Rich People in Society


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Michael Ridge

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Does anyone here know who were rich and famous families in New York Society, Pennsylvania Society, and London Society?

Mike
 
Jul 11, 2001
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The Astors were from NewYork, The Wideners and Thayers were from Philly, the Duff Gordons and the Countess of Rothes represented the English wealthy. Well, regarding Titanic passengers that is. The whole list would be too big. The original Mrs. Astor had a list of the "400" elite in Society. She came up with that number because it was how many she could fit into her ballroom!
 

Brian Ahern

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Michael - I posted a link to that list about six weeks ago in a link on the Astor family.

As David said - this is a pretty extensive topic and you'll really have to do your own research. There are certainly books on the history of New York high society and I'm sure that goes ditto for the other cities.

Then there are biographies of individuals. Suggest you start with reading about the likes of Winston Churchill (I read and enjoyed "The Letters of Winston and Clementine Churchill" this summer), Teddy Roosevelt, Alice Roosevelth Longworth, Vida Sackville-West, Alice Keppel, and most of the famous American and British writers of the time. Edith Wharton, for example, came from a distinguished NY family and married into a distinguished New England family. Virginia Woolf, Somerset Maugham, Henry James, Mark Twain and Evelyn Waugh, just to name a few, all mixed with elite people.

As far as the families David mentioned, the Astors were certainly creme de la creme in NYC by 1912 but they hadn't always been. Their position was attained through time, work and intermarriage with older families like the Rhinelanders.
J. Clinch Smith is on Mrs. Astor's list.
The Thayer roots are hard to trace but they are generally depicted as being of old New England stock. Some have claimed that the Wideners, on the other hand, were considered rather nouveau. In the book "Last Dinner on the Titanic", Rick Archbold and Dana McCauley make the claim that George Wideners father had started as a butcher before going into business with Eleanor's father, and thus the Wideners weren't considered among Philadephia's most elite.
But the Wideners certainly seemed to mix with the Thayers and Carters on the Titanic. Money talks.
From what I've read, I would say that the Ryerson roots are a mixture of older and newer stock. I THINK I've posted links to parts of their family tree on threads about their family.
The Countess of Rothes was certainly typical of the English landed class. The Duff Gordons were not - Lady Duff Gordon being a divorcee, in business and lacking an aristocratic lineage. Tyrell Cavendish was typical of an English aristocrat in terms of his background and birth, but not typical in that he was married to a Jewish American (though, of course, plenty of aristocrats did marry rich yanks).
Thomas and Edith Pears are an example of Britain's rich middle class.

There were plenty of American first class passengers who had colonial roots and thus highly ideal family trees, but were not as well-known as richer families like the Astors and Wideners. Among this group, Helen Candee (as we know from Randy Bryan Bigham's excellent account), Edith Evans, William T. Sloper, Alice Silvey and numerous others come to mind.

Here I go writing a thesis again. That's enough out of me!
Regards
 
Aug 29, 2000
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One quick way to find out who was important socially is to have a look in the Social Register, which was published annually in many of the big metro centers like Philly, Boston and New York. There was the blue book, and I have one Boston register which was always black with a red stripe. There are zillions of books, too, with the Rich and Famous described. I can recommend Cleveland Amory's (Who Killed Society, The Last Resorts), The Grandees. The Big Spenders, The Last Golden Summers, The Vanderbilt Women, How to Marry An English Lord, The Glitter and the Gold,to name just a few.
 
May 3, 2005
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Dallas, Texas was no New York or Philadelphia in 1912. I don't even know if there were any passengers on the Titanic.

Curiously enough, though, some information turned up that there was a passenger from Groesbeck, Texas (a small town on the railroad between Dallas and Houston) aboard Titanic.

The Dallas Historical Society and A.H.Belo Corporation have issued a reprint of "The Red Book of Dallas, Texas" with a foreword by E.M. (Ted ) of the Dallas Morning News. A few excerpts:

"This reproduction of the "Red Book" of Dallas for the years 1895-1896...As such it may probably be designated as the original 'snob book' of any city of the Lone Star State......But the Holland Brothers [the original publishers] were more democratic. They found ... [3,245 of the city proper and 333 from Oak Cliff, or about one tenth of the population at the time]
people were worth mentioning as nice persons to know....Perhaps they were not so snooty as Mrs. Astor who had an infinitely larger number of persons to pick from !" :)
 

Brian Ahern

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There were all sorts of social registers in the first half of the twentieth century. I know portions of the New York Blue Book, the San Francisco Social Register, the Wichita Social Register, the St. Louis Social Register and others can be found online. One register dealt with the southwest but I don't recall which it was. There is to this day a Society Register of Southern California, but I don't think it's the one I was thinking of. I have a list of such directories in a notebook at home and will look it up.

Copies of numerous social registers can be purchased on Ebay.

The Wichita Social Register is of the more democratic variety that you described, Robert. To be honest, it's a bit embarrassing.

The St Louis counterpart is more of what a Social Register was intended to be. It was published by the official Social Register Association.

Interestingly, it features Mr. and Mrs. Prescott Bush (Dorothy Walker), the grandparents or g-grandparents of George W. I know that Dorothy Walker's father came from a rich, Catholic St. Louis family that was infuriated when her father married her devoutly Methodist mother. Unfortunately, only part of the register is featured online, but you can see Titanic survivors Elizabeth Robert and Elizabeth Allen mentioned under "Married Maidens". Georgette Madill was obviously not married by 1924, when this edition came out.

Here's the San Francisco one of 1927, featuring Ruth Dodge and her son, though giving their address as New York:

Miami, Denver, Kansas City, Cleveland and numerous other cities had their own social registers. I think what's key to just how exclusive they were is whether or not they were created by the SR Association and, thus, "official".
 

Dave Gittins

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The British aristocracy is recorded by Debrett's Peerage. It' still published as can be seen here.


I have the impression that the British aristocrats preferred Cunard to White Star. Cunard had the prestige and was British. Just my impression.

On Titanic, there was only one hereditary aristocrat, namely Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon, who was a mere baronet, the lowest hereditary title. The Countess of Rothes obtained her title by marriage, as did Lady Duff-Gordon.

I find it interesting that neither Bruce Ismay nor his father were so much as knighted. It's understandable after the disaster, but Thomas Ismay was a pretty big wheel in his day. Of course, they may have declined the honour.
 
Aug 29, 2000
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A great help to passenger research people is the list of private and civic clubs and associations detailed in these social registers, once you have deciphered the abbreviations. Usually there is a key at the front of the register, for instance Nrr is Newport Reading Room, a club to which Astor belonged, and was and is still the most prestigious and snooty men's club in Newport. I have contacted several clubs still in existence and was pleasantly surprised to see group photos or materials pertaining to the famous passenger. This is a great resource. as well as yearbooks from educational institutions.
 

Brian Ahern

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Dave - it's true that the Countess came from an untitled family, but her lineage definitely made her marriage an acceptable one. She was descended from a slew of old landed and - probably some noble - families. The St. Louis Post Despatch, at the time of the disaster, reported that she was the daughter of a London manufacturer, but this was far from the truth.
 
Mar 20, 2000
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Brian wrote: "….The Countess of Rothes was certainly typical of the English landed class. The Duff Gordons were not - Lady Duff Gordon being a divorcee, in business and lacking an aristocratic lineage…."

Hi, Brian. You’re right that Noelle Rothes’ lineage (her maternal side, at least) was aristocratic, being related to the Dukes of Perth and Melfort. But Lucy Duff Gordon also had a noble, though distant, lineage. She was descended from the Earls of Duffus and the Dukes of Sutherland in England, and in France she was related to the Fouquet le Maitres, an old Faubourg family. As for Lucy’s divorce, it was a factor in some conservative circles, but her business career didn’t hurt her too much. By 1910 it was the "in" thing for society women to do some kind of work. Lucy may have been bohemian in her tastes and preferred the company of artists, actors, etc., but she was accepted in the most fashionable social circles in London and Europe. She had many friends among the nobility and royalty, including Princess Patricia of Connaught, Marie Queen of Romania and Ena Queen of Spain.

Her own daughter Esme married Hardinge, Viscount Tiverton, son of the Earl of Halsbury, who was three times Lord Chancellor and a personal legal adviser to King George. I wouldn’t doubt Lucy’s importance in society; after all, it was mainly her connections, not her husband’s, that provided the Duff Gordons the opportunity to defend themselves at the British Titanic Inquiry. Her son-in-law Lord Tiverton was good friends with Capt. Clive Bigham, Lord Mersey’s son, and there’s also some indication that the Prime Minister’s wife, Margot Asquith, another of Lucy’s friends, made an appeal to Mersey to call the Duff Gordons as witnesses.

(You mentioned Winston Churchill —— a little "degrees-of-separation" trivia is that Lucy’s son-in-law was attorney for Lady Randolph Churchill, Winston’s mother)

Dave Gittins wrote: "On Titanic, there was only one hereditary aristocrat, namely Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon, who was a mere baronet, the lowest hereditary title."

A nearly 200 year old hereditary privilege isn’t exactly chopped liver, Dave. Cosmo’s family has a distinguished history. They once owned some of the country’s greatest art treasures and properties, were a colorful part of Queen Victoria’s court, and the family still moves in royal circles. Cosmo was related by marriage to King Edward’s eldest daughter, Princess Louise, and his cousin Countess Grey was wife of Canada’s Governor-General. One of Cosmo’s closest friends was Sir Derek Keppel, an equerry to King Edward, who sponsored Cosmo’s presentation at Court in 1896.
 
Mar 20, 2000
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Hi, Brian. You’re welcome. When are you going to write an article? You’ve got a great grasp of the era as well as of the people of Titanic, and I think you’d do a great job writing a bio or other feature piece for ET or THS, etc. By the way, is that your real name? I’ve been wanting to ask you, because isn’t "Brian Ahern" the name of the actor who played Capt. Smith in 1953’s Titanic?

Also, if I may strain people’s patience and add another boring bit of Duff Gordon trivia, Cosmo’s old friend Derek Keppel that I mentioned above was the great-great uncle of Camilla Parker Bowles, now Duchess of Cornwall.
 

Pam Kennedy

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Oct 24, 2005
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I can help with Pennsylvania families, particularly those from Philadelphia, Michael.

A few rich & famous Philadelphia families of the time include (beyond those that were on Titanic) : Cadawalader, Penrose, Cassatt (of the Pennsylvania Railroad -- and Mary, the impressionist painter), Dolan, Girard, Norris, Pemberton, Wanamaker, Strawbridge. There are, of course, so many more, but these are the ones that pop up in my memory. The Potts family was an important industrialist family from the western "suburbs."

Consulting social registers is a great idea.

If you like to read, I highly recommend "The Proper Philadelphians" by E. Digby Baltzell and "The Philadelphians" by Nathaniel Burt. Both are in print. Baltzell's book deals with Philadelphians of status via a sociological approach, whereas Burt's treatment is the "common person's" Baltzell, filled with terrific genealogies & information. When Burt's book came out in the 1950s, "Proper Philadelphians" turned up their nose at it, but yet it was said they also frantically scanned the index ... to make sure their family names were included! (To not be included would've meant you weren't important enough, what a disgrace, oh my!) These books will put family names within a context, and Burt's first chapter is an entire chronology of famous Philadelphians within a quick history of the city.

If you live anywhere near Philadelphia, a walk through Laurel Hill Cemetery would be well-worth your time, since that's where the wealthy & powerful were buried.
 

Brian Ahern

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Sorry - I've been off-line for the past week.
Randy - I think the actor who played Captain Smith spelled his name with an e at the end. I'd be curious to know how he pronounced it. I pronounce it the Irish way - Uh-hern, though most Americans say Ay-hern.

Pam - I suppose you don't need to be told that Jack Thayer married one of the Cassats, while his sister married a Dolan. Information on the Cassats is available, thanks of course to Mary, but I've never encountered anything on the Dolans.
 

Pam Kennedy

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Oct 24, 2005
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Any luck in finding the Social Register, Michael? There are several libraries in Philadelphia who have them, but you might live in China for all I know so that wouldn't be too convenient. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia has a rich collection of directories and other primary resources.

But check this out: If you google or yahoo "social registry philadelphia" you will get a hit for


You can then search by your mailing code for libraries that have what you're looking for ... the holdings list is very specific. If you type the URL out & get to the website that way, look down the right side of the home page which will give you some search advice & an engine. I'm glad I found this ... it seems like a priceless resource for those of us who are so old-fashioned they still research in musty old libraries.
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Thomas Dolan owned Keystone Knitting Mills. That's all I know about him myself. If I come across any other information about him, I'll post it here.
 
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I recently bought a fascinating book, second-hand, here in London. It is called 'The Right People: A Portrait of the American Social Establishment' by the very witty and erudite journalist and commentator, Stephen Birmingham. Although it was originally published in the late '50s and was subsequently revised and updated a decade later, it is a rich and entertaining source of information on American 'Society' (a concept which, in itself, I find intriguing) and sheds light on the ancestry and status of several families with 'Titanic' connections. Most helpfully, the endpapers are illustrated with 'family trees' which list, city by city, all those individuals who Birmingham considers to be 'Real Society'. Heading the list in New York, naturally enough, are the Astors. The name of Gracie also features and I wonder if there is any connection to the Colonel? I know that, in 1912, he was based in Washington but I'm sure I read somewhere that his family was originally based in NYC. The Wideners appear on the list for Philadelphia and the Ryersons for Chicago - again, although I've always tended to think of the Arthur Ryersons as Philadelphians, I think there was originally some family connection to 'the Windy City'?
The names of Morris and Longstreth are also mentioned during a discussion on the Philadelphian 'Main Line' - both, I imagine, relate to Marian Thayer's ancestry which, it would seem, was absolutely impeccable!
 

Brian Ahern

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I'm really following you around the board today, Martin!

You probably know that the NYC mayor's residence is called "Gracie Mansion"? I've read in some Titanic book that it was named for the Colonel's family, but I'm not sure.

Emily Ryerson was definitely from Philadelphia, but Arthur was from Chicago. They had homes in both cities but I think were probably based in Chicago, since that seems to be where the money was made.

I can see why the concept of American "Society" would be intriguing to someone from a country with an established aristocracy. As an American from the east coast, I'm interested in the social scenes of the midwestern and western American cities that were very new but very rich in 1912.

Again, I'll plug "The Age of Innocence" for an understanding of how the industrial era shifted things around in American polite society (even though - as I'll say again - I detest Edith Wharton!). The book was set in New York in the 1870's and dealt largely with how newly rich industrial families were supplanting the colonial merchant families. Many of the Titanic's most prominent passengers, so often referred to as "bluebloods" (I put that in quotes because it's such a relative term), were in fact the children of those upstarts.

I think many Titanic first class passengers had heritages that represented intermarriages between old and new money. Of course, studying British 'Society' reveals that it too was more fluid than a person might think. The lineage of Camilla Parker Bowles is an interesting example of the aristocracy intermarrying with the rich middle class. And Ismay's own brother was married to a marquis's (marquess's?) daughter, though it seems the Ismays themselves were far from being aristocrats.
 
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