The Coming Woman by Karen J. Hicks

comingwoman     As election buzz 2016 begins, once again the controversial question is: Will Hillary Clinton run for, and perhaps be elected as, the first female President of the United States?

But more than 140 years before Hillary, in the 1870’s, there was a woman who ran not once but four times for President – even before women had the right to vote. That brave yet little-remembered woman was Victoria Woodhull.

Author Karen J. Hicks has written a novel based on the infamous feminist’s life, a cleverly entertaining (and presumably fact-based) way to tell Ms. Woodhull’s story. It’s fun as fiction, but even more so because it’s based on reality. Historical figures such as President Ulysses S. Grant, religious figure Henry Ward Beecher, financial tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, suffragist Susan B. Anthony, and statesman Frederick Douglass are brought to life as prime “characters” in the novel.

Readers first encounter Wall Street businesswoman Victoria and her sister Tennie in 1870. Victoria has launched her first bid for candidacy and wants to celebrate with  Tennie at famed Delmonico’s Restaurant. But the two are turned away because it’s after 6 p.m. and women aren’t allowed to dine unaccompanied by a man. This is but one of the laws she vows to change if elected.

Victoria is quite racy (and therefore highly controversial) by 1870’s standards. She is married but advocates free love, and believes strongly in the spirit world and the advice it can offer, patterning herself after President Abraham Lincoln in that respect. She shares these beliefs during the many speeches she gives, and is at first befriended by fellow suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton when she tries to advance the cause of women’s rights. She helps form the Equal Rights Party and argues before Congress that women already have the right to vote, according to wording in the Constitution.

It’s not an easy journey for Victoria and readers will be rooting for her through it all, including her bouts in jail for exposing the hypocrisy of Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, among her other “crimes.” It would take until 1920 before the 19th Amendment finally gave women the official voting rights Victoria had long campaigned for.

Perhaps the only flaws in the book are the repeated phrases that at first seem to reflect the time period (“teetotally” is often used by Susan B. Anthony and others, and “my god” seems to be the first exclamation sister Tennie often resorts to). It’s clever a few times, but a bit exhausting after that.

Otherwise, author Hicks masterfully writes a story that is not only fascinating from a literary sense,  but it also uncovers a little-known and important part of American history.

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