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
Susan and Elizabeth both died years before the 19th Amendment was ratified on August
26, 1920. Victoria lived but never voted.
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
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.
The 19th explores three major themes in a time before unions, government regulations,
and social welfare:
- The roots of conflict between the sexes, races, and classes of Americans that we
continue to experience today.
- The evolution of society against the backdrop of the desperate conditions that existed
before laws were enacted to protect workingmen, women, and their children.
- The devastating impact of hypocrisy, injustice, and religious/institutional corruption.
Pilot episode, episodic arc available upon request