Cover image for American queen : the rise and fall of Kate Chase Sprague, Civil War "Belle of the North" and gilded age woman of scandal
American queen : the rise and fall of Kate Chase Sprague, Civil War "Belle of the North" and gilded age woman of scandal
Oller, John.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Da Capo Press, A Member of the Perseus Books Group, [2014]
Physical Description:
xxiii, 376 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
In this beautifully written and meticulously researched biography, John Oller captures the tumultuous, passionate, and ultimately tragic life of Kate Chase Sprague, Mary Lincoln's ambitious rival.
Prologue: A woman in the arena -- Miss Chase. "Qualified to ornament any society" ; "I shall strive to be first wherever I may be" ; "How short then is this life!" ; Belle of Columbus ; Belle of Washington ; Boy governor ; Mrs. Lincoln's rival ; Wedding of the decade -- Mrs. Sprague. "Imagine my disappointment" ; "Our accomplished countrywoman" ; "More unfitness day by day" ; "I am told that she actually controls the entire affair" ; "You have been most cruelly deceived" ; "I almost hate this man" ; "She's capable of hitting him" ; Some dared call it treason ; End of an era ; End of an empire ; "Intended by their creator for each other" ; "Mrs. Conkling is not here this winter" ; "The Now notorious outbreak" ; "The bird has flown" -- Kate Chase again. "A dinner with the queen" ; "As much alone as Cleopatra" ; Gilded Age woman ; Stalwart woman ; An unmarried woman ; An independent woman ; "What we have is good" ; "None outshone her".
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E415.9.S76 O55 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
E415.9.S76 O55 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

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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. 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.

Author Notes

John Oller , a lawyer and former journalist, is the author of Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew , which film critic Leonard Maltin called "an exceptional piece of work," and the Los Angeles Daily News praised, saying it "neither blinks nor blurs in its examination of a very colorful and eventful life." He lives in New York City.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

"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.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Starred Review. In the wake of the recent resurgence of interest in the Civil War era comes a biography of a once-formidable figure in the world of Washington whose fame is finally being rekindled. Oller (lawyer and journalist; Jean Arthur) writes sympathetically of Kate Chase Sprague (1840-99), the daughter of Treasury Secretary and Chief Justice Salmon Chase. The author takes us through his subject's life as she moves from a high-class social butterfly who rubs elbows with political elite, has designs on becoming first lady via her father's ascent to the presidency, and butts heads with Mary Todd Lincoln, to a poverty-stricken divorcee whose scandalous affair with a senator helped end her unhappy marriage to a volatile governor. Though some may view this as a sad tale, Oller depicts Chase as a headstrong, resilient, and ultimately content woman. VERDICT Well written, fast paced, and with a compelling attention to detail, this work should be a fascinating read for Civil War buffs, fans of Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals (in which Salmon Chase is a main character), and Jennifer Chiaverini's Mrs. Lincoln's Rival.-Laura Marcus, Odenton, MD (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prologue: A Woman in the Arenap. ix
Part 1 Miss Chase
1 "Qualified to Ornament Any Society"p. 3
2 "I Shall Strive to Be First Wherever I May Be"p. 12
3 "How Short Then Is This Life!"p. 20
4 The Belle of Columbusp. 28
5 The Belle of Washingtonp. 39
6 The Boy Governorp. 45
7 Mrs. Lincoln's Rivalp. 60
8 Wedding of the Decadep. 74
Part 2 Mrs. Sprague
9 "Imagine My Disappointment"p. 87
10 "Our Accomplished Countrywoman"p. 96
11 "More Unfitness Day by Day"p. 101
12 "I Am Told That She Actually Controls the Entire Affair"p. 108
13 "You Have Been Most Cruelly Deceived"p. 120
14 "I Almost Hate This Man"p. 128
15 "She's Capable of Hitting Him"p. 134
16 Some Dared Call It Treasonp. 142
17 End of an Erap. 148
18 End of an Empirep. 156
19 "Intended by Their Creator for Each Other"p. 163
20 "Mrs. Conkling Is Not Here This Winter"p. 172
21 "The Now Notorious Outbreak"p. 182
22 "The Bird Has Flown"p. 201
Part 3 Kate Chase Again
23 "A Dinner with the Queen"p. 211
24 "As Much Alone as Cleopatra"p. 216
25 Gilded Age Womanp. 228
26 Stalwart Womanp. 235
27 An Unmarried Womanp. 239
28 An Independent Womanp. 243
29 "What We Have Is Good"p. 252
30 "None Outshone Her"p. 260
Epiloguep. 267
Acknowledgmentsp. 271
Notesp. 275
Selected Bibliographyp. 355
Indexp. 365
Photographs following pagep. 184