Title page for ETD etd-06242009-231445

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Bibby, Emily Katherine
Author's Email Address ebibby@vt.edu
URN etd-06242009-231445
Title Making the American Aristocracy: Women, Cultural Capital, and High Society in New York City, 1870-1900
Degree Master of Arts
Department History
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Jones, Kathleen W. Committee Chair
Ewing, E. Thomas Committee Member
Johnson, Sharon Committee Member
  • Cultural Capital
  • Dress
  • Culture of Aspiration
  • Culture of Consumption
  • High Society
  • New York City
  • Speech
  • Posture
  • Women
  • Space
  • Gilded Age
Date of Defense 2009-06-10
Availability unrestricted
For over three decades, during the height of Gilded Age economic extravagance, the women of New York High Society maintained an elite social identity by possessing, displaying, and cultivating cultural capital. Particularly, High Society women sought to exclude the Nouveaux Riches who, after amassing vast fortunes in industry or trade, came to New York City in search of social position. High Society women distinguished themselves from these social climbers by obeying restrictive codes of speech, body language, and dress that were the manifestations of their cultural capital. However, in a country founded upon an ethos of egalitarianism, exclusivity could not be maintained for long. Mass-circulated media, visual artwork, and etiquette manuals celebrated the Society woman’s cultural capital, but simultaneously popularized it, making it accessible to the upwardly mobile. By imitating the representations of High Society life that they saw in newspapers, magazines, and the sketches of Charles Dana Gibson, Nouveau Riche social climbers and even aspirant middle and working class women bridged many of the barriers that Society women sought to impose.
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