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Kate Chase and William Sprague: Politics and Gender in a Civil War Marriage Hardcover – December 1, 2003

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Editorial Reviews


“An intriguing biography of the marriage of Kate Chase, the ‘belle of Washington,’ and William Sprague, the Rhode Island governor and senator.”—Journal of Southern History
(Journal of Southern History )

From the Inside Flap

The marriage of Kate Chase to William Sprague inaugurated the most publicized union and divorce of the Civil War era. Katherine "Kate" Chase was the daughter of Salmon P. Chase, a leading antislavery politician and member of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet. Motherless from an early age, she became her father’s official hostess during the Civil War and Reconstruction years as well as his unofficial campaign manager. At the opening of the Civil War, her husband, William Sprague, was a wealthy industrialist, the "boy governor" of Rhode Island, a dashing military figure, and an alcoholic.

After looking at the lives of Chase and Sprague before they met, Peg A. Lamphier analyzes their courtship, their marriage, Chase's role as her father’s campaign manager, Sprague’s marital infidelities, Chase’s affair with Roscoe Conkling, Sprague’s abusiveness, and Chase and Sprague’s divorce and the issues of child custody it evoked. Pushing the boundaries of power and gender, Chase showed her ability to play politics in both public and private forums and to regain her independence as a woman in an arena dominated by men. Kate Chase and William Sprague delves into the social history of a nineteenth-century marriage and provides important insight into the role of gender in the political history of the time.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 315 pages
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press (December 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080322947X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803229471
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,873,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Once an earnest and well intentioned Professional American Historian, Peg A. Lamphier loves history, but not most academics or history books. Now a disillusioned intellectual and burgeoning novelist, Peg wishes more historians cared about story telling and instead of boring their readers. She currently teaches at California State Polytechnic, Pomona, happily allowing the state of California to pay her to talk about ideas and stuff with twenty-somethings in lieu of having a "real job" (you know, something with a cubicle and grumpy adults who live for meetings). When she's not writing Peg likes to geek out at Renn Faires and haunt farmers markets for oddly colored produce. She lives in the mountains of Southern California with her family and many, many pets. Look for her Kate Warne, Civil War Spy Novels, the first two of which will be available summer, 2016.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By John Oller on November 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Upon re-reading this book I have increased my rating. The prior review is reprinted in full in quotations below and while those comments remain, upon re-appraisal it's clear that Ms. Lamphier's insights and theories are usually insightful and at times brilliant, always thoroughly documented, and well-reasoned as well, even when one does not necessarily agree with all of the conclusions she draws. In many ways a tour de force. Recommended.

"This is at least the 5th biography of the Civil War Northern Belle, Kate Chase (daughter of Lincoln's Treasury Secretary), and it takes good advantage of material not available to prior researchers. It continues the revisionist trend from the last bio ("Kate Chase for the Defense", by Sokoloff) of trying to humanize this ambitious woman and portrary her in a more sympathetic light than the first several books. The author makes as good a case as one can for her point of view, and candidly admits to favoritism (she announces in the prologue that she will ever be a Kate supporter, and discloses an unmitigated hatred of Kate's husband William Sprague). But the gender politics angle grows tiresome after a while and detracts from the story. One wishes the book were told in a more dramatic manner; there is certainly more than enough raw material for that.

The best new stuff here concerns the hitherto unknown extent to which the Roscoe Conkling-Kate Chase relationship continued well after the famous "shotgun" incident in which the cuckolded Sprague threatened to blow Conkling's head off, setting off a national scandal.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Cindy Obermier on March 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I've read every biography on Kate Chase Sprague that's around today, and this one, by far, is the best. Peg Lamphier combines the historical background with the characters of Kate and William, and masterfully brings both of them to life in a way I have yet to see in other books. I was so impressed that I've read this book more than once, and each time I find something that makes me remember, Kate was a real person, and a "glorious girl", and what happened to her could happen to anyone.

Kate's life is one that makes me want to go back in time and shake her, but then, we all have to live our lives and do the best that we can with our choices and paths we take.

This biography is well-written, well-researched, and extremely interesting. The author comes across as being much more sympathetic towards Kate than some I've read do, but that's okay. It fits in this book. This is definitely not a novel and not easy reading at times, but I highly recommend it for any serious student of Kate Chase, her marriage to William Sprague, and for those curious about gender and gender differences during the Victorian Era.

Cindy Obermier
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ramona Merrifield on January 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An excellent book! The author really knows her subject and makes this history book as readable as a romance novel. An amazing amount of history that a lot of us might have skipped over in another book. Once I started this book I couldn't put it down.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Roger Yepsen on October 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Peg Lamphier succeeds in describing Kate Chase, the belle of Civil War-era Washington, as a vibrant and charismatic person. And husband William Sprague comes across convincingly as the villain of the piece. But the author stumbles when she attempts to portray the couple as exemplars of contemporary culture. I found myself pencilling BS in the margins to note passages such as these:
--"Kate's need for love reflected the high value American culture placed on affection." (page 86)
--"American men defined themselves in adversarial relationships with other men.... Masculinity maintained itself as a 'homosocial enactment,' that is, a man knew he was a 'man' when he acted a certain way in front of other men." (page 165)
--"Abused women most often lack strong female support.... Conversely, male abusers most commonly have well-developed male alliances." (page 182)
--"Kate's inability to make William conform to her vision of manhood not only exacerbated his vast insecurity but signified a certain clumsiness on her part when handling such a potentially explosive substance as William Sprague. This is not to suggest in any way that it was Kate's fault...." (page 229)
-- "When Kate manipulated political and social systems to her own ends, she engaged in a self-empowering act." (page 248)
-- "....Viewing Kate's divorce as a political act opens the door to numerous other women who did not have access to politically powerful men... yet were political women." (page 215, in the book's concluding paragraph)

The book fails to support the thesis that Kate's romances were political manoeuvres, and this claim also works against the author's portrait of her subject as a compassionate lover and selfless mother. Kate Chase deserves another biography.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was inspired to learm more about Kate Chase after reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals". This biography more than satisfied me. It is well written and provides good insight into this Washington Hostess of the Lincoln era and beyond. The reader learns that Kate Chase was QUITE A LADY. I recommend this book highly for the knowledge available into this relatively obscure, yet important, person.
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