SOCIAL SCIENCES

Bringing Down the Colonel: A Sex Scandal of the Gilded Age, and the "Powerless" Woman Who Took On Washington

Farrar. Nov. 2018. 384p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780374252663. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780374715625. HIST
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Madeline Pollard's claim against Col. William Breckinridge, an illustrious Kentucky congressman, was shocking in both its target and assertions. Not only had Pollard been seduced by the married Breckenridge as a teenager, she'd been his mistress for nearly a decade afterward, swayed by assurances that they'd eventually marry—assurances proved false when Breckinridge quickly married another woman after his wife's death. With no other recourse, Pollard sued Breckenridge for breach of promise; the resulting trial was one of the most dramatic scandals of late Victorian America and a convergence of the era's shifting views on women, morality, and sexual double standards. Journalist Miller occasionally pauses the story of Pollard's suit to tie in threads of other women in the trial's orbit, such as Jennie Tucker, hired by Breckenridge to spy on Pollard, and Breckenridge's daughter Sophonisba, an aspiring lawyer left to tend the household while her father struggled in court.
VERDICT Thoroughly detailed and thoughtful; worth a read for anyone interested in American women's history.

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