Allison: The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age | Myra MacPherson | Book Review

Allison: The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age | Myra MacPherson | Book ReviewThe Scarlet Sisters: The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age by Myra MacPherson
Published by Hachette Digital, Inc. on March 4th, 2014
Genres: 19th Century, Biographical, History, Nonfiction, Prejudice & Racism, Social Activists, Women
Pages: 432
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

A fresh look at the life and times of Victoria Woodhull and Tennie Claflin, two sisters whose radical views on sex, love, politics, and business threatened the white male power structure of the nineteenth century and shocked the world. Here award-winning author Myra MacPherson deconstructs and lays bare the manners and mores of Victorian America, remarkably illuminating the struggle for equality that women are still fighting today.


My first introduction to Victoria Woodhull came when I was responsible for helping TA an undergraduate class. I had to pre-screen the DVD which we were going to show in class so that I could come up with questions for the quiz. I was immediately captivated by this woman and couldn’t help but wonder why I had never heard of her before. She was a woman far before her time but yet she still managed to make a very important mark on history. Flash forward to a few years later when I was walking around my local library and I stumbled upon The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age by Myra MacPherson. It was like everything was coming full circle for me, and I couldn’t wait to delve in and learn more about Victoria Woodhull and her sister Tennie Claflin.


Victoria and Tennie were two women who truly lived up to the motto that “well behaved women rarely made history”. Living during the Gilded Age, in the United States, the two sisters came from a very impoverished childhood to eventually becoming business women, advocates, and celebrities in their own right. They had a different approach and a different view of the world. They believed in Free Love, supported the idea of birth control, and promoted women’s suffrage. Their rise to power came fast and unexpectedly, and their fall from power came just as swiftly leaving them scorned and forgotten from our history books.


After reading this book and learning more about the sisters, I honestly cannot believe that so many people have heard of them. For example, did you know that in May of 1872, Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to announce her candidacy for the President of the United States? Or that she picked Fredrick Douglas as her running mate? I’m going to take a chance and say that more than likely you did not. The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age contains a lot of dates and information but I didn’t find it to be overly dry or boring. I found it to be very informative, and once again I am having trouble believing the various different things that these sisters went through. Their rise to and fall from power is truly remarkable, and it is something I wish more people knew about as they are still so relevant to the struggles we are still going through today. Thankfully, we now have more information about the two of them, and historians and authors like Myra MacPherson who are dedicated to bringing their names to the forefront of American history.


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Allison is 27 years old. She is always looking for new books, good music, quality/epic adventures, and a normal sleep schedule. She currently works with the elderly.


  1. I read this a few weeks ago, and it was crazy to me that I’d never heard of these ladies. Like you said, Victoria ran for president of the United States, and we don’t ever talk about that in history class. WHY??? While maybe the sisters weren’t as important as Alice Paul or Stanton/Anthony, they’re still pretty dang important, in my opinion.

  2. How fascinating! I’m always interested in reading up on various times in history and historical figures that interest me. I’d never heard of these sisters before reading your review, but their lives sound quite fascinating 🙂