Abstract: A Collision of Aspirations: Elite Men's Clubs and Social Competition in Gilded Age New York City

Clifton Hood


The enlargement and enrichment of the New York City's upper class was the single most momentous event to hit the elite during the Gilded Age. These pressures had existed to a degree before the Civil War, but rapid economic growth heightened their intensity and made them the central feature of upper-class life in the second half of the nineteenth century. The intensification of demographic and economic pressures raised concerns within the upper class about the sources of its legitimacy and its need for more coherent and restrictive social and cultural codes. In this paper, I will use elite men's clubs as a lens for investigating the pressures that urban economic growth put on an upper class that no longer had control of its boundaries or the definition of its legitimacy, and the responses that upper-class New Yorkers made to these circumstances.