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Home > History > Kate Chase - "Queen" of Washington

Kate Chase - "Queen" of Washington

This article describes Kate Chase and her influence on Civil War-era Washington, D.C.

Kate Chase

Kate Chase

First Lady?

Kate Chase was the favorite daughter of Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, and one of the leading socialites of Civil War-era Washington. During the Civil War, Kate's father maintained strong ambitions to become president, despite the fact that he was the Treasury Secretary in Lincoln's cabinet - the man he hoped to defeat in the Election of 1864. Kate strongly supported her father's ambitions. Because her father had never remarried after the death of his wife, Kate would have become first lady had her father been successful.

Washington's Most Dazzling Socialite

Kate Chase was a celebrity in Washington. She set fashion trends, dazzled the city's elite and wealthy, and threw legendary parties and receptions that would become the talk of the town and which prompted jealousy in First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. Certainly, an invitation to one of Kate's parties was a coveted ticket in Washington during the Civil War. Everything Kate did, however, was calculated to support her father's political career. Her 1863 marriage to Edward Sprague, a wealthy Rhode Island magnate, was one of the great social events of the decade. But even her marriage was speculated to have been fostered to fund her father's presidential ambitions ahead of the Election of 1864. The marriage would eventually end in divorce for a variety of reasons, including political differences that developed between the two, and her habit of spending exorbitantly. Following the Civil War, and following her father's appointment to the Supreme Court and his defection to the Democratic Party, Kate organized and orchestrated his unsuccessful campaign for president in 1868.

From Celebrity to Chicken Saleswoman

Following the death of her father in 1873, Kate withdrew from public life and eventually fell on hard times. Once "the most brilliant woman of her age," according to the Washington Post, she was forced to sell poultry door-to-door in her later years. She died in 1899 at the age of 58 and was buried alongside her father.


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