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The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age Hardcover – 27 Mar 2014

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"Ordinarily, one would look to the fiction of Twain or Dickens to find a nineteenth-century tale to match the real-life saga of the sisters Claflin-Woodhull. Happily, Myra MacPherson has rediscovered these proto-feminists. Their rebellion against Victorian sexual enslavement and the power of white males captivated and infuriated their contemporaries for good reason, and left a mark that resonates today." "Carl Bernstein, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author of "A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton," and coauthor of "All the President's Men "(with Bob Woodward)""

Book Description

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 19th century and shocked the world.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 33 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Great read 7 Mar 2014
By susan Horgan - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
This book resonates on so many levels. It illuminates the history of two trailblazing women who laid the foundation for the modern feminist movement, revealing their struggles some of which women still face today. It's also a page turner, reading like fiction, gripping you from start to finish. And it provides a broad depiction of the Victorian Era which is still fascinating to learn more about. I highly recommend it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
"Outreageously Fascinating" 8 Mar 2014
By pat f. - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Thiis book is a perfect combination of author and subject. Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin were swashbuckling figures in the years during and after the Civil War, preaching free love, seducing rich and famous men, raising their particular brand of hell, and all the time campaigning for women's suffrage and civil rights. Myra MacLaughlin, in her books and in her earlier brilliant newspaper career, has microscopically dissected both villains and heroes, and this time out she does it with great enthusiasm. On every page, it's clear that she loves her work, bringing to bubbly life two of the most outrageously fascinating women in American history. All biographies should be this infectious and readable.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Radical Read! 7 Mar 2014
By Sondra McClendon - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a terrific history of some remarkable suffragists! I treasure how one reviewer coined "The Scarlet Sisters" Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin as the Hilary Clinton-Kardashians of the Gilded Age! They are that sort of enigma. This book is a total page-turner that follows them from Wall Street to the White House - I completely recommend it!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A Good Book on Remarkable Lives 9 July 2014
By Loves the View - Published on
Format: Hardcover
It is hard to imagine these sisters and their incredible lives. You follow them from a childhood that is painfully hard to read about (how did they ever live through it?) to their celebrity and later in life (perhaps) successful marriages. They advocated causes that were far from the norms of the day. They had what today we call "baggage" and lots of it.

If you bemoan the recent Supreme Court decision on birth control, you can take comfort that things were worse in the Gilded Age, when despite the mortality rate for newborns and their mothers, most people would have agreed with the court. Men laughed at women having the right to vote and most women did not want it. Suffragettes were faced ridicule and abuse. The undeterred Chaflin sisters took their stand.

The story is remarkable; and while the book is good, it should have been remarkable too. While the author recounts the events of these two long lives and records what they said and wrote in speeches, interviews and letters, there is almost nothing personal about them.

There is more on their clothes than their personalities and character. As close as it gets is about how nervous they could be and how they were hurt by slander. There are no clues as their actual relationship since what survives is Victorian era prose. Victoria did not answer Tennie's pleas for a visit when she was ill (or perhaps abused by her wealthy husband). Was their motivation commitment to the cause or were they they narcissists who just loved headlines? Maybe they were just plain quarrelsome or rigid. Were they so naive as to think there were no consequences to speaking out for "free love" (when they really mean the right to divorce)? Were they Beverly Hillbillies? Nouveau riche? Pseudo-intellectuals? Did they enjoy martyrdom?

The sisters transcended their family that seems ever present, ready willing and able the bite the hand feeding them. The family situation is significant, but unclear. Do these parents and siblings merely love a good argument? Or do they mean harm? Are they too intoxicated to know what they are doing and saying? How did the sisters present Buck Chaflin to British society as a "noble father"?

In the Epilogue, there is more narrative about the state of women's issues today. It reads as the right to vote, the ability to divorce, access to education, etc. have made no impact. There no conclusions about the legacy of the two sisters. There are some who feel they advanced women's issues, others feel the rifts they created in the movement held the women's cause back.

It sounds like I'm down on the book, but I'm not. It is at its best when it is describing the anti-feminist (or is the better term, anti-woman) nature of the times. There is some excellent research. While there are gaps, the author documents the sisters' lives it but does not help the reader understand them.

As a pre-teen I read a biography of the woman who ran for President. My 7th grade history teacher assured me that it never happened.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This is history pulsating with life 2 April 2014
By Kate Alcott, author of 'The Dressmaker ' - Published on
Format: Hardcover
'The Scarlet Sisters" combines the rigors of historical biography with the sweep and color of a novel, telling the story of two amazing sisters with humor and vibrancy.. Myra McPherson is a disciplined, thorough reporter who takes her material one huge step forward - what you get here is history pulsating with life. A treat to read.
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