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The Husband Hunters

Social Climbing In London and New York

Anne de Courcy







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End of C19 in NY it was impt to be one of 400 people invited to Mrs Astor's balls. So if you weren't impt enough, one tactic was to take your daughter off to Europe and acquire her a titled husband. The duke or earl wd be invited, and so wd be his MIL. A peeress daughter was the key to unlock the gates of NY society.

Britain also had a 'Society' - a closed circle of no more than 2000 families, interlinked through generations of intermarriage. To stay within the group you had to marry within the group. Traditionally that worked - primogeniture kept the estates intact, and marriage to someone who already understood the ways of running a large house. All of this was based on agricultural income off the estates.

But at the end of C19, things changed. The Long Depression 1873-80 a series of bad harvests reduced income. The drift to the cities with industrialization left fewer wirkers, who were thus able to negotiate higher wages. Then American grain flooded the market, bringing dramatic price drop. Between 1870 and 1890, the price of English wheat and barley fell by half.

The appearance of American girls on the scene, with her dollar dowries, was a lifeline.

Daughters of rich Americans treated far differently to the daughters of upper class English. English girls treated as the least impt memebers of household - not worth educating or given any independance.But American girls were seen as the family memeber who cd, by a good marriage, lift the status of the whole family. They grew up seeing their mothers make all the household decisions, from the building of family home to trips to Europe, with husband simply handing over the funds.

(Beauty maintenace: for redheads such as Alva Vanderbilt, dyeing hair was a 2 day process. First the hair was dyed black, then green, then finally red. They disappeared from society for 48 hours to accomplish this.)

In the 1890s there were 12 postal deliveries a day in London.

In NY there were 'top' churches to attend, and you had to pay for pews. Seats at one church, St Bartholomew's, were auctioned for $321,000in 1872.

The passage of time sterilised fortunes dubiously acquired - 3 generations washed it white as snow.

1895 Los Angeles Herald article reckoned that $200 million had been shifted to Britain in what they called 'cash for coronets'. But huge impact in England - the repair and restoration of many old houses, many of which now open to public. Most notable Blenheim Palace






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