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Synopsis


The dramatic series “The 19th” deals with the relationship between three women who come from very different backgrounds:  Susan Anthony, the highly educated Quaker; Elizabeth Stanton, the wealthy daughter schooled to be a social success but little else; and Victoria Woodhull, born dirt-poor and turned out by her own father to a debased life she ultimately transformed to her financial advantage.


Their adult lives intersect in the battle for female suffrage, along the way launching a women's movement that continues today. Their radical notions about divorce, religion, free love, and holistic health led to an uproar that confounded menfolk and damned them in the eyes of conservative groups.


The pressure built to a head when well-known preacher Henry Ward Beecher (brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin) conducted a love affair with his best friend's wife, who became a sacrificial pawn in a high-stakes cover-up. Victoria Woodhull revealed the preacher's hypocrisy in what became the most sensational sex scandal of the 19th century. Victoria eventually suffered a jail sentence, public humiliation, and financial ruin. Susan and Elizabeth were pulled to the scandal, derailing the suffrage movement for at least another generation. In perhaps the cruelest irony, none of the women ever lived to vote after the 19th Amendment was passed August 18, 1920.


Susan and Elizabeth both died years before the 19th Amendment was ratified on August 26, 1920. Victoria lived but never voted.


Character Profiles

Susan B. Anthony, probably the most misunderstood hero of American history. Daughter of a Quaker abolitionist, she was well educated as a child. Charismatic, not beautiful but striking, with a lush body and rich chestnut hair, she loved pretty clothes, hair ribbons and dancing. She received more than one marriage proposal, but rejected the invitation because she understood the virtual slavery that came with it.  


She crafted her stage persona with a media savvy enviable by today's standards and became the unforgettable leader of the suffrage movement she termed "The Cause." By the end of her life she was known around the world as the beloved and admired "Aunt Susan." More than 10 thousand people attended her funeral. She is depicted in school history books today by one picture taken in her 80s. She looks like a bitter prune. She wasn't.


Elizabeth C. Stanton, Susan's closest friend and partner, likely her lover, was born to a wealthy judge who wanted a son more than a lovely, brilliant, gifted daughter. She wanted to attend college but was permitted only a finishing school education to prepare her to be a socially prominent, obedient wife. Begged by her sister's husband to run away with him, she instead defied her father to marry an abolitionist. Elizabeth loved food, fun, and sex.  


The original Desperate Housewife, Elizabeth pushed back against every social convention. Instead of hiding her pregnancies she proudly, and literally, raised a flag every time she gave birth. Her husband left town the day she demanded the vote for women. She scandalized the church ladies by writing The Woman's Bible to proclaim that God created men and women as equals.  If she is even mentioned in history books, the accompanying photo of her 80-year-old self looks bloated and tired; but it took her 80 years of hard fighting to get that way.  


Victoria C. Woodhull was born dirt poor nearly 20 years after Anthony. Her father promoted her as a "Child Prophet," hauling her around with her younger sister to tell fortunes, and eventually to turn tricks. She escaped through a brief marriage at age 15. She had her first spiritualist encounter at the age of 5, and was later visited regularly by her "Spirit Guide," the ancient Demosthenes.


She rose from grinding poverty to enjoy huge wealth and success as a spiritual medium, stockbroker, proponent of Free Love, and owner of her own newspaper. She was admired greatly by Anthony and Stanton for her fearless stands on the rights of women, and her financial contributions to The Cause. She married twice more, gave stock tips to the millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt that she claimed were based on her spirit advisors; more likely her insights were collected from "the girls" who worked the upper-class brothels and passed on the financial secrets from their wealthy clients. Victoria was the first woman to run for U.S. President.


Characters of Interest

Frederick Douglass, the brilliant escaped slave turned powerful abolitionist, was connected with all three main characters. He was the first man to speak in support at Elizabeth Cady Stanton's Declaration of Women's Rights in 1848. Douglass lived in Rochester, NY.  


There are legitimate grounds to speculate about Susan Anthony's relationship with him. He was a frequent visitor to her home, and they admired each other greatly. He ultimately betrayed her after the Civil War by supporting voting rights for black men only, an act that enraged her. He also ran for Vice President on Victoria Woodhull's ticket. He likely had an affair with his children's white governess, and married a white woman after his first wife died.


Tennessee Claflin, Victoria's younger sister and business partner in spiritualism, prostitution, and Wall Street banking.


Buck & Roxanna Claflin, parents and exploiters of Victoria and Tennessee Claflin, the two most gifted and talented of their seven children.


The Fox Sisters, child spiritualists and mediums who were the first to introduce the craze to communicate with those who had "passed over."


Henry Ward Beecher, the most popular preacher of the day, who carried on a number of affairs with his parishioner's wives, until his hypocrisy was revealed by Victoria Woodhull.


Lib Tilton, the woman who was considered boring and inadequate by her husband, Theodore Tilton, best friend of Henry Beecher with whom Lib found solace. Anthony and Stanton were her confidantes.


Theodore Tilton, brilliant writer and publisher who propelled Beecher to fame through admiring newspaper columns. He also wrote the flattering biography of Victoria Woodhull, and practiced the doctrines of Free Love before finding out about the affair between his wife and Beecher.


Horace Greeley, first owner and publisher of the New York Tribune, who supported women's rights until Anthony and Stanton challenged marriage laws. His own wife was driven nearly insane by their marriage and worked to embarrass him by forthrightly speaking in defense of suffrage.


Madam Restell, trusted and popular abortionist to New York City's finest families Annie Wood, a Southerner who migrated to New York City after the Civil War to open a prominent "Gentlemen's Club," styled like a Southern plantation mansion and specializing in "mulatto women." She and Victoria collaborated in many business ventures.


Themes

The 19th explores three major themes in a time before unions, government regulations, and social welfare:  

  1. The roots of conflict between the sexes, races, and classes of Americans that we continue to experience today.
  2.  The evolution of society against the backdrop of the desperate conditions that existed before laws were enacted to protect workingmen, women, and their children.
  3.  The devastating impact of hypocrisy, injustice, and religious/institutional corruption.


Pilot episode, episodic arc available upon request


The 19th

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