Solidarity in Publishing and the First #MeToo

SOLIDARITY is the hyper fuel of social media and cultural change.  Here are two historical incidents that demonstrate attempts to inform, incite, and change the narrative on the new women’s equality movement. In 1972 one was met with a tremendous showing of solidarity; the other in 1872 received no support and the daring young women who published were severely punished, creating a bloody stain on the history of The First Amendment, journalism, and women’s rights.

One hundred years before The New York Times and The Washington Post dared defy the Nixon government and run the Pentagon Papers, the very first women to own, edit, and publish a newspaper also challenged society through two daring exposés. The two stories called out the behavior of men in a bold first-published example of #MeToo.

Katherine Graham, the first woman Fortune 500 Chief Executive Officer of a Public Company, The Washington Post Company, was rewarded with incredible solidarity. The Post movie includes a wonderful scene when Ben Bradlee, as portrayed by Tom Hanks, throws seriatim onto a coffee table in front of Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) newspapers from across the country reprinting on their front page the lead story of the Pentagon Papers. Solidarity.

Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to formally run for President (1872), and her younger sister, Tennessee Celeste Claflin, published under the motto, PROGRESS! FREE THOUGHT! UNTRAMMELED LIVES, BREAKING THE WAY FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS. At age thirty-four and twenty-seven, respectively, they dared to print two well researched and accurate stories. The first, “The Beecher – Tilton Scandal Case” decried the illicit affairs of the most famous man in America, the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, (younger brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe). The second, “The Philosophy of Modern Hypocrisy – Mr. L. C. Chaliss The Illustration,” was an exposé of the 1869 Frenchman’s Ball in New York City. This annual event involving most of the city’s upper class men in an evening of wild and abusive debauchery, resulted in the violent multiple rapes and eventual death of two fourteen-year-old girls. Both articles were completely accurate.

Despite pleading with every other newspaper to reprint the Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly November 2, 1872 stories, no one would touch the toxic first occurrence of #MeToo. Because the story was authored by women, all other (male) publishers demonstrated vindictive cowardice. Their silence was deafening, a death knell to women’s rights for the next fifty years.

For their intrepid audacity Victoria and Tennessee were repeatedly persecuted, prosecuted, and illegally jailed. Four governments—federal, and New York state, county, and municipal—illegally seized their assets and destroyed their printing presses. Though never convicted of any of the trumped up charges, society set out to destroy these first spokeswomen for #MeToo.

Remember this cautionary tale as #MeToo and #TimesUp gain momentum and impact. The strength and velocity of these actions are built on the foundation of solidarity. Rise up! united on social media and individually when you hear Frances McDormand ask all women nominees to stand up. Rise up! when she insists her peers demand an “inclusion rider,” which would populate films proportionate in gender, race, sexual preference and religious beliefs to the society they depict, providing it is sensible for the plot. Rise up! and speak out if you know of an abusive situation.

Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee sacrificed themselves to empower women, secure the vote, demand equal pay for equal work, and procure equal legal standing—in the 1870s! Honor them now by lending your support.

Rise up! in solidarity.

To read the complete November 2, 1872 issue of the Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, click here. [The stories appear on page 9 and page 13.]

Neal Katz, a dedicated Feminist, and Human Rights advocate, is the author of the international award winning first novel OUTRAGEOUS: Rise to Riches, Volume One of The Victoria Woodhull Saga. Volume Two of the saga, SCANDALOUS: Fame, Infamy, and Paradise Lost covers all the events mentioned above and will be released in June 2018. Neal publishes a daily tribute to women in history on Facebook page Outrageous the Book under #WomenCan.