Journalist. Mother. Bunny enthusiast. Pop culture junkie.

Journalist. Mother. Bunny enthusiast. Pop culture junkie.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Civil War Style Icons: The Belle of Washington

I have a secret to share with you that is so enormous, you have to swear not to tell a living soul (although feel free to tell all the non-living souls you want):

I am a nerd.

More specifically, I am a history nerd.

I'm obsessed with things that happened in the past, which have nothing to do with me.

I also love fabulous females.

After my cousin's wedding this weekend, I spent an entire day with my family touring Abraham Lincoln sites. I saw his old house and then I went to a museum dedicated him.

It was fucking awesome.

I not only learned really fascinating facts about our most admired American president, but also about the civil war.

I have a three-part series for you about three fabulous women from the Civil War period.

The first is Kate Chase, the society princess.

Kate was in her early 20s during the civil war, and the daughter of Salmon Chase, the Secretary of Treasure in the Lincoln Administration. Her mother died when she was very young. She had a little sister.

She was tall, thin, and strikingly beautiful. With her delightful wit and dazzling charm, it was often joked that every politician in Washington D.C. had a huge crush on her. Every move she made was detailed in national gossip columns.

Kate absolutely adored her father, acting like his campaign manager any time he ran for office. She was so proud of her dad and thought the world of him. She wrote his speeches, promoted his policies, hosted his social gatherings, and made it her life's ambition to help him reach his dreams.

Kate's only real flaw, however, was her weakness for designer clothes from Paris. She almost bankrupt her generous father by spending obscene amounts of money on tailored gowns.

She soon solved that problem, although in a naive way. At 23, she married the wealthy U.S. Senator William Sprague, who she believed would help her father accomplish his goal of being the next president.

It was the wedding of the 19th century. The who's who of the political world showed up to the jaw-droppingly extravagant affair, to see the glamorous Kate walk down the aisle wearing a tiara of pearls and diamonds that cost more than $50,000 (imagine how much that would be today!).

The only person who did not attend the wedding was President Lincoln's wife, Mary. The First Lady despised Kate and would often throw fits of jealousy, because she was tired of how men fawned over the gorgeous debutante.

Unfortunately, Kate's good fortune did not last. Her marriage proved a bad decision. Her husband was rumored to be resentful of her time and devotion spent on her father's campaigns. He started drinking heavily and physically abused her and slept with other women.

Her father never did achieve of his dream of becoming president and he died during a campaign. A heartbroken Kate spent more years watching her husband humiliate her in public, by prancing around town with every harlot in sight. The two eventually divorced.

When her 25-year-old son committed suicide, the now middle-aged Kate withdrew from society completely. She died in poverty nine years later, in 1899.

Here is an outfit inspired by the dazzling Kate:

Kate Chase

What do you think of Kate?


Sherin said...

What a sad ending! She sounded like she had so much potential. I love how she worked on her father's Campaigns though!

French Girl in Seattle said...

Thank you, Jenny! Great story. Like you, I am a history buff and I love learning more about strong, influential women, so this fits the bill (as a college student in Atlanta, I wrote a paper on plantation mistresses during the Civil War era.) I had never heard about Kate. Interesting character. I noted she had excellent taste and purchased her most beautiful dresses in Paris -- a girl after my own heart! Well done, Jennifer Fabulous. Can't wait to read more. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

Lemanie said...

Now that is a Lifetime movie I would want to see. I can't imagine what that tiara would be worth today! I can't believe her life turned to such shambles...How horrible about her son & husband. Ya know you hear women saying they wish they lived then and there but no way...for some reason this drama seems like it would have been ten-fold worse back then. Poor her dresses! Look at that waist!!! Wow....

Lemanie's Randomness Blog

Jhomaira Agüero said...

what a nice history

Lisa said...

love loveed hearing all about kate!! she sounds so fabulous hahah!! i would also love some haute couture from paris please!! but.. wow talk about some life.. and sad that it was how fabulous the whole way through :(

when BABI speaks said...

oh, what a life story but I like the dresses! good taste!


Kim (A Very Sweet Blog) said...

Jennifer, I'm a history and period buff too. I love visiting places like that. I can't wait to read the rest of your installments. Her story was amazing!!! I can't believe how she died in poverty and how her husband was so cruel to her. What a life! I have read some of the original fairytales. They can be very dark. Especially the Grimm brothers. You should definitely read them. ((HUG))

David Macaulay said...

I am kind of fascinated by the Civil War - you make it seem stylish tho. Nice post.

Angel said...

I love your blog! You write about such cool stuff and the pictures are great. :)

JUST ME said...

Holy shit - that entire outfit you put together? I WANT IT ALL.

You need to be my outfit designer. Always. As soon as I get rich I'm hiring you.

Meri said...

I have to admit I only like history when people make it interesting (like you do). I love when you do these posts because if I was reading the biography of Mary Todd Lincoln or someone I would have fallen asleep with boredom... but this is an interesting story! I did a post on Jackie O tonight and gave you a shout out as my inspiration :)

Couture Carrie said...

Amazing bio and pics!
Love her!


Miksu said...

History is such an interesting subject, I love it too! I love historical films with all the amazing dresses :D

Bravoe Runway said...

I love history as well! In fact it was my favorite subject in High School! This is such an interesting story, I never knew of Kate! And $50K on her diamonds and Tiara I can only imagine what it would cost today! She definitely did have amazing style, and her love of haute couture French gowns suits her personality. It's sad she died in poverty!

Cafe Fashionista said...

Kate's story is captivating. I want to learn more about her.

P.S. You may highly enjoy THE LUXE Quartet written by Anna Godbersen - Kate's story reminded me of them. :)

La Dolce Vita said...

Kate was an individual in her own right ! But if she was born today, she would have been much smarter and would not die in poverty , nor withdraw from society after her son's death . I feel that there is a Kate hidden in most of us. Our desire for fashion, good life, love for parents, free choice, and sometimes at the receiving end of a colleague's/ friend's jealousy, etc. etc. are similar to that of Kate's life but we are different because we, as modern women know better and would not succumb to the same fate as Kate.

Tights Lover said...

When I opened your post today, I was sitting in my office with a couple of zombies and a vampire. I told them you were a history nerd. I figured you wouldn't know...

History was always my favorite subject in school. I always particularly enjoyed US history because it was relatively recent and it was so interesting to read how we got to where we are now.

Of course...this is history class gives you these kinds of fascinating (however tragic) stories.

amy b.s. said...

how interesting. my dad is a history nerd and i am admittedly a bit sad i didn't inherit that gene.

Anonymous said...

You are in the mob with TELLEDATE and ADA is giving it away.
With ROOT.

Arielle-HumblePieVintage said...

I love history too! A lot of my blog posts are history related. Thats why I love your blog so much! That's crazy how she went from being rich to dying in poverty.

BonBon Rose Girls Kristin said...

What a tragic turnout!

The Grande Dame said...

Oooh Miss Dior... Yummy!

The Dainty Dolls House said...

I am a nerd too, love history!! And moving from the states to the uk where history is even older has been like heaven for me!! So cool! x

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Anonymous said...

You should have included her affair with Senator Roscoe Conkling one of the most important politicians of the day!