Sunday, July 14, 2013

Knapsack 7-18-13

Notes from my Knapsack -- Granville Sentinel 7-18-13

Jeff Gill


An anniversary of note



If I asked you about a story where an American who married into an important British family ended up running a landed estate in the English countryside, you'd probably think I was talking about PBS' "Downton Abbey."


If I added in that the manor house part of this story played out from 1901 to 1927, with staff turnover and intrigue mingling with controversy in the nearby small community over the rights and character of the rural citizenry versus wealth and fame (or infamy), you'd be certain we're talking about Lord and Lady Grantham's establishment.


In fact, the woman we should be thinking of was born in Licking County just north of Granville 175 years ago in a few weeks' time. She has a rightful claim to more fame (or infamy) than she has, and our village is the home of one of two monuments to her memory found anywhere in the world.


Her name is Victoria Claflin Woodhull, or Victoria Woodhull Martin as she was best known in the last third of her eventful life, but she was "that poor Claflin girl" in Homer shortly after her birth on September 23, 1838.


To be fair, a number of books have been written about her, and you can find some of them at the Granville Public Library, opposite whose entrance a figure of Victoria comes out and rings the hour atop her memorial clock on the west face of the Robbins Hunter Museum.


Robbins Hunter, Jr. added the "V. Woodhull" memorial clock to his historic Avery-Downer House in 1974 because with the nation's bicentennial coming, he wanted to salute a famous and groundbreaking American with Licking County roots, and he chose "Notorious Victoria."


Victoria C. Woodhull is best known to American history for having made the first well-known and widely discussed run for President of the United States in 1872, even though women still did not have the right to even vote: a subject which the year before she had addressed, in the first time a woman had spoken officially to a Congressional committee.


Her life was filled with firsts, which themselves are worth a detailed review in a later column. But those groundbreaking achievements were also mingled with controversy, some inflicted on her, and some pursued by her, all of which left her reputation in the late 19th century in tatters, and leading to her departure at the end of the 1870s for England with her sister Tennessee Claflin.


Married a third time into a British banking family with inherited estates in the west of England, Victoria became Mrs. John Biddulph Martin, with a house in the Hyde Park Gate neighborhood of London from 1883.


When Biddulph Martin died in 1901, she decided to remove herself for most of the year to the family country estate at Bredon's Norton, called Norton Park. Here she tried to implement her passions for reform on a scale smaller than the national, although she would from time to time try to put her influence behind encouraging Anglo-American co-operation.


And the Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Nobel Bachelor", written in 1892, has a number of indications that Conan Doyle had met and gotten to know Mrs. Woodhull Martin in London, including putting in Sherlock Holmes' mouth a speech often given by our own Victoria, about a desire to see the flags of the United States and Great Britain combined.


You are reminded of this odd link if you go to Victoria's other monument, the one not in Granville, but in Tewkesbury Abbey which Victoria and her daughter helped preserve, where the memorial tablet combines the flags of the land of her birth, and of her adopted home until her death in 1927.


How will we mark this remarkable woman in September for the 175th anniversary of her birth?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him your local history tidbit at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.