Since all of my novels are set during the Gilded Age, I thought it might be fun to add little tidbits here about that time in our history.
The Gilded Age epithet first came into being thanks to Mark Twain and a book he coauthored in 1873 titled The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. This book dealt with what Mr. Twain believed was the growing corruption in America after the Civil War. Changes brought about by the industrial revolution saw unprecedented wealth being accumulated, and this wealth, along with the corruption, greed, and unbridled excess that went along with it, was the inspiration behind Mark Twain’s book.
The Gilded Age stretched approximately from the 1870’s through the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Large mansions, “cottages” in Newport, fashions from the House of Worth, and society rivalries were the norm as wealthy families struggled to secure their position in society.
New York City was the social center of the country, and society was ruled by one of the most powerful women of the times – Mrs. William Backhouse Astor II, or the Mrs. Astor as she became widely known. Caroline Astor, along with the help of Mr. Ward McAllister –the social arbiter of the day – decided who was to be included in high society, but more importantly, who was not. In an attempt to accomplish this, Ward McAllister divided society between the “Nobs” and the “Swells.” “Nobs” were from old money and distinguished lineage, while “Swells” were the Gilded Age’s noveaux rich who were aggressively trying to climb the proverbial social ladder. Believing it to be impossible to keep out all the newly rich, Mr. McAllister devised a list mixing the “Nobs” and the “Swells” and this list became known as The New York Four-Hundred.
Please swing back again soon. I’ll have more posts coming out every few weeks. The first of these posts will deal with the rivalry between Mrs. Astor and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt and what Alva Vanderbilt had to do to get her family, one of the richest in the world, to be accepted by the very snobbish, and need I say stubborn, Mrs. Astor.