American figure from Reconstruction and the early Gilded Age, this is your book and it is a five-star read. (Hint: Only Frederick Douglass came out clean in this 500-page book.)

If you want a dishy history of the struggle for Women's Suffrage from Seneca Falls to --almost-- the addition of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution by the various women's groups that fought for it told through the story of Victoria Woodhull, this definitely is your
Darla Ebert
Feb 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Started out well but deteriorated into a lurid bent of events that might have been better leaving out. A lot of the "history" seems to be more speculation. There is no doubt Victoria Woodhull's family were not of the highest calibre and most likely indulged in a fair amount of seamy activities but had I known the "detail" to be provided would have been of a depth as low as what was purported, I would not have read the book. That being said, there was almost enough of history to have made reading ...more
Christopher Saunders
Mar 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018-reads
Barbara Goldsmith's Other Powers is a strange book: ostensibly a biography of Victoria Woodhull, 19th Century American feminist, it's really a rambling, discursive look at the different threads of Gilded Age America that kinda sorta intermingled in Woodhull's career. Kinda. Goldsmith heavily stresses Woodhull's early career as a spiritual medium, arguing that spiritualism provided American women an outlet for independence and self-sufficiency in the Victorian Age. All well and good, and Goldsmith make ...more
Oct 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-books
A book on late 20th century history reminding us that the thing to do with powerful Bad Men (per the modern too Interested in women who are not their wives standard) is separate them from progressive movements as soon as we know they're Bad because their scandal will take those movements down. Other lessons learned: intersectionality is the way to progress, don't make petty squabbles public, and Spiritualism was both empowering (to the might-as-well-be-property women of the late 20th century) an ...more
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It's been on my shelf for years. A mystery set in the same time got me off my duff to write a review.

Many books about that time just focus one thing, spiritualism, the Civil War, the robber barons and the Gilded Age, or similar focus. This book is great because Victoria Woodhouse's story moves across all of those parts of Northeastern society during her time. The words "before her time" are often abused, but read this book and you'll see the definition. Among her many accomplishments
Fiction State Of Mind
Jul 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fascinating look at women's role in the suffrage movement and Spiritualism. Victoria Woodhull is a figure in the center in the middle of several of the prominent people in the moment for women's equal rights.

It's a fascinating snapshot of a period of time that was undergoing great transformation.
Mary Newcomb
This was a tough read, I gave up around page 120. It is a thoroughly documented story of Victoria Woodhull and those who surrounded her. I was unfamiliar with many of the individuals presented so far and could not become interested. Those who are more familiar with the subject matter will likely find this to be a good addition to their knowledge base.
Kay Dee
Mar 08, 2018 rated it liked it
DNF. it was sooooooooooooooooo long. i did read some later chapters . like her move to the UK and the trial. i just couldn't do it. if this was an aduio or Ken burns miniseries i could have done it.
Jessie B.
A fascinating look at the intersection of early American feminism and the spiritualist movement.
Lisa Thomas
Dec 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
An excellent source for alternative histories. In this book you learn about womens' stories that are largely untold. Easy, page turner, very entertaining!!
Tamara Suttle
Fascinating subject but writing is less than riveting.
Jan 01, 2017 added it
Shelves: did-not-finish
It was interesting, I just wasn't in the right mood to get through it and then I had to take it back to the library, whoops.
Feb 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: history fans
Recommended to Kate by: Burnable Book Club, Erin G
Shelves: biography, history
I finally finished this amazing, long and intensely detailed book! I never took a women's history class or a history class that covered the time period after the Civil War, so this book was a real eye opener for me. I recognized the names Frederick Douglass, Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but I didn't really know anything about them and the movements they were so passionately involved in. I enjoyed learning about them and their work.

I vaguely knew that the Suffrage movement grew ou
Christy B
Victoria Woodhull is one of the most fascinating people I've ever read about. The first woman to run for president, she was an incredibly intelligent woman with opinions and views far ahead of her time. And because of the great double-standard of society against women of that time, she was shunned because of them.

Woodhull lived the same kind of life that many men did at that time, but her reputation suffered because of it, while most men got off with just a slap on the hand. She was
Apr 08, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. It's a fascinating era, populated by fascinating people. . . . But this book got far too mired down in the details of these lives. The challenge is that these details are indeed critically important to the larger story. The religious, financial, and sexual beliefs and actions of the major players are key to understanding the political actions -- but so much time was spent with so many different individuals that I thought the book got bogged down. ...more
Kate Lawrence
I enjoyed learning how the stranger-than-fiction life of Victoria Woodhull intertwined with the beleaguered movement to win women the vote. In addition we get the long-running scandal of celebrity preacher Henry Ward Beecher's adulterous affair with Elizabeth Tilton, culminating in a mistrial even though there was no doubt of the affair. (Mrs. Tilton's appeal to be heard in court was denied.) The connection? Elizabeth Tilton's husband Theodore was one of Victoria Woodhull's lovers, and Woodhull ...more
Mar 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Holy fright! This is a highly readable account of an incident in American political history (the Henry Ward Beecher adultery scandal), and if Goldsmith had stuck to just that, it would have been riveting. But she has also taken a pass at Victoria Woodhull's career --- which defies any normal standards of belief and yet actually happened! And she wasn't alone! Goldsmith also gives the reader Victoria's sister, the notorious Tenney C. (her actual first name was Tennessee, which is pretty hard to deal with fro ...more
Feb 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
the first woman to run for president? not wilma mankiller or hillary rodham clinton, but victoria woodhull. this book was excellently researched and compelling to read. most significantly, goldsmith points out the controversy between establishing the right to vote for blacks versus women, and how the pitting of minority interests allows the majority to continue to hold and abuse power. imagine if frederick douglass, elizabeth cady stanton, harriet beecher stowe, susan b. anthony and victoria woo ...more
I wasn't sure what I'd think of this book, having had it recommended to me by my boss before I left for Christmas break. I found it through an interlibrary loan, though, and buzzed through the 500 pages of it in just a few days. I've read a lot of history this school year, but Other Powers is history as an insane primetime drama with a more than notable supporting cast. This is a book about the suffrage movement by way of intense personal drama. There's so much material here involving blackmail, train ...more
Feb 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Of all the Victoria Woodhull biographies I've read (and I've read a few) this is my favorite so far. It's a rollicking read and features a lot about her life in spiritualism, which other biographies tend to dismiss.
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an American author, journalist, and philanthropist. She received critical and popular acclaim for her best selling books, essays, articles, and her philanthropic work. She was awarded four honoris causa doctorates, and numerous awards; been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, two Presidential Commissions, and the New York State Council on the Arts; and honored by The New York Pub ...more