American Queen : The Rise and Fall of Kate Chase Sprague, Civil War "Belle of the North" and Gilded Age Woman of Scandal
Overview - Had People magazine been around during the Civil War and after, Kate Chase would have made its "Most Beautiful" and "Most Intriguing" lists every year. The charismatic daughter of Salmon P. Chase, Lincoln's treasury secretary, Kate Chase enjoyed unprecedented political power for a woman. Read more...
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magazine been around during the Civil War and after, Kate Chase would have made its "Most Beautiful" and "Most Intriguing" lists every year. The charismatic daughter of Salmon P. Chase, Lincoln's treasury secretary, Kate Chase enjoyed unprecedented political power for a woman. As her widowed father's hostess, she set up a rival "court" against Mary Lincoln in hopes of making her father president and herself his First Lady. To facilitate that goal, she married one of the richest men in the country, the handsome "boy governor" of Rhode Island, in the social event of the Civil War. She moved easily between the worlds of high fashion, adorning herself in the most regal Parisian gowns, and politics, managing her father's presidential campaigns. "No Queen has ever reigned under the Stars and Stripes," one newspaper would write, "but this remarkable woman came closer to being a Queen than any American woman has."
But when William Sprague turned out to be less of a prince as a husband, Kate found comfort in the arms of a powerful married senator. The ensuing sex scandal ended her virtual royalty; after the marriage crumbled and the money disappeared, she was left only with her children and her ever-proud bearing. She became a social outcast and died in poverty, yet in her final years she would find both greater authenticity and the inner peace that had always eluded her.
Kate Chase's dramatic story is one of ambition and tragedy, set against the seductive allure of the Civil War and Gilded Age, involving some of the most famous personalities in American history. In this beautifully written and meticulously researched biography, drawing on much unpublished material, John Oller captures the extraordinary life of a woman who was a century ahead of her time.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
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“Behind every great man, there’s a great woman,” goes the saying, and Kate Chase Sprague, the “American Queen” of the Gilded Age, was just such a woman. Daughter of Salmon P. Chase, Lincoln’s secretary of the treasury, Sprague was a politically savvy and fiercely ambitious woman at a time women were expected to remain in the background. Despite never actually being first lady, Sprague was almost a de facto one: she was host of some of the best parties and salons in D.C., a frequent subject of the news, and was at the edge of most of the scandals of the time (she was suspected of having an affair with Sen. Roscoe Conkling). After her marriage to textile tycoon and politician William Sprague collapsed, she went bankrupt, ending her life peddling eggs and milk. Oller (Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew) details Sprague’s fascinating life, introducing readers to an inspiring woman in spite of her faults: haughtiness; personal, rather than ideological, politics; financial profligacy. The book’s analysis may not be well enough grounded in fact, verging on the speculative at times, but otherwise, Oller offers an accessible, attention-grabbing work. (Nov.)