The “Vicki” Sexual Freedom Award, established in 2010, recognizes those individuals whose life and work embody the mission and values of the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance and who have made landmark contributions to the sexual freedom movement through education, advocacy, research, sexual health and activism.
The award is named after Victoria Woodhull, the namesake of the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance. Ms. Woodhull was an American suffragist born on September 23, 1838, who was described by Gilded Age newspapers as a leader of the American women’s suffrage movement in the 19th century. Ms. Woodhull was the first woman to run for President of the United States, to start a newspaper and to hold a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, She became a colorful and notorious symbol for women’s rights, free love, and spiritualism as she fought against corruption and for labor reforms.
Many of the reforms and ideals which Woodhull espoused for the working class, against what she saw as the corrupt capitalist elite, were extremely controversial in her time. She spoke publicly about sexuality and social reform, and supported socialism – a political and economic philosophy that was consdiered radical at the time. Generations later many of these reforms (like the 8-hour workday) have been implemented and are now taken for granted. Other of her ideas and suggested reforms are still debated today.
Victoria Woodhull believed that women should have the choice to leave unbearable marriages. She railed against the hypocrisy of society’s tolerating married men who had mistresses and engaged in other sexual dalliances. Woodhull believed in monogamous relationships, but also stated that she had the right also to love someone else “exclusively” if she desired. She said:
To woman, by nature, belongs the right of sexual determination. When the instinct is aroused in her, then and then only should commerce follow. When woman rises from sexual slavery to sexual freedom, into the ownership and control of her sexual organs, and man is obliged to respect this freedom, then will this instinct become pure and holy; then will woman be raised from the iniquity and morbidness in which she now wallows for existence, and the intensity and glory of her creative functions be increased a hundred-fold…
In a speech she delivered on Monday, Nov. 20, 1871 in Steinway Hall, New York City, Woodhull stated her opinion on free love quite clearly:
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 every day if I please, and with that right neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere.