Mary Baker Eddy and Victoria Woodhull discussion at Daystar Retirement Village
Today Cindy Safronoff held a book talk for Crossing Swords: Mary Baker Eddy vs. Victoria Claflin Woodhull and the Battle for the Soul of Marriage at Daystar Retirement Village in West Seattle. It was an intimate audience of about 9 people — a mix of residents, staff, and visitors — in the homey atmosphere of a meeting room with the feel of a living room.
With Election Day looming large this coming Tuesday, Safronoff’s began her introduction by holding up her very own mail-in ballot. She explained that when state legislatures first started giving women the right to vote in the 1870s it trigger an American marriage debate. What would happen to the institution of marriage if women were given full civil rights (including the right to vote)? Mary Baker Eddy and Victoria Woodhull had very different views on this question. Woodhull wanted to abolish legal marriage, and Eddy believed giving women full civil rights would improve legal marriage.
Safronoff selected readings featuring Victoria Woodhull’s November 20, 1871 launch of her Presidential campaign lecture tour at Steinway Hall in New York City when, going off-script, she spontaneously made her most famous statement:
Yes, I am a free lover! I have an inalienable, constitutional, and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can, to change that love everyday I please! And with that right neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere. And I have further the right to demand a free and unrestricted exercise of that right, and it is your duty not only to accord it, but, as a community, to see that I am protected in it.
Safronoff read a section that showed how Mary Baker Eddy focused on women’s rights to serve in the holy profession of the Christian ministry — in short, the right to the job title “Reverend.” Eddy completely disagreed with Woodhull’s views and figuratively crossed swords with her in the civic dialog. But even so, around the time of Woodhull’s second Presidential run for the 1892 election, Eddy made one of her most famous statements:
In natural law and in religion the right of woman to fill the highest measure of enlightened understanding and the highest places in government, is inalienable, and these rights are ably vindicated by the noblest of both sexes. This is woman’s hour, with all its sweet amenities and its moral and religious reforms.
Both Victoria Woodhull and Mary Baker Eddy were far in advance of their day. As to whether woman’s hour is come for the United States Presidency, we will find out this coming Tuesday.
Crossing Swords: Mary Baker Eddy vs. Victoria Claflin Woodhull and the Battle for the Soul of Marriage by Cindy Peyser Safronoff is available on Amazon, by special order from your favorite local bookstore, or through a growing number of public libraries, including Seattle Public Library.