Bringing Down the Colonel
The woman--and her illicit affair--that rocked Victorian AmericaWhen Madeline Pollard was a teenager, she began an extended affair with the Kentucky Congressman William Breckinridge, one of the most influential men in America. Breckinridge was married, and he once declared women's chastity "the cornerstone of human society." He seduced Pollard, and when his wife died, he asked for her hand. After a decade-long affair, they were to be married--but then Breckinridge broke off the engagement and suddenly married another woman.In 1893, Pollard sued Breckinridge for breach of promise, and their affair--in all its indecorous detail--became shockingly public. With premarital sex considered irredeemably ruinous for a woman, Pollard was asserting the unthinkable: that the sexual morality of men and women should be judged the same way. In court, she said, "I'll take my share of the blame. I only ask that he take his." The sensational five-week trial woke Victorian women up to the harsh injustice of double standards. And, surprisingly, Pollard won.Nearly 125 years after the Breckinridge-Pollard scandal, we're still obsessed with sexual morality and the role women play in maintaining it. From concern about the decline of marriage and the rise of "hook-up" culture to battles over contraception and abortion, the underlying concern is the regulation of appropriate sexual behavior for women. Bringing Down Breckinridge is the story of one of the earliest women to take a stand against that regulation. Using trial transcripts, newspaper coverage, personal journals, and letters, the journalist Patricia Miller chronicles the fascinating and virtually unknown Pollard-Breckinridge trial, arguing for its rightful place within the history of women's rights.

Bringing Down the Colonel Details

TitleBringing Down the Colonel
Author
ReleaseNov 13th, 2018
PublisherSarah Crichton Books
ISBN-139780374252663
Rating
GenreNonfiction, History, Crime, True Crime, Feminism

Bringing Down the Colonel Review

  • Valerity (Val)
    January 1, 1970
    Bringing Down the Colonel: A Sex Scandal of the Gilded Age, and the ‘Powerless’ Woman Who Took On WashingtonA look at things in Victorian America for women. A Kentucky lawyer and politician makes promises he won’t keep and plays fast and loose with young women while his wife is at home. When he’s finally brought up short and one files a lawsuit against him for breach of promise, he tries to brush her off, using his power and prominence to quiet her. Madeline Pollard files a lawsuit after Colonel Bringing Down the Colonel: A Sex Scandal of the Gilded Age, and the ‘Powerless’ Woman Who Took On WashingtonA look at things in Victorian America for women. A Kentucky lawyer and politician makes promises he won’t keep and plays fast and loose with young women while his wife is at home. When he’s finally brought up short and one files a lawsuit against him for breach of promise, he tries to brush her off, using his power and prominence to quiet her. Madeline Pollard files a lawsuit after Colonel Breckenridge marries another woman, leaving her in the lurch after nearly 10 years of promises to marry her. She’s left with a bad reputation and no future and takes up residence in a residence for wayward women.Another young woman, Jennie Tucker goes undercover for the defense using another name to try and befriend Pollard and gain intel. The case goes to court, and Pollard gives her side of things, showing all that the Colonel has truly put her through, and all that she has given up for him, including the children she bore him. The case is ascribed to changing the feeling of people against women being the only party responsible when there is a public outing of a couple doing wrong, never the male, prior to this case. Sentiments became harder toward men after this in terms of morality. My thanks for the advance electronic copy that was provided by NetGalley, author Patricia Miller, and the publisher for my fair review.Farrar, Straus and Giroux 384 pagesPub: Nov 13th, 2018My BookZone blog:https://wordpress.com/post/bookblog20...
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  • David
    January 1, 1970
    There are more non-fiction narratives of bullying being published. Or so it seems to me. While reading this book, I also tore through an appalling account of present-day avarice-led bullying by lawyers and executives in Silicon Valley. This micro-history is a bullying story of the old-school, with Kentucky Congressman and revolting hypocrite William Breckinridge struggling mightily in 1894 to shut down the woman he first seduced when she was 16 (so she said, there is some disagreement). He then There are more non-fiction narratives of bullying being published. Or so it seems to me. While reading this book, I also tore through an appalling account of present-day avarice-led bullying by lawyers and executives in Silicon Valley. This micro-history is a bullying story of the old-school, with Kentucky Congressman and revolting hypocrite William Breckinridge struggling mightily in 1894 to shut down the woman he first seduced when she was 16 (so she said, there is some disagreement). He then strung her along with promises that he would marry her when his sickly wife died. This he did through ten years and no less that three pregnancies, all the while publicly mouthing the clichés of the sanctity of marriage, which is of course a mix of behaviors all too familiar from politicians and self-appointed moral guardians in our own age. When Breckinridge's wife finally passed away, the Congressman quickly married a better-connected woman from the pathetic aristocracy of his backward native region, who might better enable him to pursue his twin hobbies of personal advancement and living beyond his means. The abandoned woman, Madeline Pollard, [insert “hell hath no... ”, etc., here], brought a breach of promise suit against Breckinridge and, to the astonishment of many and contrary to previous practice, won a settlement equivalent to three years' salary for a Congressman. (Today, a Congressman earns $422,000 in three years.) This, in spite of tactics of moral-midget lawyers, which are completely, and sadly, familiar today: spreading lies and misinformation in the news media, and hiring a spy to attempt to befriend and betray. However, it turned out that Pollard was not entirely bereft of resources, and neither a dummy or a shrinking violet, besides.In our sad times, it is easy to get cynical and snarky about all that “arc of history bending toward justice” stuff that seemed inspiring only a few short years ago. But moments like this can, perhaps, demonstrate that the slow accumulation of activist-driven changes in social norms, reasoning, and attitude, may not be perceptible when one day looks pretty much like the day before, but can still result in court-delivered justice becoming more like genuine justice than it was before. Cast-off women were mocked and humiliated in court before 1894 – what changed? Perhaps the small but noticeable details in the life of the average person – the female relative who had found happiness through the pursuit of education, the knowledge that belovéd sisters had been the recipients from unwanted attention from local boors, the armies of women contributing to family prosperity through jobs of long hours of insufferable tedium – made it more difficult to sit quietly by and ignore or condemn Madeline Pollard in the same way that similarly-wronged women had been in the past. I'm a sucker for this sort of book: that is, one about a historical event that created a lot of sound and fury in its time, receded, and was forgotten – and can now be looked at with fresh eyes. This particular book is also fairly cheerful in its own peculiar way, as it is evidence that villains sometimes get the excoriation they deserve – first, in their lifetimes, and then once again, in posterity. I received a free electronic advance review copy of this book via Netgalley and Sarah Crichton Books, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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  • Anita Ojeda
    January 1, 1970
    When Jennie Tucker heads to Washington D.C. with the promise of a lucrative position, she has no idea what her employer has in mind for her. A single woman nearing her thirties, Jennie comes from a good family that has a beautiful home, but no money to maintain it—or her. In Victorian America on the east coast, economic necessity forced more and more women to enter the work force when they failed to marry and their parents could no longer support them. But entering the work force carried a horri When Jennie Tucker heads to Washington D.C. with the promise of a lucrative position, she has no idea what her employer has in mind for her. A single woman nearing her thirties, Jennie comes from a good family that has a beautiful home, but no money to maintain it—or her. In Victorian America on the east coast, economic necessity forced more and more women to enter the work force when they failed to marry and their parents could no longer support them. But entering the work force carried a horrible stigma. Men viewed working girls as prey. A woman who left the traditional career path of wife and mother found herself subject to the unwanted advances of bosses, co-workers, and acquaintances. When Jennie arrives, she discovers that Mr. Stoll, her employer, wants her to befriend a certain infamous Madeline Pollard. Jennie, happy for a position that allows her to play spy and detective, sets out to discover incriminating evidence against the woman who had recently sued the famous Colonel William P. C. Breckinridge for ‘breach of promise.’ Breach of promise suits almost never went well for the woman. In the Victorian era, a breach of promise suite implied that a woman had given her virginity to a man in exchange for a promise of marriage and now had ‘neither her virginity nor a wedding band to show for it.’ What made Madeline Pollard’s case especially scandalous was her claim that her relationship with Breckinridge had spanned eight years and produced multiple children. The colonel, during this time, was married.A fascinating true story about how a brave woman helped change the Victorian double standard that posited that a woman must come to the alter pure, while a man could have multiple affairs—both before and after marriage.The author weaves in fascinating facts about social mores from the Puritans to the Victorians. She explains how the double-standard at the time of the court case hurt women who strove to gain an education and gain acceptance in a world ruled by men. Readers of Erik Larson will enjoy the way the author weaves history and narrative together in a well-researched book that keeps the reader engaged from start to finish.
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  • Shannon A
    January 1, 1970
    Patricia Miller accomplishes here a very detailed, in-depth investigation of the nineteenth-century scandal that was brought to trial and changed how America looked at women’s sexuality. Madeline Pollard was considered “ruined” by an affair with a high-ranking government official, but she fought back, and won. The trial described within these pages brought to light events and women’s rights struggles that echo those of current times and proves that there is nothing new under the sun. Perfect for Patricia Miller accomplishes here a very detailed, in-depth investigation of the nineteenth-century scandal that was brought to trial and changed how America looked at women’s sexuality. Madeline Pollard was considered “ruined” by an affair with a high-ranking government official, but she fought back, and won. The trial described within these pages brought to light events and women’s rights struggles that echo those of current times and proves that there is nothing new under the sun. Perfect for History buffs!
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  • North Landesman
    January 1, 1970
    Deeply enjoyed this one. 1890s court case where a woman sues a Congressman for seducing her, promising to marry her, and then marrying another woman. Seems scandalous and fun? It is, but there is much more here. Sexual double-standards, women's rights, and even modern relevance with the me too movement.
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  • Amy
    January 1, 1970
    Bringing Down the Colonel: A Sex Scandal of the Gilded Age, and the "powerless" Woman Who Took on Washington is just an okay read. I give it three stars.
  • Anne Morgan
    January 1, 1970
    In the era of the Me Too movement, women are looking towards history and politics and wondering: are we the first to stand up? We know women fought for the right to work, the right to vote, and we earnestly want to know not only what those women went through, but why. Why did society and politics need the push they needed, and why did it succeed sometimes but not others? What were all the unwritten currents for and against these pioneers?Patricia Miller does an excellent job answering these ques In the era of the Me Too movement, women are looking towards history and politics and wondering: are we the first to stand up? We know women fought for the right to work, the right to vote, and we earnestly want to know not only what those women went through, but why. Why did society and politics need the push they needed, and why did it succeed sometimes but not others? What were all the unwritten currents for and against these pioneers?Patricia Miller does an excellent job answering these questions in Bringing Down the Colonel: A Sex Scandal of the Gilded Age, and the "Powerless" Woman who Took on Washington. Here she tells the story of Madeline Pollard and Colonel Breckinridge, and the unlikely lawsuit that helped turn of the century America question their double standard of men, women, and sexual morality. Pollard was in a relationship with Breckinridge for at least ten years while he was married to another woman- and always claiming that were it possible, he would marry her. But when his wife died, Breckinridge married another woman instead. Madeline Pollard did what few women of the time were brave enough to do: she publicly admitted the relationship and her "ruin" and sued Breckinridge for breach of promise. The resulting scandal not only forced society to ask questions it had never asked before, but brought down an elected official and brought thousands of Southern women into the political fray.As fascinating as the story is by itself, Miller fills modern readers in on the backstory- the social norms of the time and those that were changing- to flesh out a complete world for her readers to understand. Women were beginning to enter the workforce in increasingly large numbers. Fathers and brothers were beginning to have to face the idea that a woman unchaperoned in public wasn't announcing her sexual availability, because their own wives, sisters, and daughters were now in those public spheres. It was not 'just' the radical women who were asking for work equality and the right to vote, or to stand up to abuses happening around them. Miller explores the economic and educational environments that had begun to change, and does a solid job of helping the reader to understand why the mid-1890s was a time ripe for the changes Pollard and others pushed for. Madeline Pollard forced the conversation of sex into public, into politics, and into the home. She forced society to look at foundling orphanages, homes for fallen women, and the manipulations and social conventions that powerful men used to keep an entire class of women vulnerable to them. She inspired the first movement of women who (thought they couldn't vote) used their opinions and influence to ensure that a sexual predator was not reelected to a government position. Pollard and the women who financed her battle took on Washington and inspired a generation of women to demand conversations and change in society and politics, morality and ethics. The Pollard trial certainly didn't end the sexual double standard, but it did begin the conversation we still carry on today.An inspiring, well-researched, and well-written book, and a must read for all!
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  • Carin
    January 1, 1970
    Colonel Breckinridge was a powerful Congressman from Kentucky, the scion of a long legacy of Breckinridges. Madeline Pollard was a teen from a respectable family whose father had died, leaving the family to ruin. She bounced from relative to relative, learning how to claw her way to some funds, trying to get an education and further her place in life. Madeline had made an arrangement with a much older man wherein if he would pay for her college, at the end of it, she'd marry him. She wanted out Colonel Breckinridge was a powerful Congressman from Kentucky, the scion of a long legacy of Breckinridges. Madeline Pollard was a teen from a respectable family whose father had died, leaving the family to ruin. She bounced from relative to relative, learning how to claw her way to some funds, trying to get an education and further her place in life. Madeline had made an arrangement with a much older man wherein if he would pay for her college, at the end of it, she'd marry him. She wanted out of the arrangement but was baffled as to how. When the eminent and knowledgeable Rep Breckinridge introduced himself to her on a train, she saw an opportunity to both get some free advice and indebt herself to a powerful man. He saw a different opportunity, and he took it. She was seventeen at the time, and he was middle-aged. They had an affair for nearly 20 years. He always promised her that if his wife died, he'd marry her. She had at least two pregnancies by him that she had to give up, and probably additional miscarriages.Then one day, his wife dies! Madeline is excited--they can finally marry! (After a respectable waiting period.) He assures her this is true. and then, he marries someone else! And so, in 1893, Madeline sued him for breach of contract. He was really broke, and it's not like she could sue for enforcement of the promise as he was already remarried. She sued mostly on the principle of the matter. A couple of times in the recent past, other women had been "ruined" by powerful men (one of them later became president!!) and had tried to hold them accountable, to no avail. But the times they were a'changing and it was finally occurring to people that it was patently unfair to hold men and women to wildly different standards when it came to sex, when both were involved. And the first battle in the war against powerful men misusing sex in relationships with vulnerable women was waged.This would have been a fascinating history at any time, but is even more so now, in the midst of the #metoo movement and the massive pushback against powerful men misusing sex against vulnerable women, 130 years later. Here we can see when women first made a stand and first decided they were fed up with the shockingly hypocritical social morays that created these situations. And we can see how far we've come. And how much stays the same. And we can more clearly see the road ahead, when we learn about the road behind. Madeline may not have been a perfect woman, but she was willing to stand up for herself in the face of disgrace and public humiliation, and it turns out that's exactly what was needed.
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  • Gemma
    January 1, 1970
    You want to read a book like this and think wow, things have changed so much in the past 100+ years. But no. It's almost depressing how familiar even the details of this story are! Could have been ripped from multiple modern headlines.Good read though. Well-researched and I liked how the author dovetailed the trial and information into a larger picture of how Madeline's story and the trial effected women and the politics of the day. And how it wasn't so much a singular thing but how sick and tir You want to read a book like this and think wow, things have changed so much in the past 100+ years. But no. It's almost depressing how familiar even the details of this story are! Could have been ripped from multiple modern headlines.Good read though. Well-researched and I liked how the author dovetailed the trial and information into a larger picture of how Madeline's story and the trial effected women and the politics of the day. And how it wasn't so much a singular thing but how sick and tired women were of the huge double-standard.
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  • Donna
    January 1, 1970
    Loved it!!! A truly fascinating book. The author did an amazing job pulling together so many interesting pieces of history about women’s issues and public perception of sex outside of marriage. It was incredible how she tied it all together as backdrop and input to the story of Madeline Pollard and Colonel Breckinridge. I especially loved her insight for their motivations and what might have been truth vs. lie.
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  • Ian Tobey
    January 1, 1970
    This book is very well written and has extensive amounts of research in it. From the tragic tale of Maria Halpin to Madeline Pollard’s fight against a society filled with double standards, this book was captivating from start to finish. There are also lots of parallels to today’s society as well. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in reading!
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  • Magda
    January 1, 1970
    Fascinating and unfortunately still relevant
  • Patricia Miller
    January 1, 1970
  • Kendra
    January 1, 1970
    I really enjoyed this journalistic account of how Madeline Pollard, the mistress of a Kentucky bigshot, successfully sued him for breach of contract when he refused to marry her--having repeatedly promised to do so--after the death of his wife. Miller gets into the social and sexual politics and mores of the time, the roles and activities of women, and how Pollard's suit exposed and challenged the double standard women face. Appropriate reading for this particular point in history, and an engagi I really enjoyed this journalistic account of how Madeline Pollard, the mistress of a Kentucky bigshot, successfully sued him for breach of contract when he refused to marry her--having repeatedly promised to do so--after the death of his wife. Miller gets into the social and sexual politics and mores of the time, the roles and activities of women, and how Pollard's suit exposed and challenged the double standard women face. Appropriate reading for this particular point in history, and an engaging read to boot.
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  • Sandra
    January 1, 1970
    Fascinating story, extremely timely. Not 100% on the writing style. At times it managed to feel both dry and meandering. Still glad I read it.
  • Kimball
    January 1, 1970
    BRINGING DOWN THE COLONEL is a nonfiction account of Madeline Pollard’s lawsuit against Colonel W.C.P. Breckinridge for abandonment (he had a shotgun marriage with another woman while engaged to Pollard) in 1893. Sadly, DC didn’t have seduction laws, which many other states had at the time. Pollard’s aim is to make Breckinridge have his share of the blame, shame and consequences. This lively account explores a ten year affair that Pollard believed would end in marriage. Instead, it ends will thi BRINGING DOWN THE COLONEL is a nonfiction account of Madeline Pollard’s lawsuit against Colonel W.C.P. Breckinridge for abandonment (he had a shotgun marriage with another woman while engaged to Pollard) in 1893. Sadly, DC didn’t have seduction laws, which many other states had at the time. Pollard’s aim is to make Breckinridge have his share of the blame, shame and consequences. This lively account explores a ten year affair that Pollard believed would end in marriage. Instead, it ends will this suit. Throughout, there are some great tidbits to help the reader truly understand the times. Such as, “Too much education would harm women because it would overtax their brains and draw vital energy from their reproductive organs” (p. 109-110). This is a story of one woman defying the time she lives in to take what she deserves. Pollard is standing up for her rights and refusing to be harmed by a man or let that man continue to pursue his career unpunished
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  • Maudaevee
    January 1, 1970
    Very well written, I am not one to read much political history but this book did a good job of explaining the politics and moral stances of the time.
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