Bringing Down the Colonel: A Sex Scandal of the Gilded Age, and the “Powerless” Woman Who Took on Washington

Patricia Miller. Crichton, $30 (400p) ISBN 978-0-3742-5266-3
In her full-length debut, journalist Miller dusts off a long-forgotten scandal that gripped the nation’s capital in the late 19th century, expertly revealing it as “an important chapter in the history of the social, political, and sexual emancipation of women.” Madeline Pollard, a young woman with no social standing, sued prominent Kentucky congressman William Breckinridge in 1894 for breach of promise. At a time when women’s security was linked to well-chosen spouses, women could instigate lawsuits against men who reneged on matrimonial proposals, though few women chose to endure such public scrutiny. Due to the pervasive sexual double standard, the certain revelation that Pollard had been Breckinridge’s mistress made this a risky venture. Yet she brought suit after Breckinridge, who had repeatedly promised to marry her if he ever became free, wed someone else. Miller seamlessly weaves in the stories of other unmarried women connected to the case, illuminating how and why, by the 1890s, attitudes about women and sexuality were changing enough to give Pollard a chance at victory. The story’s momentum slows when Miller recounts the trial, though she pops in enough courtroom surprises and insightful analyses to keep it from collapsing. This book will enthrall readers interested in women’s and political history. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/10/2018
Release date: 11/06/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 400 pages - 978-1-250-23491-9
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