Tennessee Claflin Biography

Tennessee Celeste Claflin (October 26, 1845 – January 18, 1923), also known as Tennie C. and later Lady Cook, was an American suffragist best known as one of the first women to open a Wall Street brokerage firm. Her stock market gains financed the publication of her radical feminist newspaper, and she was an advocate of legalized prostitution. Tennessee and her sister Victoria "were hard to classify, either as journalists or human beings. They were magnetic, eerie, raffish, triumphantly heralding the freedom of women, basking in the counsel of the great financiers of the period, and using the honest craft of journalism for their own questionable ends."

Tennie was born in Homer, Ohio, "where the worth of a woman was judged by the washing she hung out on a line and the crust of the pies she baked," the daughter of Reuben Buckman Claflin (Buck) and Roxanna Hummell Claflin, he a "stableman, tavern keeper, farmer, and promoter – a man of many occupations and of dubious reputation." Roxanna "Communed with the spirits and attended religious revivals. She went into trances and insisted that she heard spirit voices." Tennie was raised in abject poverty in an "indolent family that was considered the town trash" and joined in her parents' money–making schemes, pedaling Miss Tennessee's Magnetic Elixir for Beautifying the Complexion and Cleansing the Blood as a young child. By the age of 14, she "had already been working nearly half her life as a medium. Like a child actress, she had lived in a universe of adults – administering to them in her profession and earning money to support them at home. She was billed in Columbus, Ohio, as a 'wonderful child… endowed from birth with a supernatural gift' and available for consultations from eight in the morning until nine at night. Tennessee said she could earn up to one hundred dollars a day, but there was little time left in that day for a childhood."

She was the younger sister of Victoria Claflin Woodhull, 1838–1927. "Victoria took her youngest and still malleable sister, Tennessee, under her wing and the pair set themselves up in Cincinnati, Ohio, as clairvoyants in much the way their father had a dozen years before... Because they were no longer children, though, and because the Claflin women had many male admirers, they were suspected not of communing with spirits but of communing with men. Society in the 1860s often considered mediums and prostitutes to be one and the same. Watchful neighbors had no way of knowing if the men who entered darkened rooms alone to visit a woman were interested in the comfort she might give their souls or the sexual stimulation she might proffer their bodies. The issue was especially clouded if the women looked like Tennessee and Victoria. Tennessee was the more beautiful of the two sisters. She was positively bewitching. She had Buck Claflin's devilish cunning in her eyes, but on her the look translated into a sexual rascality. She was slightly plump, dimpled, and delightful, possessed of a boyish carnality in an altogether feminine body. She... was untouched by strain. Her face was that of a young woman who reveled in life, seeing it for the good joke that it was."