The Congressman's Mistress and the Girl Spy: A Scandal of the Gilded Age

On a cold January day in 1894, Maine native Jane Armstrong Tucker stood before the door of the House of Mercy, a Washington, D.C. home for fallen women. Her mission: to locate the elusive Madeleine Pollard, the recent --and now rejected--mistress of Kentucky congressman W.C.P. Breckinridge. Pollard had sued Breckinridge for Breach of Promise, alleging he had stolen her youth and ruined her future prospects when he failed to make good on his pledge of marriage. As the court battle drew near, Pollard hid in seclusion and Breckinridge–after a series of legal missteps–grew desperate. What did Pollard want? Who was helping her? Anxious for information to win the case, he embarked on a dangerous plan, a plan dependent on Jane Tucker, former stenographer now turned girl spy.

Rich archival sources–many never before seen–tell the story of “Agnes Parker” and Madeleine Pollard, two young women who wanted more from the nineteenth century than marriage and motherhood. Pollard's dreams of a literary life and Parker's schemes for financial independence captured the eager ambition and new possibilities of the end of the century. But their hopeful dreams met dire challenges when their lives intersected in the Gilded Age scandal that captivated the nation.