The Queen of My Self

The Queen of My Self

Farewell to the Chief Queen

posted by Donna Henes

In honor of Aung San Suu Kyi and to celebrate her release, and with a nod to Election Day, this week’s theme is admirable women leaders of democracy.

Farewell to the Chief Queen

Wilma Mankiller the first female Chief of the Cherokee Nation, died this year at the age of 64. She was one of the nation’s most visible American Indian leaders and one of the few women to lead a major tribe.
Wilma Pearl Mankiller was born near Rocky Mountain, Oklahoma in 1945, the sixth of eleven children. She first tasted the effects of federal policy toward Indians when as a child, her family ended up in a housing project in San Francisco thanks to the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Indian Relocation Program. She spent the rest of her life attempting to improve the lot of her people. When she was 17, she married and had two daughters, Felicia and Gina.

In 1969, when she was 24, she got what she called “an enormous wake-up call” and took her first step into Indian activism by participating in the 19-month occupation of Alcatraz Island.
“We’ve had daunting problems in many critical areas, but I believe in the old Cherokee injunction to ‘be of a good mind.’ Today it’s called positive thinking.”
After getting divorced in 1975, Mankiller moved back to her family’s land in Oklahoma. By 1983 she was elected deputy chief of the Cherokee Nation, alongside Ross Swimmer, who was serving his third consecutive term as principal chief. In 1985, Chief Swimmer resigned to take the position as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This allowed Mankiller to become the first female principal chief. She was freely elected in 1987, and re-elected again in 1991 in a landslide victory, collecting 83% of the vote. In 1995, Mankiller chose not to run again for Chief largely due to health problems.
Chief Mankiller faced many obstacles during her terms in office. At the time she became chief, the Cherokee Nation was male-dominated. Such a structure contrasted with the traditional Cherokee culture and value system, which instead emphasized a balance between the two genders. Over the course of her three terms, Mankiller made great strides to bring back that balance and reinvigorate the Cherokee Nation through community-development projects where men and women work collectively for the common good.
“I try to encourage young women to be willing to take risks, to stand up for the things they believe in, and to step up and accept the challenge of serving in leadership roles.”
As the first female chief of the Cherokees, Mankiller was less of an activist and more of a pragmatist. She was criticized for focusing almost exclusively on social programs, instead of pushing for smoke shops and high-stakes gaming. The projects she implemented included establishing tribally owned businesses (such as horticultural operations and plants with government defense contracts), improving infrastructure (such as providing running water to the community of Bell, Oklahoma), and building a hydroelectric facility.
For many of us, water simply flows from a faucet, and we think little about it beyond this point of contact. We have lost a sense of respect for the wild river, for the complex workings of a wetland, for the intricate web of life that water supports.
- Sandra Poste

During her tenure, she led the tribe in tripling its enrollment, doubling employment and building new health centers and children’s programs. She took Indian issues to the White House and met with three presidents. She earned a reputation for facing conflict head-on and she never ran away from a battle.

Despite her soft-spoken ferocity and her feminist stance, her name, Mankiller, did not reflect her social views – Mankiller is actually a Cherokee military title, which was adopted by one of her ancestors. But she did kid about it, often delivering a straight-faced, “Mankiller is actually a well-earned nickname.”
Continual struggles with her health appeared not to deter her. A 1979 car accident nearly claimed her life and resulted in 17 operations. She developed the muscular disorder myasthenia gravis and had a kidney transplant in 1990. Mankiller had also battled lymphoma, breast cancer and several other health problems, including stage 4 metastatic pancreatic cancer, which took her life.
Queen Mankiller declared that she was “mentally and spiritually prepared for this last journey” in a statement released by the tribe in the last month of her life. “I learned a long time ago that I can’t control the challenges the creator sends my way, but I can control the way I think about them and deal with them,” she said
“I want to be remembered as the person who helped us restore faith in ourselves.”
And so shall you be. Chief. Queen. Peaceful Warrior. Role Model.

Like water, be gentle and strong. Be gentle enough to follow the natural paths of the earth, and strong enough to rise up and reshape the world.
- Brenda Peterson

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to

Queen Mama Donna offers upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity.

The Queen Who Would Be President – Part 2

posted by Donna Henes

In honor of Aung San Suu Kyi and to celebrate her release, and with a nod to Election Day, this week’s theme is admirable women leaders of democracy.

The Queen Who Would Be President – Part 2

Her candidacy attracted a widely diverse coalition of laborers, suffragists, Spiritualists, and communists, among others, who often had opposing positions. The need for governmental reform was the one platform that they all agreed upon. Although few seriously thought Victoria Woodhull would win, they knew her campaign would send a message to Washington that it was time for a woman in the White House.

I now announce myself as candidate for the Presidency. I anticipate criticism; but however unfavorable I trust that my sincerity will not be called into question.
Instead of debating Victoria on the issues, her opponents issued public attacks on her personal life and morals. Sound familiar? They called her everything from a witch to a prostitute. They accused her of having affairs with married men.
The rumors eventually led Victoria and her family to be evicted from their home. They spent one night literally homeless on the streets of New York because landlords were afraid to rent to the “Wicked Woodhull.”
Woodhull’s campaign was notable not only because of her gender, but through her association with Frederick Douglass, which stirred up controversy about the mixing of whites and blacks and fears of miscegenation.
The Equal Rights Party hoped to use these nominations to reunite suffragists with civil rights activists, since the exclusion of female suffrage from the Fifteenth Amendment two years earlier had caused a substantial rift.
Queen Victoria faced a myriad of obstacles to election besides the obvious one of running when women couldn’t even vote. One major stumbling block was campaign fund-raising. When she began her run, she had personal funds to draw from, but eventually her money ran out and she couldn’t get the support she needed to launch a formidable campaign.
“The press suddenly divided between the other two great parties, refused all notice of the new reformatory movement. The inauguration of the new party, and my nomination, seemed to fall dead upon the country; and . . . a new batch of slanders and injurious innuendoes permeated the community in respect to my condition and character.”
Election Day found the first American female presidential candidate in jail. The United States government had arrested her under the Comstock Act for sending “obscene” literature through the mail. The alleged obscenity wasn’t pornography, rather it was an article exposing the extramarital affair conducted by the popular Reverend Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s younger brother and one of the nation’s most prominent clergymen with Lib Tilton, the wife of Beecher’s best friend, Theodore Tilton.
At first, people took the side of the government. They were glad to see the “Wicked Woodhull” in jail for besmirching the reputation of a favored celebrity. But eventually, people realized that free speech was endangered since Victoria, her sister Tennie and her husband Colonel Blood were in jail for publishing what they believed to be the truth.
It didn’t matter to the government, whether the article was true or not. Their intention was to ruin Voctoria Woodhull and her influential newspaper. Some members of the press joined the attack. A Chicago editor admitted to running a campaign to destroy her. He said, “Editors know that all she has said about Beecher is true, and we must either endorse her and make her the most popular woman in the world, or write her down and crush her out; and we have determined to do the latter.”
The scandal erupted into numerous trials for obscenity and libel. Victoria was on the defensive and was arrested eight times. The Beecher-Tilton trial was the biggest news since President Lincoln had been assassinated. It received more coverage than the impeachment of President Johnson.
Victoria, Tennie and Colonel Blood were eventually acquitted of any crimes, but the lawsuits ruined them. They spent a fortune in legal bills and bail. They lost their stock brokerage. The government confiscated their printing press, their personal papers and their brokerage accounts.
The federal government was successful in its malicious prosecution. The resulting economic demise coupled with the stress of receiving blackmail letters and death threats, bankrupted its first female presidential candidate financially and emotionally.
Victoria Woodhull was a creative and courageous soul with strong abilities, notable accomplishments and provocative dreams. She promoted shocking changes in the prevailing attitudes about sexuality and the family structure that frightened and embarrassed her contemporaries.
Ever audacious, she challenged male-dominated organizations and institutions. She attempted to use existing law and the political system to achieve her vision of equality and justice in a more egalitarian society.
She was a Queen of Finance, a Queen of the Quill, a Queen of Women’s Rights, a Queen of Social Change, but most importantly, Victoria Woodhull was Queen of Her Self. She spoke her truth and walked her walk and put her money where her mouth is.
May we follow the path that she pioneered.
“The women of the country have the power in their own hands, in spite of the law and the government being altogether of the male order.
If Congress refuse to listen to and grant what women ask, there is but one course left then to pursue. What is there left for women to do but to become the mothers of the future government?”

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to

Queen Mama Donna offers upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity.

The Queen Who Would be President – Part 1

posted by Donna Henes

In honor of Aung San Suu Kyi and to celebrate her release, and with a nod to Election Day, this week’s theme is admirable women leaders of democracy.

The Queen Who Would be President – Part 1

Victoria Woodhull lived a century ahead of her time. She is unknown to most people today, but when she ran for President of the United States in 1872, she was one of the most famous women in the country.

Victoria California Claflin was born September 23, 1838 in Homer, Ohio, to a down-on-its-luck family. She was only 15 years old when she was married to Canning Woodhull, an Ohio medical doctor.
As it turned out, her new husband was an alcoholic and a womanizer, and it soon became clear that she would often be required to work outside the home to support herself and her two children, Byron and Zulu.

“Rude contact with facts chased my visions and dreams quickly away,” she wrote, “and in their stead I beheld the horrors, the corruption, the evils and hypocrisy of society, and as I stood among them, a young wife, a great wail of agony went out from my soul.”

Stuck in an unhappy union in an era when women were bound to remain faithful with few options to escape — women who divorced were stigmatized and often ostracized by society — Woodhull concluded women should have the choice to leave unbearable marriages.

She divorced Dr. Woodhull and married Colonel James H. Blood. The couple and her sister Tennessee moved to New York City where she found her public voice. In addition to free love and freedom for women, she advocated many things which we take for granted today: the 8-hour work day, graduated income tax, social welfare programs, and profit sharing, for example.

From an early age, Woodhull was extremely contradictory in her political and social views. Although she was opposed to the organized Christian religion, she lived its principles. She fed the hungry, cared for the sick, and visited prisoners. She believed that living Christian principles was more important to saving souls than preaching the resurrection of Christ.

Along with her sister, Tennessee Caflin, she established the first female brokerage house on Wall Street. Woodhull, Claflin & Company opened in February 1870 with the assistance of Cornelius Vanderbilt, a wealthy benefactor and her admirer. They made a fortune.

Newspapers like the New York Herald hailed Woodhull & Claflin as “the Queens of Finance” and “the Bewitching Brokers.” Many men’s journals of the time published sexualized images of the pair running their firm, which tainted the image of independent, publicly-minded, unchaperoned women with suggestions of “sexual immorality” and prostitution.

“For a woman to consider a financial question was shuddered over as a profanity.”

With the earnings from their business, Victoria and Tennessee established a newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, which debuted in May 1870 and stayed in publication for the next six years. The paper became notorious for publishing controversial opinions on such taboo topics as women’s suffrage, short skirts, spiritualism, free love, vegetarianism and licensed prostitution.

The sisters were muckrakers at heart and published exposés on stock swindles, insurance frauds, and corrupt Congressional land deals. They also printed the first English version of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto

Above all, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly advanced the editors’ commitment to the equal rights of women in the work place, the public political arena, the church, the family, and the bedroom. And the content of the paper showcased the words and deeds of ordinary and extraordinary women.

A year after she set up shop in Wall Street, Woodhull spoke at the opening of the 1871 National Woman Suffrage Association’s third annual convention in Washington. She argued that women already had the right to vote since the 14th and 15th Amendments granted that right to all citizens. That all they had to do was use it.

This simple but powerful logic impressed some committee members. Suffragists, including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Isabella Beecher Hooker, saw her as their newest champion. She thrilled them when she declared, “women are the equals of men before the law, and are equal in all their rights.”

Her Constitutional argument was not original, but her notorious reputation focused unprecedented public attention on women’s suffrage. Following Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Woodhull was the second woman to petition Congress in person. Newspapers reported her appearance before Congress.
“I come before you to declare that my sex are entitled to the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I ask the right to pursue happiness by having a voice in that government to which I am accountable.”

In 1871, 49 years before women won the right to vote, Queen Victoria Woodhull announced her intention to run for President of the United States. In 1872 she was formally nominated by the newly formed Equal Rights Party. The Vice Presidential candidate was former slave Frederick Douglass.

Part 2 tomorrow.

he Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to

Queen Mama Donna offers upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity.

Tribute to the Queen of a Democratic Dream

posted by Donna Henes

In honor of Aung San Suu Kyi and to celebrate her release, and with a nod to Election Day, this week’s theme is admirable women leaders of democracy.

Benazir Bhutto  June 21, 1953 – December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto, twice the popularly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, was assassinated in Rawalpindi at a campaign rally for her reelection. She was 54 years old.

Bhutto was born in Karachi, Pakistan to a prominent political family. At 16 she left her homeland to study at Harvard’s Radcliffe College where she completed her undergraduate degree. She obtained her graduate degree at Oxford University in England in 1977.
Later that year she returned to Pakistan where her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had been elected prime minister, but days after her arrival, the military seized power and had her father imprisoned and ultimately hanged.

Bhutto herself was also arrested many times over the following years, and was detained for three years before being permitted to leave the country in 1984. She settled in London, where along with her two brothers, she founded an underground organization to resist the military dictatorship. When she returned to Pakistan in 1985 for her brother’s burial, she was again arrested for participating in anti-government rallies.

After her release, she went back to London but returned to Pakistan in 1986 to join the seething anti-government movement. The public response to her return was tumultuous, and she publicly called for the resignation of Zia Ul Haq, whose government had executed her father. Her personal grief never embittered her. Democracy was the best revenge.

When free elections were finally held in 1988, she became Prime Minister. At 35, she was one of the youngest chief executives in the world, and the first woman to serve as prime minister in an Islamic country.

“I had faith in myself. I had always felt that I could become Prime Minister if I wanted.
Only two years into her first term, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed Bhutto from office. She initiated an anti-corruption campaign, and in 1993 was re-elected as Prime Minister.

Bhutto’s platform has always been leftist, including food for the hungry, health care, jobs, slum clearance, housing, and a monthly minimum wage. While in office, she brought electricity to the countryside and built schools all over the country, and looked forward to continuing to modernize Pakistan.

In 1996 the Guinness Book of Records named her “The world’s most popular politician.” Due to Queen Benazir’s personal world popularity, Pakistan’s relation with other countries improved during her terms. Her moderate foreign policy has been credited for improving the wrong image of Pakistan around the world, however domestically she and her party have been widely blamed for excessive corruption.

President Leghari of Pakistan dismissed Benazir Bhutto from office in 1996, alleging mismanagement, and dissolved the National Assembly. A Bhutto re-election bid failed in 1997, and the next elected government, headed by conservatives, was overthrown by the military. Bhutto’s husband was imprisoned, and once again, she was forced to leave her homeland. 

For nine years, she and her three children lived in exile in London and Bahrain, where she continued to advocate the restoration of democracy in Pakistan. Finally, in the face of death threats from radical Islamists, and the hostility of the Musharraf government, she returned to her native country on October 18, 2007 to seek reelection as Prime Minister.

“It’s true that General Musharraf opposes my return, seeing me as a symbol of democracy in the country. He is comfortable with dictatorship. I hope better sense prevails.”
She was greeted by enthusiastic crowds, and within hours of her arrival, her motorcade was attacked by a suicide bomber. She survived this first assassination attempt, although more than 100 bystanders died in the attack. With national elections scheduled for January 2008, her Pakistan People’s Party was poised for a victory that would make Bhutto prime minister once again.

She returned to Pakistan because she was a genuine leader who felt that the battle for democracy in Pakistan was her calling. A brave woman undeterred by the repeated threats of death, Queen Benazir walked on to Pakistan’s deadly political stage to make the ultimate sacrifice. She fought for people’s rights until her last.

The next few months are critical to Pakistan’s future direction as a democratic state committed to promoting peace, fighting terrorism and working for social justice.

Only a few weeks before the election, the extremists struck again. A gunman fired at her car before detonating a bomb, killing himself and more than 20 bystanders. Bhutto was rushed to the hospital, but soon succumbed to injuries suffered in the attack.

In the wake of her death, rioting erupted throughout the country. The loss of the country’s most popular democratic leader plunged Pakistan into turmoil, intensifying the dangerous instability of a nuclear-armed nation in a highly volatile region.

Queen Benazir leaves a legacy of a courageous no-holds-barred struggle for democracy. At her final rally she thundered: “Your country and my country is at risk. This government cannot handle this. We will defend it. We will handle it through people’s force.”

In her last speeches, she repeatedly said that she wanted a place in people’s hearts. This she has certainly found. In her death, Benazir has become the inspiration and rallying cry for millions fighting for a democratic Pakistan. Nasim Zehra, an Islamabad-based national security strategist eulogized her by writing, “For millions she is the queen of hearts.”

“Democracy is necessary to peace and to undermining the forces of terrorism.”

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to

Queen Mama Donna offers upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity.

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