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Debby Applegate

Morning
Edition

December 1, 2022

ABOUT

Born in Eugene, Oregon on February the 1st, 1968, Debbie Applegate is an American historian and biographer. She is the author of The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, for which she won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for Autobiography. She was raised with her mother, who was a Mormon New Thought minister and an Irish Catholic father. Graduating summa cum laude in 1989 and becoming a Sterling Fellow at Yale University, she then earned a Ph.D. in American studies. She is married to business writer Bruce Tulgen and currently living in New Haven Connecticut.

Henry Ward Beecher

Taking over 20 years to research and write, her first book The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher was released in 2006 and went on to win the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography. Henry Ward Beecher, born in 1813 was the son of a fierce fire-and-brimstone puritan minister and the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who penned Uncle tom’s Cabin. Beecher was pushed into the ministry but instead of following his father’s style, he preached a charismatic New Testament gospel of unconditional love and healing. He became well known for his stance on antislavery and women’s suffrage movements and was involved in many controversies ranging from Darwinian evolution to politics. His notorious irreverent humour and melodramatic gestures gained him famous friendships such as Emerson, Thoreau and Twain. However, in 1872 he was accused of adultery with a parishioner.

Beecher, who was also the subject of her Ph.D. is said to have helped shape and reflect national preoccupations before, during and after the Civil War. Applegate sees him as one of the great founding fathers of Modern American religion and culture and has stated she, “loved his very modern sense of humour and irreverence toward sacred cows, and his joyful ecumenical approach to religion and life in general”. She has described her book as a psychological thriller and it has been reviewed as a “beautifully written biography of America’s one best known preachers”. Suspenseful and dramatic with new historical evidence, it sheds new light on the culture and conflicts of historic contemporary America.

Awards & Achievements

Applegate’s writings have won her numerous awards and prizes. She has taught at Yale and Wesleyan Universities and currently teaches at Marymount Manhattan College in New York. She has served on several literary governing boards and has contributed to publications ranging from The New York Times to The Journal of American History.

Polly Adler

Doubleday have contracted Applegate to write a cultural biography which will be titled Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age. Polly Adler was a 1920s New York City’s Prohibition-era brothel keeper whose 1953 memoir A House is Not a Home became a best seller with a movie following a decade later.

Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age is scheduled for a November 2nd, 2021 release date and is available to pre-order now.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography

ABOVE PHOTO: Applegate at the launch of The Most Famous Man in America. Photo by Carolyn A. Martin | modified

Awards & Achievements

Applegate’s writings have won her numerous awards and prizes. She has taught at Yale and Wesleyan Universities and currently teaches at Marymount Manhattan College in New York. She has served on several literary governing boards and has contributed to publications ranging from The New York Times to The Journal of American History.

Polly Adler

Doubleday have contracted Applegate to write a cultural biography which will be titled Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age. Polly Adler was a 1920s New York City’s Prohibition-era brothel keeper whose 1953 memoir A House is Not a Home became a best seller with a movie following a decade later.

Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age is scheduled for a November 2nd, 2021 release date and is available to pre-order now.

And then it all fell apart. In 1872 Beecher was accused by feminist firebrand Victoria Woodhull of adultery with one of his most pious parishioners. Suddenly the “Gospel of Love” seemed to rationalize a life of lust. The cuckolded husband brought charges of “criminal conversation” in a salacious trial that became the most widely covered event of the century, garnering more newspaper headlines than the entire Civil War. Beecher survived, but his reputation and his causes—from women’s rights to progressive evangelicalism—suffered devastating setbacks that echo to this day.

Featuring the page-turning suspense of a novel and dramatic new historical evidence, Debby Applegate has written the definitive biography of this captivating, mercurial, and sometimes infuriating figure. In our own time, when religion and politics are again colliding and adultery in high places still commands headlines, Beecher’s story sheds new light on the culture and conflicts of contemporary America.

The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher

Biography

2006

No one predicted success for Henry Ward Beecher at his birth in 1813. The blithe, boisterous son of the last great Puritan minister, he seemed destined to be overshadowed by his brilliant siblings—especially his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, who penned the century’s bestselling book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. But when pushed into the ministry, the charismatic Beecher found international fame by shedding his father’s Old Testament–style fire-and-brimstone theology and instead preaching a New Testament–based gospel of unconditional love and healing, becoming one of the founding fathers of modern American Christianity. By the 1850s, his spectacular sermons at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights had made him New York’s number one tourist attraction, so wildly popular that the ferries from Manhattan to Brooklyn were dubbed “Beecher Boats.”

Beecher inserted himself into nearly every important drama of the era—among them the antislavery and women’s suffrage movements, the rise of the entertainment industry and tabloid press, and controversies ranging from Darwinian evolution to presidential politics. He was notorious for his irreverent humor and melodramatic gestures, such as auctioning slaves to freedom in his pulpit and shipping rifles—nicknamed “Beecher’s Bibles”—to the antislavery resistance fighters in Kansas. Thinkers such as Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and Twain befriended—and sometimes parodied—him.

No one predicted success for Henry Ward Beecher at his birth in 1813. The blithe, boisterous son of the last great Puritan minister, he seemed destined to be overshadowed by his brilliant siblings—especially his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, who penned the century’s bestselling book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. But when pushed into the ministry, the charismatic Beecher found international fame by shedding his father’s Old Testament–style fire-and-brimstone theology and instead preaching a New Testament–based gospel of unconditional love and healing, becoming one of the founding fathers of modern American Christianity. By the 1850s, his spectacular sermons at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights had made him New York’s number one tourist attraction, so wildly popular that the ferries from Manhattan to Brooklyn were dubbed “Beecher Boats.”

Beecher inserted himself into nearly every important drama of the era—among them the antislavery and women’s suffrage movements, the rise of the entertainment industry and tabloid press, and controversies ranging from Darwinian evolution to presidential politics. He was notorious for his irreverent humor and melodramatic gestures, such as auctioning slaves to freedom in his pulpit and shipping rifles—nicknamed “Beecher’s Bibles”—to the antislavery resistance fighters in Kansas. Thinkers such as Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and Twain befriended—and sometimes parodied—him.

And then it all fell apart. In 1872 Beecher was accused by feminist firebrand Victoria Woodhull of adultery with one of his most pious parishioners. Suddenly the “Gospel of Love” seemed to rationalize a life of lust. The cuckolded husband brought charges of “criminal conversation” in a salacious trial that became the most widely covered event of the century, garnering more newspaper headlines than the entire Civil War. Beecher survived, but his reputation and his causes—from women’s rights to progressive evangelicalism—suffered devastating setbacks that echo to this day.

Featuring the page-turning suspense of a novel and dramatic new historical evidence, Debby Applegate has written the definitive biography of this captivating, mercurial, and sometimes infuriating figure. In our own time, when religion and politics are again colliding and adultery in high places still commands headlines, Beecher’s story sheds new light on the culture and conflicts of contemporary America.

Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age

Biography

2nd November, 2021

Meet the real-life figure to rival the fictional Great Gatsby. From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Most Famous Man in America, the compulsively readable and sometimes jaw-dropping life of the notorious madam who played hostess to every gangster, politician, writer, sports star and Cafe Society swell worth knowing, and who as much as any single figure helped make the twenties roar

Simply put: Everybody came to Polly’s. Pearl “Polly” Adler (1900-1962) was a diminutive dynamo whose Manhattan brothels in the Roaring Twenties became places not just for men to have the company of women but were key gathering places where the culturati and celebrity elite mingled with high society and with violent figures of the underworld–and had a good time doing it. As a Jewish immigrant from eastern Europe, Polly Adler’s life is a classic American story of success and assimilation that starts like a novel by Henry Roth and then turns into a glittering real-life tale straight out of F. Scott Fitzgerald. She declared her ambition to be “the best goddam madam in all America” and succeeded wildly. Debby Applegate uses Polly’s story as the key to unpacking just what made the 1920s the appallingly corrupt yet glamorous and transformational era that it was and how the collision between high and low is the unique ingredient that fuels American culture.

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