Booked for Lunch: Bringing Down the Colonel

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Looking for a great read, something engaging and informative?

Come to “Booked for Lunch” A History Reading Group

Discussing Bringing Down the Colonel: A Sex Scandal of the Gilded Age and the “Powerless” Woman Who Took On Washington by Patricia Miller

“I’ll take my share of the blame. I only ask that he take his.”

In Bringing Down the Colonel, the journalist Patricia Miller tells the story of Madeline Pollard, an unlikely nineteenth-century women’s rights crusader. After an affair with a prominent politician left her “ruined,” Pollard brought the man—and the hypocrisy of America’s control of women’s sexuality—to trial. And, surprisingly, she won.

Pollard and the married Colonel Breckinridge began their decade-long affair when she was just a teenager. After the death of his wife, Breckinridge asked for Pollard’s hand—and then broke off the engagement to marry another woman. But Pollard struck back, suing Breckinridge for breach of promise in a shockingly public trial. 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 equally.

Nearly 125 years after the Breckinridge-Pollard scandal, America is still obsessed with women’s sexual morality. And in the age of Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein, we’ve witnessed fraught public reckonings with a type of sexual exploitation unnervingly similar to that experienced by Pollard. Using newspaper articles, personal journals, previously unpublished autobiographies, and letters, Bringing Down the Colonel tells the story of one of the earliest women to publicly fight back.

Participants bring a brown bag lunch, the Society provides a beverage and dessert. There is no charge, but please register. By email: info@wiltonhistorical.org or call 203- 762-7257  

 Praise for Bringing Down the Colonel

“[A] tantalizing and beautifully researched book . . . Anyone emboldened by the #MeToo movement to come forward owes a significant debt to Pollard.” —Karen Abbott, The Washington Post

“What better time for a story about a prominent man taken totally aback when he discovers that the rules about what we can get away with have changed? . . . After a while, [the Breckenridge-Pollard] saga vanished from the national memory. Congratulations to Patricia Smith for bringing it back.” —Gail Collins, The New York Times Book Review

“In today’s #MeToo world, ‘Bringing Down the Colonel’ reverberates in unexpected ways.” —Melanie Kirkpatrick, The Wall Street Journal