The Rise and Fall of Kate Chase Sprague, Civil War “Belle of the North” and Gilded Age Woman of Scandal
When she entered a room, all eyes fell upon this extraordinary creature who moved with the grace and dignity of a woman with regal substance. Her gowns were consistently the most recent fashion, and she wore them with unequaled elegance. One seldom, if ever, hesitated to be in her company, and in fact, most clamored to be a part of her social networking. For this was Kate Chase Sprague…a woman before her time who, if she was living today, would be on the cover of our most prestigious magazines, flanked by paparazzi wherever she tread, a challenge to those who would be President of these United States. Yet, as life would have it, tragedy seemed destined for this remarkable woman, sustained in a manner that no one could have ever foreseen. She went from riches to rags, watched her political clout slip through her fingers and the admiration of throngs disappear. Who was this woman? How did she gain such an elevated status? Why did she fall from grace?
Salmon P. Chase, thrice widowed, cultivated his eldest daughter to take the position of hostess of his home and, in so doing, his political career. Kate was educated in a boarding school whereby the duties of a ‘cultured woman of the day’ were drilled into her mind. In his dictatorial manner of assisting in her education, Salmon never ceased to take advantage of an opportunity to criticize her, whether it be for inadequate skills in penmanship or the lack of embellishment in her creative prose. In his eyes, as he had witnessed in those of his father, satisfaction was never apparent unless perfection had been attained. Kate took these lessons to heart and grew to be the impeccable daughter in every way imaginable. She became politically astute and vigorously campaigned for her father to become president. This never materialized but, in her effort to promote her father, Kate became the ‘sovereign’ of the day. When most women were serving tea, Kate was in conference with prestigious governmental figures who might serve her cavernous desires to be ‘First Lady’ when/if Salmon reached the ultimate political pinnacle. She was known everywhere in Washington and became a force to be reckoned with. However, her marriage and later, a scandalous affair, proved to be devastating chapters in her life causing the world as she knew it to crumble. The sad thing is that then, just as it is true today, a man could have dallied or strayed and it would have been swept under the carpet. For a woman, it was generated as a curse and one was marked forever. As a result, Kate fell from grace and when the money from her husband’s business dwindled, so did her lifestyle, never to be reaffirmed. In the end, Kate was almost penniless, selling vegetables and dairy products in the street. However, it has been suggested that the dignity with which she carried out the rest of her life was remarkable.
This book is magnificently presented with historical information that is quite astonishing. John Oller is an amazing strategist who takes you through the Civil War period with careful precision without belaboring the point. He concentrates on the woman…the one who lived long before her time but still is a lesson in progress today. Suffice it to say that Kate Chase Sprague would prove to be a political nemesis for many on the present campaign trail and she would do it with style and class. Beauty, brains and dignity. It is doubtful that anyone could trump that!