1. Survival Guide for Women in the Gilded Age

Survival Guide for Women in the Gilded Age

Assume you’re a “true woman” of the Gilded Age and fate has handed you a raw deal. You had been carefully trained in the virtues of submission, self-sacrifice, timidity, and passive acquiescence to your lot. You were a pale hothouse flower, too frail for the rough usages of the world. Hence the fainting couch and laudanum. Miriam Leslie, though, was ...

Read more

1. Social Mountaineering in the Gilded Age

Social Mountaineering in the Gilded Age

America’s first celebrities, comparable to film and rock stars today, were the social uber-rich. These cliquish patricians were the envy, style setters, and aspiration of the masses. Pity the new monied who strove to join the inner circle. Miriam Leslie was one, determined to breach high society, the Astor-ocracy. By the mid-seventies when New York was seeing an invasion of ...

Read more

1. How to Dispose of a Husband In the Gilded Age

How to Dispose of a Husband in the Gilded Age

What could a woman do in the Gilded Age if she wanted to discard a tiresome husband—a drunk, abuser, womanizer, or bore? Not much. Divorce was unmentionable in polite society, a disgrace, a “scandal and severe humiliation” for women. A divorcee was a pariah, cut cold by the “best people” and excluded from the first circles. Not only was she ...

Read more

1. Fifteen Pounds and What Do You Get? Life as a Gilded Age Fashionista by Betsy Prioleau

Fifteen Pounds and What Do You Get? Life as a Gilded Age Fashionista

Looking great wasn’t easy in the Gilded Age. If you were Mrs. Frank Leslie, the fashion czar and style icon of her day, you had a grueling second shift—torturous costumes and fittings, mountainous wardrobe requirements, and fresh styles every season. Plus, there was the fine line to walk. To exhibit “class,” a lady had to be stylish and expensively attired, ...

Read more

1. Siren Training by Betsy Prioleau

Siren Training

A woman in the Gilded Age—respectable or unrespectable—had to know how to land a man. He was her life support unless she were an heiress since women had no financial rights or viable means of earning a living wage. The experts in the business were “ladies of the evening,” the professionals who specialized in the arcana of seduction. The upper ...

Read more

Angel in the House, Jade in the Workplace: The Two Kinds of Women in Gilded Age America

Angel in the House, Jade in the Workplace

In Mrs. Leslie’s day, there were two kinds of women, period: the good and bad sort. A “true woman” was a domestic angel, dedicated to home, family, and good works and the hallowed private sphere. Fragile and ethereal with a smaller brain, she submitted to her husband’s authority and lived to serve, soothe, and inspire. She was a pure vessel, …

Read more

Lying About Your Life: Reinventing oneself in the postbellum years

Lying About Your Life

Mrs. Frank Leslie was a titan of her time– one of the most famous, celebrated women of the Gilded Age. For twenty years she ran the largest publishing empire in America in an all-male industry and made a fortune. The “Empress of Journalism,” she was the fashion arbiter of her generation, an author, a lecturer, social leader and born lady. …

Read more

Soiled Doves and the Sexual Underworld Sex Work in New York City in the late 19th century

Soiled Doves and the Sexual Underworld

At barely seventeen Miriam Florence Follin was thrown on her own resources in New York City. Her uncle had renounced his guardianship, her father disappeared into Mexico on another doomed financial mission, leaving her and her mother alone without support and the rent due. What were her options? Opportunities for women in the early 1850s in Manhattan were few and ...

Read more